Letters to the editor: on Prager, Latino Jews and sourdough

Criticizing and Defending Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager’s claim that there has been “no eruption of anti-Semitism in America” (“Jewish Leaders Owe an Apology to Trump and America,” April 7) since the election of President Donald Trump is contradicted by data. According to the FBI, Jews are the most frequent victims of hate crimes based on religion in the U.S. In the 10 days after the presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported 100 anti-Semitic incidents across the country; 80 of these were vandalism that included Trump’s name. The New York Police Department reported 43 hate crimes in New York City alone in the three weeks after Trump’s victory. Of those, 24 targeted Jews — three times the figure from November 2015.
It is noteworthy that Prager did not address any of these statistics, nor call on a
ny data at all, in his nearly 900-word column.

Ami Fields-Meyer
via email

In his April 7 column, Dennis Prager makes claims that he never defends.

Prager begins his column by asserting that the claim he made in a previous column, “There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Anti-Semitism or Racism” (March 10), was correct. One would assume, then, that Prager would go on to demonstrate why he was right about the lack of a Trump-induced wave of anti-Semitism. But Prager instead treats the fact that he is correct as his premise, and continues writing as if this should be accepted.

One would have to read almost to the end of Prager’s column to find an explanation of why he was right, where he notes that a Jew was responsible for most of the recent threats against Jewish community centers. This is all that Prager provides to prove that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others were wrong about increasing anti-Semitism in America, as if those incidents were all that the ADL examined to conclude that levels anti-Semitism were rising. (They weren’t. The ADL analyzes hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents every year. For instance, in 2015, they documented 941.)

As the Jewish Journal’s most noted right-wing columnist, Dennis Prager is responsible for representing the beliefs of the Jewish right. And though I side with the left on most issues, the right has legitimate opinions that are worthy of consideration and debate. They certainly deserve better representation than this.

Rami Gruman
Shalhevet High School student
via email

I am not a Jew, but have been reading the Journal regularly for several years. The reason: I always find very interesting columns with different points of view about important aspects of reality. In other words, I see manifestation of freedom of speech. I am not a journalist, either, but I think free speech is all that matters, not who is right or wrong. We, the readers, can decide for ourselves who is right and time ultimately will be the judge. I find it quite disturbing when a journalist writes that some Jewish leaders should be “fired from their positions,” which Dennis Prager wrote in his April 7 column. That’s their job, Mr. Prager, to express their opinions, and if they have broken any law, let the judicial system take care of that.

Svetlozar Garmidolov
Los Angeles

Prager’s column “Jewish Leaders Owe an Apology to Trump and America” is short-sighted, lacking objectivity, and disregards important facts related to issues of the rise in anti-Semitic acts after the election of Donald Trump. Precedent to any Jewish leader apologizing, it is Trump who should apologize to the Jews and here’s why:

1. For the first time since proclamations were made from the White House regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day, the murder of 6 million Jews was not mentioned. Trump owes an apology to our survivors and Jews worldwide.

2. Prager conveniently forgets vandalism in Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia, suburban St. Louis and New York. No arrests. Trump never mentioned them. Why? His insensitivity to the issue deserves an apology.

Consider the facts, Mr. Prager, before you ask the Jews to apologize to Trump!

William S. Bernstein
Director of Institutional Advancement – Western Region
American Society for Yad Vashem
Los Angeles

Dennis Prager hit the nail on the head in his April 7 column. He proved unequivocally that the entire claim that America was engulfed in a rising tide of anti-Semitism was a lie. It’s fake news that was disseminated by some prominent Jewish community leaders who should know better. The claim that Trump’s election aroused all this anti-Semitism is not merely a lie, it was a malicious libel.

Marshall Lerner
Beverly Hills

Survey of Latino Jews Skews Figures

Yes, the results of the survey of Latinos living in the U.S. should be surprising, as the claim of 200,000 of such Jews by the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs is probably four times the size of the actual estimated population based on previous research, which was based on scientific sampling done by the Jewish community decades ago (“Surprising Results Revealed in Survey of Latino Jews Living in U.S.,” April 14).

That type of scientifically reproducible survey is not being funded or undertaken by national Jewish organizations, and so wild and exaggerated population estimates of small institutes and organizations created to put forward the interests of their exotic constituencies, such as Israelis and Jewish Latinos, etc., go unquestioned and unchallenged for lack of more reliable sources of information.

National Jewish demographic surveys that get at the details of interest to the Jewish community are expensive, but without them, we continue to fly blind as we approach two decades without a national Jewish population survey.

Pini Herman
via email

Passover Lessons in Bread Starter

Thank you, Rob Eshman, for your column about sourdough. Asking why is an excellent practice, an especially excellent Jewish practice (“Starter Lessons,” April 7). 

These last two months under our 45th president have been frightening. Both of my parents were Holocaust survivors, and my resultant underlying fears are always the same. Is this the time I start sewing jewels in the hems of my garments, just in case? Of course, I don’t have any jewels and can’t afford to buy any, but you get my drift. Nevertheless, one phrase in your article was particularly striking to me, since it echoes my own M.O.

Passover teaches us to live lightly, be ready to move on quickly, live for today in the presence of all you have — leave tomorrow behind.

I have moved close to 50 times in my life and generally leave everything behind. Perhaps I’m practicing for the terrible future my father promised would happen again.

Remember, though, that rebuilding a sourdough starter is always a possibility. I have just done it again after a move from Mexico to New York. The starter is bubbling happily, and I shall certainly bring it outside with me for a breath of New York air — that had never occurred to me. What a good way for me to establish myself as having found a new home.

Lea Bergen
via email

Photo courtesy of Facebook.

What’s wrong with Jews’ emphasis on intellect?

Question: In life, which is more overrated — looks or brains?

I would argue that it’s a tie.

But there is a difference. For better or for worse, valuing beauty is built-in to human nature. Notions of beauty may differ from culture to culture, but every culture values beauty. Tests done with infants show that even they are drawn to faces most adults deem beautiful.

But the valuing of intellect is much more of a cultural matter. And no culture values brain power more than Ashkenazi Jewish culture.

There certainly is anecdotal evidence to support this.

Take, for example, the famous Jewish joke about a birth notice: “Jacob and Sarah Birnbaum are proud to announce the birth of their son, Dr. David Birnbaum.”

Today, of course, the announcement would apply equally to a daughter.

Another example: I only exaggerate a bit when I tell audiences: “When you ask a Jew, ‘How are you?’ you will often receive this answer: ‘Great. My daughter is at Dartmouth.’ ”

Likewise, I tell audiences, “When a stranger recognizes me and approaches me — a somewhat frequent occurrence — unless the person is wearing a kippah, I have no way of knowing if the person is a Jew or a non-Jew. But there is often a giveaway: If the person tells me what college their son or daughter goes to, I know it’s a Jew.”

To demonstrate how cultural the Jewish preoccupation with the intellect is, the different reactions these lines receive from Jewish and non-Jewish audiences are telling. There is loud laughter in Jewish audiences but only a few chuckles from non-Jews.

Jews completely relate to what I said; to non-Jews it is just odd. Non-Jews rarely tell anyone, let alone a stranger, what college their kid goes to, no matter how prestigious. But for many American Jews, their meaning in life and social status are predicated on getting their child into a prestigious college.

Now, to be sure, this preoccupation with prestigious colleges is not only related to Jews’ valuing the intellect. It is at least as related to a preoccupation with professional success and the future earning power of their child. And, yes, ego. In Jewish life, what college one’s child attends is often seen as the single greatest proof of achievement as a parent.

This preoccupation begins at the birth of one’s children and grandchildren. Is there any Jew whose 2-year-old child or grandchild isn’t “brilliant”?

What’s wrong with all this preoccupation with brains?

