Your Letters

From a Soldier

About a month ago, my aunt purchased a subscription of The Jewish Journal for me as a gift while I am in basic training at Ft. Sill, Okla. The Jewish Journal has allowed me to keep up-to-date on world events especially those important to the Jewish community. The articles on arts, entertainment and literature have provided me with a much-needed diversion from my demanding training schedule.

I wanted to pass on my thanks to your fine publication for helping one Jewish soldier stay connected with the Jewish community. Of course, my Aunt Lynn and Uncle David deserve equal thanks.

When I leave training, I intend to transfer my subscription to this post’s one Jewish chaplain so he can add this newspaper to the list of materials he provides to Jewish soldiers.

For those readers who don’t know, the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council is a nonprofit organization charged with oversight and accreditation of Jewish chaplains in our armed forces. These rabbis do a tremendous job in providing a wide range of services and resources to the Jewish community within our military. I urge your readers to consider the JWB when it’s time to write those checks to their favorite Jewish organizations. Their address is: 15 East 26th St. New York, N.Y. 10010-1579.

Pfc. Brian Singer, Ft. Sill, Okla U.S. Army

Killing Yassin

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s statement that the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin was unjustified will go down in history like Neville Chamberlain who tried to appease Adolf Hitler.

Rabbi Shimon Paskow, Thousand Oaks

Mixed on ‘Code’

In reading Wendy Madnick’s article, “Cracking a Controversial ‘Code'” (April 9), we ask ourselves whether we should be elated that, unlike Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” here is a book written by a Christian, about Christianity, which does not blame the Jews for all of their ills. Or [should we] be disturbed that the book misrepresents Jewish history by claiming that Jews during Jesus’ time practiced pagan ritualistic sex acts inside the Holy Temple in Jerusalem? One can only assume that if such pagan ritualistic ceremonies did take place, Jews would have learned about the specifics through sources such as the Talmud, which openly touches upon the life of Jesus.

Danny Bental, Tarzana

Kirby Left Out

Tom Teicholz’ description of the influence of Jewish escape artists in comic book history contains a stunning omission (“The Escapist,” April 9). Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzenburg) escaped the slums of Hell’s Kitchen and survived the battlefields of World War II to become the undisputed king of superhero cartoonists. He was the dominant creative force behind Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, the Silver Surfer and hundreds of others. At DC Comics, acting as his own editor, Kirby created an entire new pantheon of superheroes and villains called the New Gods, engaged in a cosmic war between the planets of New Genesis and Apokolips. The Torah echoes and the evocation of totalitarian society on the dark planet Apokolips is as resonant for Jewish history as anything in mainstream comics.

The war is triggered by the escape from Apokolips of a young character, Scott Free, who grows up to become he superhero, Mr. Miracle: Super Escape Artist. Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon read these comics as a child. At the back of his novel of escape and comics, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” he dedicates a final acknowledgement to Kirby, for his influence on “everything I have ever written.”

Have I made my case?

Aaron Noble, Altadena

Bush on Israel

James Besser’s article makes a false assumption (“Speaking Truth to Power — Not,” April 2). Jewish criticism of President Bush’s domestic policies are muted for fear that he will stop supporting Israel? This assumes that Bush supports Israel because the Jews support Bush. Oh, I forgot that Bush owes the Jews for their unabashed support he got in the 2000 landslide victory over Gore. I doubt that Bush is counting on winning this election with the Jewish vote.

The real reason that Bush is supportive of Israel is based upon a strong religious belief in morality and justice. Bush sees the Middle East conflict as a fight of good against evil, and that same fight was brought home on Sept. 11. Has Besser heard of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi? Real pro-Bush yentas? Domestic issues are meaningless to the victims of Sept. 11 and to the thousands of Israelis that have been murdered. Bush supports Israel because it is morally right and just — not because Jews vote for his domestic agenda.

I will support President Bush 100 percent as he fights to protect Americans and Israelis fight terrorism. Oh, and if my taxes go up or down by a few percentage points, well that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

Joel Bertet, Los Angeles

Torah Portion

Who was the first Jew? All of us learned in Sunday School that thefirst Jew was Abraham. It was our father, Abraham, who detected thepresence of the one true God and championed monotheism in a paganworld. It was with Abraham that God established the Covenant,defining our identity, our mission, our destiny. That’s true. But thefirst Jew wasn’t Abraham. The first Jew was his son Isaac.

In Jewish prayer, we address God with the expression, “Elohaynuv’Elohay Avotaynu — our God and God of our ancestors.” We recitethese words easily, oblivious to the dynamic tension buried withinthe phrases: Is my God the same as the God of my ancestors? What ofmy faith is received, and what is created? What is of tradition, andwhat is my own?

The Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of Chassidism, wasasked why the “Amidah,” the central prayer of the daily services,begins with the triple iteration, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, Godof Jacob.” Why not just say, “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”? Heanswered: The God of Jacob was not the God of Isaac, and the God ofIsaac was not the God of Abraham. Each grasped God in his own way.Each offered the world his own unique testimony of God. There is roomin Judaism — indeed, there is a need — for the new, therevolutionary. The personal spiritual adventure — the individual’ssearch for God — is the very life force of faith. Without it, ourreligion stagnates and dies. This is the radicalism of the Baal ShemTov.

But the same Baal Shem Tov awoke each morning, donned his tallis,wound his tefillin, and recited this prayer just as his ancestors haddone. In doing so, he affirmed a spiritual continuity with Abraham,Isaac, Jacob, and all the generations of Israel, down through hisown.

The personal religious quest brings energy, life, creativity andrenewal. The loyalty to tradition offers wisdom, depth, and the wordsand symbols from which we build the religious community. We need themboth. Denying a place for personal spiritual seeking leaves usstagnant. Cutting off tradition leaves us with a terrible sense ofweightlessness, of loneliness, and with a painful hunger forauthenticity. In my most significant moments, I crave a wisdom olderand deeper than my few years on this planet.

Responding to this hunger, so many of our contemporaries seem topatch together their own eclectic religious expression — mixing alittle Native American mythology, a little Buddhist meditation, alittle Christian morality, a little Sufi passion into the Shabboschallah. In the end, they find the mixture tasteless and unsatisfyingbecause it transcends neither the self nor the now. There is nonourishment in spiritual noshing.

The dynamic of Judaism embraces the personal religious questwhile, at the same time, affirming loyalty to the continuity of ourhistorical tradition. It is a dialectic filled with conflict andtension. But in this tension is the secret of Judaism’s spiritualvitality and its survival. And its father is Isaac.

Isaac, not Abraham, was the first Jew. For Isaac was the first toknow the tension between “my God” and “the God of my father.” He isthe first to know the struggle between the faith of his father andthe truth of his own religious experience. He is the first to knowthat we must do more than simply receive, affirm and repeattradition. We must make tradition our own. We must find a place forits wisdom in our life situation, fill it with our own passion,express its truth in our own idiom, remake its symbols to speak toour own souls, but never lose its message and its meaning. Ourfather, Isaac, was the first to know the challenge of receivingtradition and passing it on to those after him. And he was the firstto stay up at night, worrying about whether his grandchildren wouldbe Jewish. Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah, was the first Jew.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.