Letters to the Editor: Paid Op/Ed, Spirituality, Pessimism, New Leaf, Circumcision


Guidelines for Writing an Op-Ed

Paul Jeser did the right thing in buying an ad in The Jewish Journal (“I am the Guy who has Been Sending the Mails Calling for a new Editor-in-Chief”, July 1). It is where his “comments” belonged. He could even have shortened the length of his words and sent them as a letter to the editor. The letters editor was absolutely correct to reject Jeser’s “op-ed.” In it, Jeser did not differentiate between opinion and an attack against a person. A review of the op-ed columns quickly establishes the following: Ideas and positions are discussed, debated and disputed. Individuals are not attacked, maligned or quoted out of context in order to demean them or, worse still, suggest they be fired. It is small wonder the “op-ed” was rejected.

Ultimately, Jeser has other choices of protesting: Contact the publisher and convince him and his board to accept the need to fire Rob Eshman. If the publisher supports the editor, Jeser can contact advertisers to boycott the paper and ask readers to do the same.

Rob Eshman needs no defense from anyone. The response to Paul Jeser’s position will confirm the fact that The Jewish Journal itself, through its columnists’ diverse positions, rightly provokes active and stimulating discussions and arguments. Rob Eshman deserves no small thanks and support for his work as editor.

Gerald Bubis
Los Angeles

Dear Paul Jeser,

Thank you so much for finding the way to bring criticism of Rob Eshman to Jewish Journal readers in the only format that was left available.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote Eshman a letter that started with the sentence: “Rob, you just don’t get it.” A statement that you used as well and I think still holds today.

I personally like Eshman and didn’t call for a replacement, just a bit of reorientation, like the understanding that in focusing the debate on the Jewish divide, he is helping to enshrine the Palestinians and terrorists as the real victims in the minds of many of his readers.

If only The Journal and Eshman would remind readers what Hamas and the Palestinian Authority stand for, not just that out of desperation they have been firing thousands of missiles at Israel, there may come a small change in the discourse on Israel, and we might see some shift in the support of Israel in the Liberal mind set.

Not a full swing to the right, Rob, just a small morsel that may help some realize that what happened in Poland in 1946, and not only in Kielce, is happening again.

We, the Jewish people, have promised: Never Again. Let’s all ask Rob Eshman to keep his part of this covenant.

Ethan Teitler
via e-mail


Finding Spirituality

In his commentary on Parashat Chukat (“Real Spirituality,” July 1), Rabbi Muskin makes the profound point that by doing the mitzvot with consciousness, one can experience the Divine on a daily basis. He also says, “If you want spirituality, you don’t need … anyone teaching you mysticism.” Perhaps this is true for many Jews, but some Jews are drawn to mystical teachings as well, and the study of all the majestic teachings of Judaism are to be honored. After all, a myriad of esteemed sages such as R. Yosef Karo and the Vilna Gaon studied both the halachah and the mystical realm and regarded the latter with optimal veneration. Indeed, Rav Kook writes: ‘Whoever feels within himself that his inner being can find peace only in pursuing the secret teachings of the Torah must know with certainty that it is for this he was created.’ I know that Rabbi Muskin, a true Oheiv Yisrael, must believe it is wonderful to welcome all our people who endeavor to study different dimensions of Judaism as they are drawn to divine light in the halachah and in the mystical.

(In this way, we expand the community of Israel in all its diversity and beauty. By studying the Torah in its fullness we become a divine Clal and not just a nation of individual tzadikim.)

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
President, AJRCA


Kaplan’s Take on Pessimistic Milieu

I appreciated Marty Kaplan’s analysis of where we are at (and are likely to stay) as a society (“Pessimism Is the Last Taboo,” July 1). I was reminded of a line from the old “That Was the Week That Was” show:

“A pessimist is one who says that there will be a World War III.

An optimist is one who says that there will be a World War IV.”

‘Twould seem to me, at times, that we are, today, in a race between the plutocrats and the oligarchs — or perhaps they are just one and the same. In any case, democracy aboundin’, it ain’t.