First, it often overshadows the far more important trait of goodness. I am certain that for many Jewish (and, increasingly, non-Jewish) parents, their child’s brilliance is more important than his or her goodness. This is easily ascertainable: Compare how much time and effort parents spend working on their child’s moral character as opposed to their child’s intellect.

Here’s a test. Ask your child, no matter how young or how old, this question: What do you think I most want (or wanted) you to be — happy, smart, successful or good?

Here’s another test. Would you tell your high school-age son or daughter, “You need to know that I’d much rather have you attend a local state college than cheat on even one test and get into Stanford”?

And how many parents speak to others about their children’s intellectual achievements as compared with their goodness? Jewish parents who speak about how fine a person their child is usually are assumed to have a loser for a child.

The fact is, there is no correlation between intellect and goodness. In fact, a disproportionate number of intellectuals, in the 20th century and today, have been, to put it bluntly, moral idiots — and therefore disproportionately supported the greatest evils of their time. Almost all the support in the West for Soviet Communism came from intellectuals, not hard hats. Within Germany, the university was one of the most passionate pro-Nazi institutions. In America today, a Christian plumber is far more likely to support Israel than a Ph.D. in sociology, or in any other subject (including Judaic studies). And the number of bright, even “brilliant,” college students whose moral compass is broken is enormous.

Finally, intelligence not only is not as important as goodness, it is not nearly as important as common sense. A person of average intelligence with common sense will navigate life far better, by making far more intelligent decisions, than a brilliant person who lacks common sense. According to Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, in at least one important area — binge drinking and getting drunk — more intelligent people actually have less common sense. They do both more.

Parents who overemphasize brains to the detriment of other positive values, such as character, common sense and the ability to deal with life’s vicissitudes (think of all the bright college students who need “safe spaces” because they can’t deal with speakers with whom they disagree) are doing long-term damage to their child. And, to return to my opening question about looks and brains, they are not doing their daughter any favor if they neglect looks. In real life, they matter, too. But you need common sense to acknowledge that.

Letters to the editor: Pomegranate trees, money in the Jewish community and UCLA

A Love That’s Deeply Rooted

This article brought tears to my eyes as I, too, have a tendency to fall in love with my trees (“Pom Wonderful,” Jan. 10). So I would urge you, if you have not already done so, to consult with a certified and licensed arborist before heeding the advice of a contractor who tells you to cut down your tree.

If you wouldn’t seek the advice of an auto mechanic for medical problems, why put the fate of your beloved pomegranate in the hands of someone who isn’t a tree specialist?

Please publish a follow-up, or at least let me know what the arborist says. And good luck! I’m rooting for the tree … pun intended.

Ellyn Gelson, Encino

Stereotyping Wolf a Disservice to All

Yes, you’re right about money and lack of values (“ ‘The Wolf’ and the Jewish Problem,” Jan. 3). I, too, shudder when I see a Jewish name connected with a financial crime (or any other scandal for that matter). However, of the top philanthropists of 2013, out of the first 11, five were Jewish: Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, Eli and Edythe Broad, Michael Bloomberg, James and Marilyn Simons — total lifetime giving of these five exceeds $7 billion. Of the top 50, more than 40 percent are Jewish. Also look at the Nobel laureates in literature, science, medicine, economics and, yes, even peace. Is it amazing that for the past 26 years the Federal Reserve chair has been Jewish?

I know you must receive these e-mails, telling of Jewish accomplishments, constantly, but in times like these it’s good to remember as we try to teach our children values and respect. The problem is that we expect Jews to be better, and the harsh reality is that we as a people are human, and you get the bad with the good. It’s the “bad apple” story, but fortunately there’s more good than bad.

Thanks for your column, I look forward to it every week.

Jo Anne Yusim via e-mail

I share many of your sentiments. I am deeply disturbed and disgusted by all the bad Jews in the news and in recent films, the Belforts et al. of “Wolf” and the by-comparison-lamed-vavniks of “American Hustle.” I agree that we need to look harder and longer at money and morality; that we need to pay less attention to the stupid sideshows.

I would just take issue with a premise, near the bottom: “We have benefited from an economic and political structure that is becoming less and less just.”  

True, it is becoming less and less just. But false that we Jews are all beneficiaries. You must know that wide swaths of us are also victims of income inequality, off-shored jobs, budget and tax cuts that favor the wealthy, etc. 

You must know that most of the Jewish community falls way under the 1 percent, and that Jewish Vocational Service and other social welfare agencies are swamped by Jewish casualties of the Great Recession — kids who can’t get jobs, laid-off adults and 50- and 60-somethings who can’t replace lost jobs, flat-out impoverished seniors, etc.

Our economic suffering may be less than that of other groups, but it’s wrong to imply that we are all, or mostly, on the receiving end of the current distribution of wealth. One step toward bulking up our moral fiber is recognizing that many of our own also suffer with the rest of the struggling middle class.

Ellen Muraskin via e-mail

Bravo for your incisive critique and your call for conversations in the Jewish community about money. Toward this end, I would like to call your attention to an innovative curriculum that prompts such conversations about the ethical ways to acquire and spend money. Developed by Wilshire Boulevard Temple in partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), “Money Matters: Jewish Ethics of Money and Business” comprises a series of lessons for middle school and high school students devoted precisely to the questions that you raise in your article, namely, “What’s the right way to make money? How much is enough? How much must we share and with whom?”

While the high school module has been developed but awaits production, teachers’ guides and student workbooks for the middle school module of “Money Matters” are available right now on the URJ Web site. Hopefully, leaders within our community will heed your call for constructive discussions about the ethical ways to acquire and spend money and will take advantage of this valuable resource at their fingertips.

Susan Ehrlich, Beverly Hills

New Low for Calif. Higher Education

I could not agree more and wish to hug Dennis Prager with all my might (“UCLA’s Further Deterioration,” Jan. 10). He is absolutely right in what he states about the deterioration of the state colleges in California. He should also include the public schools, the courthouses and everything else that begins with “public.” It’s a disgrace. I am ashamed to say that I even live in California, my birth state. It’s no wonder that the citizens are leaving and businesses closing. I will be leaving soon myself. Adios, California, state of fools.

Alexandra Joans, Los Angeles

Letters to the editor: Freedom of speech, Bedouins and women with education

Freedom of Speech Demonstrated Here

Every few weeks there is a letter urging the Jewish Journal to discontinue Dennis Prager. I have never seen a letter asking that Marty Kaplan be discontinued. Either a) everyone likes and agrees with Marty Kaplan or b) the readers who want Prager discontinued don’t believe in the principle of freedom of speech. 

It is commendable that the Jewish Journal carries both Dennis Prager and Marty Kaplan.

William Azerrad, Los Angeles 

Improving Welfare of Israel’s Bedouin Citizens

I write in reaction to your recent story by Devorah Brous concerning the future of Bedouins in Israel’s Negev (“Stop Prawer-Begin Plan for Bedouin Resettlement” Dec. 13). While the story does raise legitimate concerns about the issues of land, infrastructure and citizen rights of Israel’s Bedouin citizens, it doesn’t do justice to the effort being made by a number of organizations, NGOs and the government of Israel to improve conditions for all Israeli citizens there.

There has been great progress in the region — that should be the lead of the story and it’s not. For example, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has established Blueprint Negev, a $600 million campaign to provide water purification, economic development, infrastructure and other improvements that benefit Negev residents and greatly benefits the Negev Bedouins. In fact, JNF recently hosted Mayor Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari of Hura, a Bedouin community, in cities across the States for a series of outreach, awareness and fundraising opportunities for the establishment of a model community of sustainability replicable throughout the Bedouin communities of Israel. It’s time that this story be told.

It’s safe to say that the JNF is doing more for Bedouins in Israel than any other Jewish organization in Israel. The conflicts and arguments are old news filled with negative propaganda that doesn’t address the facts on the ground.

Allison Krumholz, executive director, Greater Los Angeles Region Jewish National Fund

She’s No FOB (Fan of Barack)

I have read all of Rob Eshman’s columns over the years, but his last one was beyond foolish (“Three More Years,” Dec. 13). What does it take for Mr. Eshman to understand that the current president has done more real damage than any of the previous U.S. presidents. From Solyndra, to “politicizing” the Justice Department, to failure regarding race relations between us, putting us in massive debt forever, a totally botched “affordable” health care act that will raise premiums on millions, not to mention millions already getting the pink slip. And to think Eshman still is one of the few that blames the GOP for not “getting along” with this failed and very flawed leader who lies and can never be trusted.

Melissa Cohen via e-mail

Socioeconomic Effects of Education on Families

In regard to Dennis Prager’s article about women and children (“Educated Women and Children,” Dec. 4). We know that with the challenging economy, both the husband and wife need to work to support their family. But I agree that family should come first. On the one hand, it’s good to have a college degree both intellectually and financially to earn a living. But when you think about accomplishment, while it looks better to have a career, that achievement is temporary. However, when you raise children and pass down your heritage, that is eternal. Yes, we need college and work for financial stability. But our priority should be our family. Both husbands and wives need to spend more quality time with their children. Tikkun olam starts at home. 

Suzy Baim Los Angeles

Here is one of the many holes in your arguments: “Wealthy Mormons … have a lot of kids.” I am a practicing Mormon, and my calling in the ward allows me to know who is wealthy and the number of kids in the families. The wealthiest in the ward have one to three kids, and the families with four or more kids are middle class or below.

It is not the educational level that determines the number of kids, but the family history of the mother or, to a lesser extent, the father. If both parents grew up with many siblings, almost 100 percent will have more kids. 

Zarko Garmid, Santa Monica

Dennis Prager responds:

Concerning Mr. Garmid’s data on Mormons, I checked with Lynn Bradley, a High Priest in the Priesthood and Counselor in the Bishopric in the Mormon Church. He says that wealthy Mormons (of which there are many) in his ward have an average of four to five children, and no fewer than less wealthy Mormons.

But even that is irrelevant to the point I made in my column, which Mr. Garmid simply misses.

This is what I wrote:

“As societies become more secular, the fertility rate drops. This is easy to demonstrate. Wealthy Orthodox Jews, wealthy devout Roman Catholics, wealthy Mormons and wealthy Evangelicals have a lot of kids. Meanwhile, wealthy secular people have the fewest children.”

I didn’t compare wealthy religious people to less wealthy religious people. I compared wealthy religious people to wealthy secular people.

Nothing Mr. Garmid wrote refutes that point or even addresses it.

Letters to the editor: Judaism in Germany, cultural synergy, women in universities and puzzles

Judaism in Germany

I am a committed supporter of Conservative Judaism and have been a member of Conservative Temple Beth Am for more than 20 years (“Conservative Judaism Reborn — In Germany,” Nov. 29). I agree with Rabbi Brad Artson that the movement is not dying. Unfortunately, however, in his zeal to support Conservative/Masorti Judaism, he presented the facts about the German program unfairly. My wife, Rabbi Ruth Sohn, and I just spent a year in Berlin teaching for the seminary he raved about. It is not about to begin. It has been in existence for over a decade and ordained its first progressive rabbis in 2006 and its first progressive cantor in 2009. But those rabbis and cantors are all Reform. The Potsdam University professor Walter Homolka is also a Reform rabbi, and the Reform movement in the United States and its international arm, the World Movement for Progressive Judaism, have been instrumental in supporting Rabbi Homolka in his brilliant work to revive Progressive Judaism in Germany — of all stripes, Conservative as well as Reform. 

Rabbi Reuven Firestone, professor of medieval Judaism and Islam, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson responds:

Thanks to my friend, Rabbi Reuven Firestone, for praising our sister rabbinical program, the Abraham Geiger College, which does indeed train Reform rabbis for the European Union and has been in healthy existence for several years. But in his legitimate zeal to praise Reform Judaism, he missed that my article was announcing the establishment of the University of Potsdam’s School of Jewish Theology and the brand new Zacharias Frankel College, which will train Conservative/Masorti Rabbis and is now open for admissions.

Arguments Fail to Make the Grade

Colossal irony. Colossal narcissism. This from the guy who decries the “low moral state of our universities,” because women who go to them have fewer children than those who don’t (“Educated Women and Children,” Dec. 6). There are so many holes in this argument it’s well nigh irredeemable. And if he thinks this passes for good argument, he perhaps needs a refresher education at a premier university. In this piece, his position sounds an awful lot like, “Keep women barefoot and pregnant.” Leaving aside his polemics and easy equations about feminism and secularism, there are good moral rationales for encouraging women’s higher education today even if it means that they may have fewer children. These include feeding, housing and clothing those children in an uncertain world as well as fulfilling, perhaps, their intellectual potential.

The world always looks so flat, binary and simple to Dennis Prager. It seems to me that the world and its people are far more complex and interesting than writing like this suggests. Isn’t it time the Jewish Journal gave more voice and column inches to writers who think more unpredictably, more subtly and ultimately beyond the easy either-or facile formulas that regularly spangle these columns?

Doreen Seidler-Feller, associate clinical professor, The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Dennis Prager responds:

Given that there are “so many holes” in my arguments, Doreen Seidler-Feller should have devoted at least some of her 200 words to pointing out what those holes are. Instead, she just attacks me — which, ironically, only serves to reinforce my warnings about the moral and intellectual caliber of much of contemporary university life. So, too, typical of the many professors who think only left-wing views should be expressed, she objects to the Jewish Journal publishing me.

It is beyond sad that after the Holocaust, the more years a Jewish woman (or a Jewish man, but men don’t give birth) spends at a university, the less value she places on having children. This, too, reconfirms what the university has done to the minds and values of many of its students.

Creating Cultural Synergy

It’s great that Israeli Consul General David Siegel is supporting collaboration between Jews and Latinos (“Israeli-Latino Renaissance,” Nov. 22). A perfect example of how these two communities can create cultural synergies took place this last September when the Boyle Heights garden, Proyecto Jardin, and our congregation, IKAR, co-organized a combined Aztec Harvest Festival/Sukkot ceremony. In celebrating together, we found we had much in common, including honoring geographic directions, using conch shells and shofarim to announce ritual events and calling for a sustainable lifestyle. As Siegel points out, we are all in the same boat, and our similarities augur well for more mutual ceremonies and collective action on issues such as the environment, immigration and addressing social inequities.

Alisa Schulweis Reich & Peter Reich, Los Angeles

Puzzle Praise

I started doing your crosswords, and though I have been doing crossword puzzles since I was about 11 — including The New York Times and The Washington Post — I have to tell you that the Jerusalem Post puzzle has become one of my favorites. It is a challenging and clever puzzle. I learn something every time.

Chloe Ross, West Hollywood



In “Moving and Shaking” (Dec. 6), it should have stated that Michelle Hirschhorn is currently a sophomore at Shalhevet.

Letters to the editor: ACA, mitzvot, fair trade chocolate and Noble Prizes

First, Practice Mitzvot

In “No Faith, No Jewish Future” (Nov. 6), Dennis Prager has it backward. The assiduous practice of mitzvot results in recognition of their foundation, not visa versa. Halachic adherence remains the key to growth in Orthodox Judaism. A 3-year-old child learns what we do, i.e., wear tzitzit, when he puts them on and recites a bracha. A yeshiva student gains an understanding as to why we wear them, while studying talmudic tractate, Brachot. Contrary to Dennis’ suggestion, few, if any, outside Orthodoxy who “scrupulously follow halachah” reject the divinity of the Torah. The problem is not a failure to accept the divinity of the Torah; Rather, it is a failure to practice its dictates. Practice of halachah is a precursor to growth and understanding. We cannot be expected to comprehend that which is beyond our own practice and experience.