Bill Younglove
Long Beach 


National Bible Contest Winners

Many thanks for your splendid  coverage of the recent National Bible Contest held in New York (“Valley Student Headed for International Bible Contest,” June 24).  May I include another fine young scholar, Josh Silvera from Congregation Mogen David, who placed second to Andrew Sokoler, only a few points behind. It was my double pleasure to coach these talented teens. Not only did I study with Andrew’s mom, I also went to Fairfax High with Josh’s grandfather and great uncle.

We are looking forward to many more competitions.

Cantor Avrum Schwartz
via e-mail


Obama and Israel

David Suissa correctly and importantly highlights the stark departures from past U.S. policy toward Israel by President Obama in recent weeks that damage and weaken Israel’s negotiating position (“Obama’s Nightmare,” June 21).

Beyond the absolute veto power Obama handed the Palestinians even on Israel retaining the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, there is a further serious departure from past U.S. policy that was not noted: Obama is the first president to state that a future Palestinian state should border Jordan. This means Israel ceding the Jordan Valley, an area whose retention all Israeli governments have regarded as vital to Israeli defense. Obama ignores this, calling for a “full and phased Israeli withdrawal,” which entrusts Israeli security to those who have violated it over 17 years – the Palestinian Authority (PA). It also means all Jews living there must leave – a further endorsement of the Palestinian position.

Suissa rightly notes that Obama demands nothing of the PA. What is worse, not only has Obama not held the PA accountable on incitement to hatred and murder against Israel, as he claims he will “continue” [sic] to do, but he has munificently increased U.S. aid to the PA, up to almost $1 billion per year.

If Obama was genuine about holding the PA accountable, he would be demanding the disbanding of Fatah’s own Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a U.S. recognized terrorist group. He would demand the abrogation of the PA’s unity agreement with Hamas as a precondition of any future talks. He has done neither.

Morton A. Klein
National President, Zionist Organization of America


Reflections on Global Societies

Dennis Prager asserts that bigger government increases corruption and produces citizens who do less for one another, turning them into narcissists who disdain work and charitable giving (“Liberalism and the Decline of a Society’s Character,”  June 21). If big government invariably makes people worse, then the best society would be where there is the least government. But Prager’s premise is refuted by history: Somalia is not paradise. His other arguments similarly wither in the face of fact: He decries the selfishness of today’s students at public universities demanding free or inexpensive education, but they only want what earlier generations had. Somehow in the past, even archconservatives such as Milton Friedman could have college paid entirely by taxpayers, but if today’s students have a similar desire, they are guilty of “the selfish fruit of expecting something for nothing.”

Greg Davidson
via e-mail


Fallen Leaves

Congratulations, Mr. Eshman, on your new Nissan Leaf (“A New Leaf,” June 24). However, if you think by driving the Leaf you are reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, you are mistaken. You are just moving the consumption of the fossil fuel from three feet in front of you (in the car’s engine) to hundreds of miles away (to some electric power plant). Something has to turn those generators and it usually is a fossil fuel. Unless of course, you want to dam some more rivers to produce hydroelectric power or build more nuclear power plants, fossil fuels it is! And, please don’t tell me about wind and solar [power]. You will need an acre of photo cells to power that Leaf, and I’m sure your neighbor is real excited about that wind turbine that will turn over his head day and night.
Happy driving!

Glenn Roede
Los Angeles


Circumcision

Here are a few more arguments for circumcision “The Great California Foreskin Fight of 2011”  (June 24). Many others have already been promulgated.

As a dermatologist for the past 49 years. I have seen many cases of balanoposthitis, inflammation of the glans penis and foreskin. This is characterized by an uncomfortable, foul-smelling yellowish discharge laden with various bacteria, and often yeast. It can lead to adhesions, which prevent the foreskin from being retracted. This obviously does not happen in circumcised men. Maintaining cleanliness certainly helps diminish this, but I have even seen mild cases in men who try to maintain reasonable cleanliness.

Claims of diminished sexual sensation based around putative removal of sexual receptors is specious.  The receptors lie in the glans, mainly in the corona (ask any man), and not in the skin of the shaft, which the prepuce is part of. Therefore, removing a small part of that skin in no way removes sexual receptors.

Robert M. Miller, M.D.
West Hills

Marty Kaplan: Pessimism is the last taboo


It gets worse. 