Mark Herskovitz, Los Angeles

Dennis Prager responds: 

Mr. Herskowitz and I differ. No problem. But his statement, “Contrary to Dennis’ suggestion, few, if any, outside Orthodoxy who ‘scrupulously follow halacha’ reject the divinity of the Torah,” is rarely, if ever, the case. The belief of non-Orthodox Jews who keep halacha was perfectly summarized by the past chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary: “The Torah is the foundation text of Judaism … not because it is divine, but because it is sacred.”

More on the Affordable Care Act

David Suissa’s article “Lies and Consequences” (Nov. 15) is long on rhetoric and short on facts. Lying requires at least some degree of intent.

When President Barack Obama assured citizens they could keep their policies, he was referring to the grandfather clause included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That clause allowed policyholders to keep plans that were in effect as of the date the ACA was enacted in 2010.

The major reason the grandfather clause did not work is that the insurance companies kept creating plans after 2010 that they knew would not be valid after the launch of the ACA, something of which their customers were not cognizant. The insurance companies made use of that lack of sophistication among their customers. As a result, the vast majority of canceled policies were those written or amended between 2010 and 2013. For people who bought insurance plans prior to 2010 when ACA was enacted, President Obama’s statement that you can keep your plan was true and remains true. 

Is President Obama guilty of underestimating the insurance companies? Absolutely. But that does not rise to the level of a lie. It would be appropriate for the author of this column to research and write a follow-up article, this time with facts, on the real culprit, the billion-dollar, for-profit medical insurance industry.

Aaron Rubin, Los Angeles 

David Suissa responds: 

Merriam-Webster defines a lie as “to create a false or misleading impression.” In February 2010, at the health care summit with Republicans, President Obama acknowledged that 8 million to 9 million people “might have to change their coverage.” Knowing that, for three-plus years thereafter, and especially during his re-election campaign, the president promised Americans that “if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” That’s why The Washington Post’s The Fact Checker site gave that statement its worse possible ranking — four Pinocchios.

Buy Fair Trade First

I read with great interest Deborah Prinz’s fascinating account of the role of chocolate in Jewish history (“Chocolate Freedoms of Chanukah and Thanksgiving,” Nov. 29). To really reinforce the notion that chocolate eaten at Chanukah symbolizes the freedoms won by the Maccabees, one should go one step further. Since most of the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa beans picked by children in the Ivory Coast, buying Fair Trade chocolate (certified to not involve children in the production) would really show how much we value freedom for all.

Mark Elinson, Los Angeles

A Wonderful Abundance of Nobel Laureates

The use of the term obnoxious to describe recognition of Jewish accomplishments in Nobel Prize history (“This Week in Jewish History,” Nov. 22) is regrettable. This phenomenon, a proportionally large representation of Nobel laureates attributed to the Jewish population, is a wonderful achievement that should be proudly and frequently referenced, in part to encourage our children to pursue careers in the sciences, liberal arts and engineering. It would have been preferable to have had the Jewish Journal staff edit the offending paragraph accordingly before recirculating it.

Jeff Gold, Rancho Palos Verdes

Letters to the Editor: NewGround, Liberal colleges and Prager

Breaking New Ground in Interfaith Dialogue
The NewGround project is as controversial as it is ambitious (“It’s Not Just Talk,” Aug. 2). Although I am skeptical as to its potential success, I believe the focus of the Jewish-Muslim dialogue is myopic. Since 9/11, it has become increasingly obvious that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a symptomatic and symbolic flashpoint of a problem of much greater universal dimensions. The thoughts of non-Palestinian Muslims about Israel in the NewGround dialogue clearly demonstrate that the war with Israel is not as territorial as it is religious. Perhaps the dialogue should be expanded to include Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’i and Zoroastrians, who in the present day find themselves in conflict with expansionist Islam.
This young generation of American Muslims must be challenged as to whether they subscribe to the expansionist Jihadist Islam that wants to Islamize and subjugate the entire world. If they truly do not, then perhaps they could potentially be a catalyst for reform in the Islamic world that is long overdue.
Richard Friedman
Los Angeles
Hats off to writer Jonah Lowenfeld and the Jewish Journal for their recent article. Interfaith dialogue, like intercultural, interracial and inter-political dialogues, are always a difficult minefield for groups to make their way through. 
My big fear is that the resistant older guard Jewish and Muslim leadership — and its concomitant stubborn resistance in the general older Jewish and Muslim public — is going to make the vital and necessary work of groups like NewGround extremely hard. 
Older critics of NewGround and similar groups need to not sit on the fence, nursing old wounds. Instead, they should give full-throated support. To do otherwise is to only prolong the problem, and that won’t help anyone. 
Brian Estwick
Los Angeles
U.S. Universities Open Learning Environments?
As a student at an openly liberal-leaning college, I have spoken frankly with professors as to whether our courses provide an open space for dissenting opinions or serve merely to reinforce opinions students already hold. What those conversations had was nuance, and an understanding that an idea can be presented — and even argued for by the professor — without being indoctrination. Isn’t that how we learn to think critically about an idea? Dennis Prager, on the other hand, presents woefully oversimplified versions of ideas that are admittedly often present in college courses and offers what amounts to an attempt to scare parents who are understandably concerned about the rising cost of college. It is irresponsible to say that a college education’s value is invalidated by the presence of liberal professors or controversial ideas. Give students a little credit — we’re impressionable, not stupid. 
Noah Scheindlin
Los Angeles
Dennis Prager responds:
Mr. Scheindlin’s first sentence proves my point. He acknowledges that he is “a student at an openly liberal-leaning college.” 
He also admits that all the left-wing propositions I ascribed to American universities “are admittedly often present in college courses.”
So where do we differ? Clearly not on my overall thesis that the American university has become a left-wing seminary.
We differ on whether the left-wing curriculum of the American university matters. He thinks it doesn’t. I think it does. 
Mr. Scheindlin then equates “controversial ideas,” with liberal ones. I would like him to name one liberal idea — just one among the dozens I listed in my column, for example — that would be controversial at his or any other university. The only controversial ideas at American universities today are conservative: God is necessary for objective morality; capitalism is the finest system for conquering poverty; some murderers should be executed; Islamism is the greatest threat to world peace today. It would be surprising if Mr. Scheindlin had one professor who espoused even one of those ideas.
And for those still needing proof that our universities are left-wing seminaries, how’s this: The ratio of identifiably left-wing to identifiably right-wing commencement speakers at America’s colleges in 2013 was about a hundred to one. Among the commencement speakers at the various University of California campuses this year were Attorney General Eric Holder; Gov. Jerry Brown; green activist Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins; ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero; Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.); and Hilda Solis, secretary of labor in the Obama administration; among many other lesser-known liberal activists. There was not one identifiable conservative. 
A column about the writer Joshuah Bearman (“Hard Road to Hollywood,” Aug. 2) incorrectly stated his relationship to his brother Ethan. Both Bearmans share the same parents.

Letters to the Editor: Figueres, Cuba, Charedim

With Gratitude

I received such a delightful surprise. I received a copy of your thoughtful article “Figueres” (July 12). I am grateful for your visit to Costa Rica. It is a lesson in itself.  I am grateful that, at a special time of need, you remind us of the truths of the dreams and their realities of Jose Figueres. You can perhaps understand my emotion if I share with you that I am the widow of Jose Figueres. Shalom. 

Karen Olsen de Figueres
Former first lady of Costa Rica

The Wonders of Cuba

What a wonderful article on tracing family roots to Cuba (“Cuba: Land of My Bubbe,” July 26). I was so moved after my first visit to the Jewish community of Cuba that I co-founded CHAI Missions, a nonprofit Jewish organization dedicated to humanitarian effort with a focus on Cuban Jews. We are now excited to be taking a group this coming November to share this amazing experience. Visit chaimissions.org for an insight on what a Jewish mission to Cuba looks like.