If you pay attention to the news, the prospects for the future look grim.  The new normal of high unemployment and stagnant wages will likely not turn out to be just a phase.  The next generations may indeed do worse than the ones before them.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, big money will keep tightening its stranglehold on elections and lawmaking.  Financial reform and consumer protection will never survive the onslaught of lobbyists.  Reckless bankers will go on making out like bandits, and the public will always be forced to rescue them.  The Internet, along with cable and wireless, will be controlled by fewer and more-powerful companies. The world will keep staggering from one economic crisis to another.  We will not have the leadership and citizenship we need to kick our dependence on oil.  We will not even keep up with the Kardashians.

Add your own items to the list.  Whatever global threats scare you – climate change, the Middle East, loose nukes, pandemics – and whatever domestic issues haunt you – failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, rising poverty, obesity – the odds are that the honesty, discipline, resources and burden-sharing required for a happy ending will not, like Elijah, show up at our door.

Sure, there’s some good news around, and there are advances ahead.  Gay marriage is legal in New York, and perhaps one day the resistance to it will seem as unfathomable as the opposition to women’s suffrage.  Technology is growing exponentially, and today’s iGizmos will doubtless seem like steam engines tomorrow.  We will some day actually be gone from Afghanistan.  Justices Scalia and Thomas will eventually retire.  French fries or salami will turn out to be good for us, at least for a while.  Some Wall Street slimeballs will be nailed, some good guys will win elections and some little girl will be rescued from a well. 

But it would pretty much take a miracle for our intractable problems to become tractable.  Without one, political polarization is not about to give way to kumbaya.  Cultural coarsening is not going to reverse course.  The middle class will not be resurgent; the gap between rich and poor will not start closing; the plutocrats calling the shots will not cede their power.  No warning on its way to us – no new BP, no next shooting, no future default – will bring us to our senses about the environment, assault weapons or derivatives for any longer than it takes for the next Casey Anthony or Anthony Weiner to come along. 

Politicians, of course, can never say something like this.  They’re selling progress, greatness, can-do.  The only place for pessimism in the public sphere is as a handy foil.  “There are those who say that we can’t solve our problems, that our best days are behind us, that China is the future.  But I say….”  It’s a surefire applause line.  But it’s also a straw man.  There aren’t “those who say” that.  Americans hate pessimism.  We get discouraged, our hope flags, but predicting defeat is inconceivable.  The comeback kids, the triumphant underdogs, the resilient fighters rising to the challenge: that’s who we see in the mirror. 

We place fatalism beyond the pale.  To give up on the possibility of change, to doubt that we’re up to the task, is socially aberrant.  You may fear that we are doomed to be a nation of big babies: we claim to want leaders who’ll face tough choices, but we punish them for actually making them.  You may despair that the rationality required to face up to reality will never overcome the fundamentalism, know-nothingism and magic thinking that has a hammerlock on our national psyche.  You may believe that big money and big media have become so powerful that our sclerotic democratic institutions are inherently incapable of checking them. 

But you can’t admit any of that.  In public, we never let such darkness prevail.  Instead, we work to improve things.  We organize, rally, blog, join movements, work phone banks, ring doorbells, write checks, sign petitions. 

We are not a tragic nation.  If a leader disappoints us, or breaks our hearts, we say it’s just a setback, not a sign that the system itself manufactures impotence and capitulation.  If a problem festers, we cling to the belief that money, know-how and perhaps some sobering wake-up call are all we need to solve it; we don’t dare entertain the notion that there’s something in human nature that’s causing and protracting it.  If social conflict splits us, we diagnose a communication problem, a semantic setback on the road to common ground, a gap that can be bridged by consensus on facts and deliberation on goals; it’s just too painful to think that tribal values impervious to rationality and insusceptible to compromise are the ineluctable driver of our divisions.

I wish I could declare my confidence in our ability to solve our problems without sounding like some candidate who just wants my vote.  But ironic optimism won’t do.  I’m desperate for evidence that we’re prepared to pay for the services we demand, or to subordinate our desires in order to meet our obligations to one another, or to reform our governance so that special interest money, filibusters and the other Washington diseases didn’t sicken the system.  I just wish it didn’t take drinking the can-do Kool Aid to see the glass as half full.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

The Doctor Is In


Listening to Howard Dean reminds me of going to a doctor who
starts out the visit by saying, “Bill, you really look sick.”