Randi Glasman Simenhoff
via jewishjournal.com


Thank you for such a wonderful piece by Isabel Kaplan on her family history. I recently traveled to Cuba and visited both Jewish cemeteries in Guanabacoa. There is so much more to see and discover about the Jews of Cuba. I just can’t wait till my next trip.

Yael Gadiela Gillette
via jewishjournal.com

Charedi Too Powerful

David Suissa grossly understates the problem and seems unaware of the enormous power Charedi leaders crave and have over their beknighted minions (“Charedim Need More Judaism,” July 26). Nothing will change until Charedi women are fed up with their plight and declare enough is enough.

JJ Gross
via jewishjournal.com

Gender Equality

I agree that pretending genders do not matter in life has gone too far (“Do Men and Women Matter?” July 19). However, I cannot follow your leap that this is the root of LGBTQs engaging in loving relationships outside of the male-female coupling. LGBTQs are different genders. I believe we should have six gender choices: male, female, gay male, gay female, female-to-male transsexual, male-to-female transsexual. All are different and distinct, and each should be entitled to equal rights and treatments under the law. The writers of the Torah, with their divine influence, had not yet recognized this fact.

Alex Romano
via jewishjournal.com

Dennis Prager responds: Mr. Romano writes that “we should have six gender choices.” He has well articulated the progressive ideal that I described in my column.


The war is on to destroy the gender constructs that made our marriage culture possible and the subsequent family unit that it produces, which is the very foundation of a strong and moral society. We are wandering into uncharted territory.

We look to Europe and secular societies in Asia and the trend is the same — people are choosing to forgo marriage and procreation.

Why have a child if it keeps you from pursuing your passions? Why have a child if it keeps you from going out every night with your friends or from traveling the world?

Europe’s demographic collapse is even more severe when you then notice that each passing generation favors smaller and smaller family sizes. These reinforcing mechanisms, compounded by the passing of time, creates a culture that is antithetical to the family unit.

But what happens when, in addition to their secular-inspired, anti-family preference, they then drop gender constructs altogether? It will only escalate both their irrelevancy and their disappearance from humanity as well as the gene pool. We truly are wandering into uncharted territory.

There is a part of me that wants these people to take their dumb ideas with them to the grave. But their collapse will be destructive to our survival, especially when their ideas have also impregnated the minds of many Americans. The vacuum they leave will be the cause of much chaos and cruelty. We are between a rock and a hard place.

Howard Fines
via jewishjournal.com

Free Speech Not Free

Well, free speech bit the dust here (“In Orthodox Community, Offensive Billboard Taken Down,” July 26). Between America and Israel, it seems the Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and Charedi have a limited capacity to control themselves and need the secular world’s help. Enough already!

Suzy Lenkowsky Krikorian
via jewishjournal.com


An article about BTS Communications (“Second Chances at Beit T’Shuvah’s Creative Company,” July 26), a project of Beit T’Shuvah, incorrectly stated that it had received a $250,000 grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. It was from the Jewish Community Foundation as part of its Cutting Edge Grants program, paid out over three years, not four as the article stated.

Letters to the Editor: Hagel, Prager, Woody Allen

The Good, the Bad, the Confusing

Oh, yes, Hagel was bad for Israel — now he’s OK (“Hagel, Obama, Bibi and Red Lines,” April 26). Kerry was good for Israel — now he’s bad. And of course “good for Israel” means not pushing Bibi to actually stop eight years of talking about a two-state solution and doing nothing, not even bringing it up for a vote within his own party. Which I guess makes around half of all Israelis “bad for Israel.”

Lawrence Weinman
via jewishjournal.com

Choosing Sides

Dennis Prager states Heinrich Heine was a secular Jew. But, in fact, he converted to Protestantism in 1825, when he was 27 years old. Heine’s critical article about German Christians was probably written in Paris, where he lived for 25 years before his death. As for a secular Jew who supports Prager’s thought of causes of the Holocaust, he will find it in “Moses and Monotheism,” the last book written by the greatest secular Jew of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud, who wrote: “Under the thin veneer of Christianity, they have remained what their ancestors were, barbarically polytheistic. The hatred for Judaism is, at the bottom, hatred for Christianity, and it is not surprising that in the German National Socialist revolution this close connection of the two monotheistic religions finds such clear expression in the hostile treatment of both.”

Ken Lautman
Los Angeles

The Roots of Anti-Semitism

With due respect to Dennis Prager and his quote from Yehuda Bauer (Letters, April 19), Rosemary Ruether, in her book “Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism” (1974), seems to argue in favor of Michael Berenbaum’s points about a Christian worldview that fostered Holocaust Nazism.

Rachel Malkin

Dennis Prager responds: It is an honor to have two such knowledgeable readers. As I agree with Ken Lautman, I will confine my response to Rachel Malkin by reminding her what I wrote in my original article: “Nearly 2,000 years of European Christian anti-Semitism — including from Martin Luther — rendered the Jew an outcast and thereby laid much of the groundwork for the acceptance of Nazi demonization of the Jews.”
I don’t see how that differs from Rosemary Ruether or Michael Berenbaum. But that is not the same as calling for or actually exterminating the Jews. As I wrote: “But no mainstream Christian institution or theology called for the extermination of the Jews. It took the secular shattering of the Christian conscience to accomplish that.”

Teaching a Tough Lesson

The curriculum in use for this class, and this lesson specifically, is straight out of Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit dedicated to avoiding genocide (“Nazi Role-Playing at High School Causes Stir,” April 26). You might want to contact Facing History and Ourselves to comment on the reasons for having students, rather than the teacher, verbalize why Nazi promises were effective during the Depression in Germany.

Adrienne Karyadi
via jewishjournal.com

Sorry, Jewish Journal, but this story soft-peddles the entire incident. It’s much worse than described in the article.

Benny Forer
via jewishjournal.com

I commend this teacher’s creativity. Teaching these subjects is not easy but must be taught. Stop being so sensitive, everyone, and let teachers teach and students form their own opinions on what they learn. Or, keep your kid home and school them there.

Gregory Rutchik
via jewishjournal.com


I pay homage to Sophie Lellouche for writing this story [“Paris-Manhattan”] (“What Would Woody Allen Do,” April 26). We should have more Jewish writers explaining the real Jewish life stories to make people who hate us, understand that our God teaches us only peace and love for each other. Are we so different from the majority of people?

Ginette Z. Cohen
via jewishjournal.com

Worship Woody Allen? That’s the same Woody Allen who films on Yom Kippur right in time for Mussaf across the street from an Orthodox synagogue and my building.

Sylvia Navon
via jewishjournal.com

Movers and Shakers Inspire

My wife and I found the Milken student’s creativity and the words of the Holocaust survivors to be a most inspiring experience (“Moving and Shaking,” April 26). With grateful thanks to Samara Hutman for her energetic input to the project.

Arnold Schwartzman
via jewishjournal.com

Letters to the Editor: Prager on Newsweek’s Top Rabbi list, Slavin Library closure, AEPi

Rabbinic Recognition

I have an answer to Dennis Prager’s column criticizing the annual list of 50 top rabbis published by Newsweek/Daily Beast (“Time to End the ‘Top Rabbis’ List,” March 29). Prager complains that the Newsweek ranking brings the cult of celebrity to the fragile institution of the rabbinate, inflicting “gratuitous pain” on those rabbis who don’t make the cut and inflating the egos of those who do.

It’s too bad that Prager missed the Forward’s latest project, published a day before the Newsweek list, in which we profiled 36 rabbis who have inspired Jews throughout the country. The rabbis were selected from hundreds and hundreds of nominations submitted by our readers, who sent us compelling stories of men and women offering inspirational leadership in synagogues, classrooms, Hillels and hospices. Only two of the rabbis cited in our project were also on the Newsweek list, illustrating how very different the process and criteria were. And we didn’t rank the 36 rabbis, preferring to present them as an assemblage of the extraordinary work quietly done on behalf of the Jewish people.