Maybe I do, but I don’t want to hear it expressed quite so
bluntly. Just like I didn’t want to hear Dr. Dean saying in Los Angeles Dec.
15, “The capture of Saddam has not made America safer.”

Dean’s pessimism was hard to take, especially right after
the bearded villain was hauled out of the ground by American troops.

Such blunt, sometimes thoughtless talk could be damaging to
him in the Jewish community because it has led to a perception among some Jews
that he is soft on the Palestinians. That may be one reason Connecticut Sen.
Joe Lieberman, an observant Jew and a strong supporter of the Iraq invasion,
led the Democratic presidential field among Jews in Florida in a December poll
by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald.

The impression has persisted even though Dean’s prescription
is the same two-state solution advocated by Bill Clinton and now by President
Bush. As a statement issued by Dean’s campaign put it: “The basic framework for
peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is a two-state solution — a Jewish
State of Israel living side by side in peace and security with an independent,
demilitarized Palestinian state.”

His trouble began when he said, “It’s not our place to take
sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian battle and that the United States should be
evenhanded in its approach. Criticism forced Dean to clarify, as he has had to
do before.

On CNN, he said he would “speak out against violence of any
kind in the Middle East. That’s what I mean by being evenhanded.” He conceded
that he shouldn’t have used the term “but the fact of the matter is, at the
negotiating table, we have to have the trust of both sides.”

During Chanukah, I talked about Dean with a few people while
attending an American Jewish Committee reception at the Beverly Hills canyon
home of Naty and Debbie Saidoff.

As is true with most of California, most were not especially
focused on a presidential nominating contest now being fought in Iowa and New
Hampshire. By the time the fight reaches this state, in the March primary,
the nomination may well have been decided. For Californians, except for
dedicated political activists and large contributors, the Democratic presidential
contest is like the National Football League — something we watch on
television.

Nevertheless I encountered some interest.

Valerie Fields, a long-time political activist, said she and
her husband, Judge Jerry Fields, had been struck by Dean’s ability to draw new
people into his campaign. They attended a Dean fundraiser at Union Station. The
place was packed, she said, and Fields, acquainted with innumerable people in
politics, knew only two other people there.

Fields had hit upon the great strength of the Dean campaign.
A combination of his blunt manner and brilliant use of the Internet for
organizing and fundraising has brought in large numbers of political newcomers,
put him ahead of the field and seemingly on his way to the nomination. It has created
a base of supporters dedicated enough to love him for his mistakes, and to step
up their contributions whenever he is attacked by rivals.

The Dean Web site, www.blogforamerica.com, has a young,
rebellious intensity, a bit too intense for me, too much like a fan club. The
big question is how far can Dean extend his appeal beyond the adoring bloggers
and the friends they make at Dean meet-ups.

Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, western regional director of the
American Jewish Committee (AJC), had his doubts when I talked to him briefly at
the AJC reception and then on the phone a few days later.

He seemed skeptical about Dean’s ability to expand his base
into large numbers of those in their 30s and older in the Jewish community,
which he said comprises a substantial part of AJC membership.

He said, “Given the rise of anti-Semitism in the Arab world
and Europe, Jews will be “more inclined … than ever before” in the voting
booth to base their votes on what candidates say about Israel. Jews usually
vote liberal, but “this time they will be voting Jewish issues,” he said.

Dean’s use of the phrase “evenhanded” was damaging, he said,
as was his failure to understand that the words would infuriate Jews
increasingly concerned about Israel’s survival.

Donna Bojarsky, liberal political strategist and Jewish
community activist, sharply disagreed.

It’s “preposterous” to challenge Dean’s commitment to
Israel, she said, “there’s no foundation for it.”

Only Dean generates the excitement to awaken and expand the
Democratic Party base, she added.

Personally, I think the Jewish community should give Dean a
chance.

He can be careless with words. But he doesn’t pose and
pander. He doesn’t parade his Jewish physician wife or his Jewish children on
the campaign trail. He doesn’t try to make voters feel happy. He’s the doctor
who slams you in the face with the unpleasant truth.

And while hearing the truth is uncomfortable, a politician
with the guts to tell it should be valued.

Bill Boyarsky’s column on Jews and civic life appears on the first Friday of
each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Boyarsky worked as a
political correspondent, a metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for
three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

+