The Forward is following up on this project with hard-hitting analytical stories on the challenges facing the American rabbinate, but we wanted to start by listening to our readers. I have no beef against the Newsweek list — the editor this year was a fine journalist who used to work at the Forward. But there are other ways to highlight inspired leadership, and we have shown how it can be done.

Jane Eisner
The Forward 

Lamenting Library’s Closure

We read with dismay about the impending closure of the Slavin Family Children’s Library (“Slavin Library to Close,” March 22). As a whole, its collection represents the best in Jewish children’s books, music, DVDs, programming and more. Broken up, it is bubkes.

It is disconcerting that the collection can’t be placed in a more accessible and visible location. A library is so much more than the sum of its parts! They are synergistic enterprises that give a foundation to its ethnic, religious community. Cities with smaller Jewish populations than Los Angeles, such as San Diego, Montreal and Cleveland, support Jewish literacy with libraries. While the library has never been a priority of the Federation or the BJE — otherwise resources would have been found to support it — it is still a dream of these two professional librarians to lift the children’s library out of the 6505 space and situate it in the current nexus of the community where families may visit and use it on the way to and from schools, markets, bakeries and so forth, fully integrated in communal life.

Abigail Yasgur
Sylvia Lowe
Los Angeles

Two Jews, Three Opinions?

I commend Jonah Lowenfeld for covering the story of the first three UC student governments to vote (overwhelmingly) to approve resolutions urging their campus administrations and the University of California as a whole to divest from companies that either assist or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (“Three UC Student Governments Endorse BDS,” March 22). I commend him for including the voices and perspectives of Palestinian students and Students for Justice in Palestine activists in his story. And while he included the voices of Jewish students and activists who opposed these measures, he completely left out the voices of the many Jewish activists both on and off campuses who promote the non-violent BDS movement and the rights of Palestinians to equality, justice and self-determination in their homeland. Two Jews, three opinions, but one is being silenced within the Jewish community and the Jewish Journal.

Estee Chandler
Toluca Lake


The Greek Life

As a longtime reader of the Journal and also of David Suissa, I must comment on his column regarding fraternities (“Life of AEPi,” March 8).

I am a member of a ZBT fraternity (Michigan State University ’57), and I remember that McGill University in Montreal, at that time, had a ZBT chapter on that campus. ZBT is still a viable and active fraternity and has been around longer than AEPi. I am still in contact with many of the “brothers” I knew then.

Ted Toback


The article “Moving and Shaking” (March 29) omitted Rabbi Sarah Hronsky, senior rabbi at Beth Hillel Day School, from the entry about the Passover celebration at Los Angeles City Hall.

In the column “Jewlicious Works” (March 15), the Marx Brothers’ stateroom scene was from “A Night at the Opera,” not “Monkey Business.”

Letters to the Editor: Settlements, Rice, Jewlicious, Secularism

The Two-State Solution

David Suissa has been writing a brilliant monologue, telling Los Angeles Jews that Israel’s settlements are legal and Israel’s enemies are so very afraid. The problem with his monologue is that it will convince no one who is not already convinced.
Legal or illegal, we all know that the presence of settlements makes contiguous Palestinian territory ever more difficult and thus the possibility of a two-state solution ever more contorted and disruptive for Israel. Two out of three Israelis believe that a two-state solution is imperative for the future of a Jewish democratic Israel, and far more than two in three American Jews concur; two thirds also believe that it is not on the horizon.
But if the strategy — not the tactics — is to search for a two-state solution, then the settlements are unwise at least. I personally believe that they are catastrophic, not because I believe in the peace process but because I think that a divorce between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the only way to preserve a Jewish and democratic state.
But keep telling us, my dear friend David, what we want to hear and we may end up like the Republican Party without appeal to any demographic except our own.
Michael Berenbaum
Los Angeles
David Suissa responds: If someone accuses me unfairly of being a thief, and then tells the whole world that I’m a thief, I’m going to push back and defend myself, even if it’s not “practical” or “strategic.” If Israel doesn’t start defending itself against these lethal accusations, it will become the most boycotted and delegitimized country on the planet. And that’s not good for the Jews or for the peace process. Please read my complete response to critics here.

Rice, U.S. Champions of Human Rights?
How dare Condoleezza Rice defile the podium at UCLA by lauding the United States as “a worldwide champion of human rights,” when she personally approved the use of waterboarding, prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994 (“Rice Dissects American Policies,” March 8).
According to a declassified 2009 Senate Intelligence Committee report, in July 2002 Rice approved the CIA’s request to subject alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah to waterboarding and personally conveyed the administration’s approval to CIA Director George Tenet. The next month Zubaydah was illegally waterboarded at least 83 times.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the CIA’s harsh interrogation program and abuses of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. While Rice admitted that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed, she omitted her direct role in approving the program in her written statement to the committee.
Instead of giving high-priced lectures, Rice should be huddling with her lawyers preparing her defense to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Stephen Rohde
Chair, ACLU Foundation of Southern California 
Founder, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

Jewlicious: He Gets It
I found Rob Eshman’s article about the recent Jewlicious Festival insightful and encouraging (“Whatever Works,” March 15). It took just one visit and Rob got it. He understood clearly the Jewish outreach value Jewlicious brings to our Jewish community. And while I think it’s important to mention that The Federation and Valley Alliance have been supportive of Jewlicious in the past, there has been very little organized or overall support of Jewlicious. If reaching out beyond the usual suspects and reinvigorating Jewish life for young people is a priority, it would be a tragedy if this turned out to be the last Jewlicious Festival.
Larry Cohen
West Hills

Prager on Secularism
In the first sentence of his article, Dennis Prager writes, “Most non-Orthodox Jews venerate secularism” (“Secularism,” March 15). If I were a rabbi at a Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or nonaffiliated temple, I think I would be quite surprised to find out that I am really a closet atheist who is hostile to religion. And I would be even more dismayed to learn that “most” of my congregants are just as deluded as I am. 
Michael Asher
Valley Village
Dennis Prager responds: First, “most” does not mean “all.” Second, “non-Orthodox Jews” does not mean “non-Orthodox rabbis”; they compose a fraction of 1 percent of non-Orthodox Jews. Third, sarcasm is not argument.


The article “Slavin Library to Close” (March 22) incorrectly indicated that the decision to close the Slavin Children’s Library was made jointly by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and BJE, Builders of Jewish Education. The decision was made exclusively by Federation.

Letters to the Editor: Settlements, Response Policy, Secularism

Will PR Help Israel?

David Suissa’s suggestion that Israel shift its PR efforts toward legal definitions sounds reasonable but is in reality quite futile (“Israel Needs a Lawyer,” March 15). The so-called 1967 boundaries were actually the cease-fire lines of 1949, in effect everything that Israel was able to take during the War of Independence. World opinion regarded this as Israel, and the Green Line was a de facto international border. This is still the case.

Legalities or legal questions not withstanding, world opinion ever since U.N. Resolution 242 (calling on Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” in 1967) regarded Israel’s 1967 conquests as occupied territories. Nothing Israel has done or said since has changed that widely held view. I suspect the Israeli government ignored the Levy Commission report cited by Mr. Suissa because it felt it would have little or no impact on world opinion.

The question facing Israel is, to what extent does its continued possession — regarded as occupation — of the 1967 conquests impact not only Israel’s image but its character as well? And to what extent does the continuing occupation (whether legal or illegal) assist those who are seeking to undermine Israel’s legitimacy within the 1967 boundaries? The negotiated two-state solution that would probably solve the problem may not be possible at the moment, but what is the alternative?

Rabbi Gilbert Kollin


Right of Reply

Why does the Journal routinely let Dennis Prager reply — often at length — to letters to the editor about his column? It is standard journalistic practice to let letters speak for themselves, limiting responses to those rare instances requiring factual clarification. Prager has a column every week. He should use it as he wishes, but he should not take the space allotted to readers’ opinions. Allowing Prager to respond means he always gets the last word. Prager should have the humility to let letters stand on their own, and the Journal’s editors should demonstrate fairness and have faith in readers’ ability to draw their own conclusions.

Tom Fields-Meyer
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman responds: The Journal’s policy is to encourage free exchange of ideas whenever possible and practical. We offer all columnists the right of reply and clarification. We’ve followed this practice since our founding 26 years ago. These days, we encourage letter writers and columnists to continue their dialogue online at jewishjournal.com through our new Facebook commenting feature.


God: Reality or Invention

In Dennis Prager’s latest column, a strong attack on secularism, he states, “… because people who don’t believe in God don’t want to go crazy, they make up meanings.” (“Secularism,” March 15). (His examples included work, family and self-sacrifice for country.) Although I am not an atheist, my very basic question for Mr. Prager is simply this: Isn’t it equally possible that other groups of people — also in order to avoid going crazy — made up God?

Larry Garf

Dennis Prager responds: Mr. Garf is almost entirely right. Yes, it is “possible that other groups of people — also in order to avoid going crazy — made up God.” But it is not “equally” possible. The idea that in one place at one time, people made up the idea of an invisible, supranatural, moral lawgiver as depicted in the Torah is extremely unlikely. Moreover, while atheists make up whatever meanings they give to their lives, those who believe in God did not necessarily make God up. He might really exist.


Fermentation Foment

Uri Laio is filled with vim and vinegar in his enthusiasm for things fermented (“Preparing for Spring and the Festival of Indigestion,” March 15). There is a downside to fermentation that includes carcinogens (N-nitroso compounds) and salt, both of which are associated with gastric cancer. The fermentation of yogurt with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria is very different as it enhances our immune systems and without carcinogens. One who has stomach trouble or heart disease could find Laio’s suggestions dangerous. All fermentation is not alike. All fermentation is not healthy.

Dr. Jerome P. Helman


The article “Is the Newsweek Rabbis List Good for the Jews?” (March 15) incorrectly stated a portion of Gabrielle Birkner’s work experience before becoming a researcher for the list. She previously served as an editor and director of digital media at The Forward, not as a reporter.

The article “Man Behind Iron Dome Addresses Milken Students” (March 15) incorrectly stated that Metuka Benjamin is director of education of Stephen S. Wise. She is the president of Milken Community High School.

Letters to the Editor: Oscars, LimmudLA, Prager

Where Were the Female Comedians?

As a working lawyer and a practicing comic, I have to remark at the irony that on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking “The Feminine Mystique” (“‘All That I Am I will Not Deny,’” March 1), David Suissa (“Jews Can’t Take Love,” March 1) mentioned 21 male comics (the Marx Brothers were four) and only two female comics. I’m sure Mr. Suissa could have Googled for more female names if he wanted to present a more balanced census in 5773/2013.

What about Molly Goldberg, Fanny Brice, Joan Rivers, Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller, Elaine Boosler, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Rita Rudner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Sandra Bernhard, Laraine Newman and Chelsea Handler to name just a few off the top of my head….

Elisa Wayne
Los Angeles

The Many Virtues of LimmudLA

As someone who first discovered LimmudLA back in 2009, I can’t begin to express how that first conference and my subsequent involvement in various committees have shaped the course of my life (“LimmudLA Reboots — Minus Staff, 2013 Conference,” March 1). Although the conference, learning and volunteering are the cornerstones of the Limmud experience, the benefits and impact of one’s involvement after the conference are far greater. At its core, LimmudLA has always been about building community and empowering the individual. It’s never been about the staff. It’s about creating a diverse community of Jews from all ages and backgrounds who are excited about exploring their Jewish identity and are encouraged to take a step out of their comfort zone and take another step along their Jewish journey.

Similarly, LimmudLA’s next endeavor, Fest, is just another steppingstone in that growth process that started back in 2008. I’m positive that the incredible volunteer-led community and leadership will turn this next chapter into a tremendous success. And I’m thrilled that I’ll be back from Israel at that time so I’ll actually be able to attend and present!

Joseph Shamash
via JewishJournal.com

Self-Esteem and Academia

I find Dennis Prager’s column on “Self-Esteem” (March 1) very interesting. In support of his argument, he cites Jennifer Crocker, now a social psychology professor with Ohio State University; Roy Baumeister, social psychology professor with Florida State University; and Nicholas Emler, social psychology professor with the University of Surrey. Yet at every opportunity, Mr. Prager castigates those in higher education and ridicules a college education generally. You simply can’t have it both ways, Mr. Prager.

Martin Kodish
Woodland Hills

Dennis Prager responds: Having written and spoken about the absurdity of the self-esteem movement for 25 years, I needed no academic studies to make my case. I cited all these academic studies for people like Martin Kodish, for whom experience, rational argument and common sense are insufficient — especially when argued by a conservative.

It Was a Joke — Lighten Up!

I am a sick and tired when someone in the national spotlight says that Jews own Hollywood (“Jews Can’t Take Love,” “Oscar’s Big Jewish Joke,” March 1). I wasn’t angry at Seth MacFarlane, but at those who go crazy and claim anti-Semitism. It was a joke! We have to learn to laugh at ourselves or we’ll be grouped with the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who play the race card. I was not offended at all when Ted poked fun that Mark Wahlberg wasn’t Jewish. (Did you hear Spielberg or Katzenberg go public to denounce these comments?) The more that groups that make their living on the anti-Semitism card, come out and denounce these types of comments, the more publicity they get. I think we have to lighten up a little.

Richard Katz
Los Angeles

Inspired by Neal

Neal’s Prayer” (Feb. 8) was superb and got right to the point on Jewish disability. It rates a standing ovation. I’m a person with cerebral palsy and significant speech difficulty. The poem really resonated with me.

In the early 1980s, I was on the Commission on Jews With Disabilities in Los Angeles. We pounded the pavement, going to Jewish organizations and places where Jews congregate. Our message was clear: Every person has the right to gain access into a building through the front door.

It was an enriching experienced to be part of the commission, which also published “The Resource and Accessibility Guide for Jews With Disabilities in the Greater Los Angeles Area.” We were a dynamic force.

Susan Cohn
San Jose


In the article “Three Films to Focus on Israeli Air Force” (March 1), credits for the film “804,” about the all South African volunteers in Israel’s War of Independence, go to Jason Hoff and Sharit Krengel as producers and Stephanie Ronnet as consulting producer.

Letters to the Editor: Prager, vocational skills, BDS movement, SpaceIL

Prager and Self-Esteem

In a recent article, Dennis Prager wrote an oversimplified and sweeping criticism of self-esteem (“Behavior Matters Most,” Feb. 15). He claims that self-esteem promotes the idea that feelings are more important than actions.

True self-esteem comes from a personal recognition of a job well done, of a life well lived. It brings to the individual constant, reliable internal support when storm clouds arrive. I believe that constructive action generates self-esteem, and this aim of doing good works is the goal and that this positive action generates self-esteem, not as the goal but as a byproduct of doing good works. This is true for adults in their actions and equally true for children whose self-esteem can be boosted by reaching appropriate goals, supported and aided by aware parents, teachers and even peers.

I have known Prager for many years and he has an ample supply of self-esteem. Does he believe that his feelings of self-esteem are more important than his actions? No way.

I agree that a false sense of self-importance can come from an effort to meet unfulfilled needs. But to condemn self-esteem with such a broad brush seems totally inconsistent with Prager’s persistent claims of objectivity.

Richard Gunther
Los Angeles

Editor’s note: For a response to this letter, please read Dennis Prager’s column here.

Bring Back Vocational Training in Jewish Education

This is a very important development for Jewish education (“Empowering Our Children With Vocational Skills,” Feb. 22). Although vocational training was an integral part of Jewish education at the turn of the last century and is still integrated in European Jewish schools, it has dropped out of the North American Jewish day school curriculum. Notwithstanding Zionism’s dignity of labor, we need to address the vocational and manual skills of children as part of a holistic and spiritually creative learning environment.

Michael Shire
via jewishjournal.com

Men of Distinction

Roberto Loiederman’s article captured the essence of the Brandeis Men’s Group (“Old Jewish Men and a Place to Call Home,” Feb. 22). He showed how men who had led useful, active lives are able to continue doing so after they retire. 

Our members range in age from the mid-60s and up. They were judges, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, educators and businessmen. Many were distinguished.  They include Walter Graf, a pioneer of paramedicine in the United States; Harold Savinar, the founder and owner of one of the largest luggage stores west of the Mississippi; and Gerry Sallus, one of the leaders of the General Motors team that built Sunraycer, the vehicle that won the first Australia solar-powered race.

The enthusiasm of our membership for our many activities each month and for helping Brandeis University grow its scholarship program and its scientific research centers makes the Brandeis Men’s Group a great organization.

Thank you for the excellent article.

Richard S. Harmetz, co-chair
Brandeis Men’s Group

Pushing Back Against BDS

Thanks, Jewish Journal and Jonah Lowenfeld, for an update on our Israel bashers from the Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) movement (“BDS Call Pushes California Pension Funds,” Feb. 22). Readers can Google Anna Baltzer, Estee Chandler and Shakeel Syed, executive director at the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, to see all the local mishegoss. You would be surprised to see what lengths they are going to in order to disparage the Jewish state.

But don’t despair. Find ways to help Jewish students on campus, send Jewish and Muslim students to Israel, and connect Israeli universities with their counterparts here. That’s what’s happening with Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services under the auspices of their president, Shalom Elcott. Let’s turn a negative into a positive.

Richard Bernstein
Los Angeles

What’s in a (Spacecraft) Name?

I wish the Jewish people and the State of Israel success in embarking upon the exciting but challenging venture to the surface of the moon by 2015 (“One Giant Leap for the Jewish State,” Feb. 22). I think it would be a splendid idea if SpaceIL renamed the craft “Ramon” as its final designation in honor and memory of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia shuttle disaster.

Alexander Harold Hersh
via jewishjournal.com

Seeking Memories

Did you go to Louis B. Silver Religious School at Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center in the last 26 years? Our much loved school director, Debby Singer, is retiring. We are looking for letters, photos, and your special memories for a tribute book. Please contact executivedirector@pjtc.net for information.

Stacy Miller
via e-mail

Letters to the Editor: Prager on murder, Spiritual care, Christmas Mitzvah, Seeking former students

Prager on Murder

It is quite something to read Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion dean Joshua Holo’s caricature Dennis Prager as reckless, heedless, gratuitously hostile and a provocateur “painting in broad strokes of facile caricature” (Letters, Dec. 21), when that is precisely what he, not Prager, does.

Dennis Prager’s piece “Why Is Murder Wrong?” (Dec. 14) makes two extremely significant points. The first: God is inseparable from morality. If God does not exist, there is no such thing as an objective, or ultimate, source of morality, period. Prager’s assertion is philosophically sound. Without God, all we have left morally is personal opinion, even when it comes to murder.

Prager’s second point: The indispensable association of morality with God — the greatest single contribution of the Torah and the Jews — is rarely mentioned by non-Orthodox rabbis, let alone taught in non-Orthodox seminaries.

I am a Conservative rabbi who has attended annual rabbinic conferences for more than 22 years, along with having served on the board of several rabbinic organizations, and, of course, attending countless synagogue services here and abroad. My many years of experience in the rabbinate have taught me that Prager’s critique is unquestionably right: God as the source of ultimate morality is seldom, if ever, mentioned.

Impugning Dennis Prager doesn’t change this fact.

Rabbi Michael Gotlieb
via e-mail


It is sadly ironic that Dennis Prager’s column on knowing versus believing murder is wrong should appear on the same weekend as the horrific mass murder at an elementary school in Connecticut.

I would assert that more than 99 percent of Americans know/believe those murders in Connecticut were wrong, and that they don’t really much care about whether anyone can make a “provable” argument that those murders were wrong.

Rather than waste time trying to use an unprovable argument about God to convince the less than 1 percent that know/believe murder is right that they are provably wrong, perhaps it would be a better use of time to debate why 50 percent of the country thinks assault weapons should be legal, while 50 percent of the country thinks there is no compelling reason why anybody should be allowed to own an assault weapon.

Michael Asher
Valley Village


Importance of Spiritual Care

Your article “Soothing the Spirit” (Dec. 14) introduced an important aspect of healing not known to many. I commend the Jewish Journal for the in-depth coverage of spiritual care in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as well as the value and importance of hospital chaplaincy services for people of all denominations.

Providence Tarzana Medical Center offers the same spiritual-care services to all of its patients, including those from the Jewish community. It also takes an interfaith approach to spiritual care. The team of professionally trained chaplains and spiritual advisors includes two rabbis, priests, sisters and others. The hospital took a lead as the first Catholic medical center to place a kosher mezuzah on the doorway of each of the patients’ rooms.

Every Friday, the spiritual-care staff delivers candles and kosher challah to its Jewish patients. During Rosh Hashanah, the blowing of the shofar is heard in Jewish patients’ rooms.

As a chaplain/rabbi serving at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, I am honored and proud to be a member of the spiritual-care team to serve our diverse community.

Rabbi Avi Navah
Providence Tarzana Medical Center
Spiritual Care Department


Missed Christmas Mitzvah

I applaud all the Christmas Day mitzvot that are done by many synagogues and Jewish organizations. I just want to add one more that seems to be under your radar (“Volunteering on Christmas,” Dec. 21). For two decades, Beth Shir Shalom has taken over for Meals on Wheels of Santa Monica (MOW) on Christmas. Meals on Wheels being closed on Christmas was brought to my attention by Doris and Norty Smirlock, long-time members and MOW volunteers, who told me that Beth Shir Shalom needed to respond. So, every year on Christmas Day, we take over all the routes of Meal on Wheels and deliver homemade Christmas meals to all of their clients — 110 meals this year. The Beth Shir Shalom community is proud to be able to help give the dedicated workers and volunteers of Meals on Wheels a merry Christmas while making sure their clients have one, too.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Beth Shir Shalom


Seeking Former Conversion Students

Over the past 25 years, Adaire Klein has taught hundreds of conversion students in the Pico-Robertson area. As Klein and her husband, Manny, prepare to move to Israel, B’nai David-Judea Congregation is searching for former students to participate in a written tribute. If you are a former student, please contact B’nai David-Judea Executive Director Amram Hassan at (310) 276-9269 or e-mail adaireklein@bnaidavid.com.

Maryam Maleki
via e-mail

Letters to the Editor: Prager’s Politics, Bassoonist Has Storied Career

Prager’s Politics

Dennis Prager has again conveniently and simplistically divided his world into good and bad, conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad (“A Jew Tours for Romney,” Nov. 2). He then uses this formulation to claim that the conservative Republicans more ardently favor Jews and Israel, than do the liberal Democrats.

What he refrains from stating is that liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic, but his implication is clear: His perverted vision of the world is that “virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

He is right about one thing: Prager’s warped view of the world will not “matter to most American Jews,” and neither will his attempt to indict liberal Jewish Democrats on the grounds that, in his opinion, they do not support Israel as ardently as one Academy Award winner and his beloved conservative Evangelists (whose social agenda is abhorrent to democratic principles).

Louis A. Lipofsky
Beverly Hills


Dennis Prager responds:

Mr. Lipofsky lies about what I wrote. I never implied, let alone wrote, anything about “conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad.” In virtually every one of my columns and my broadcasts I emphasize that there are good and bad people in both parties and among both conservatives and liberals.

Mr. Lipofsky lies about my implying that “liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic.”

What I did write is an incontrovertible fact: “Virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

If Mr. Lipofsky takes that to mean that I am saying that all those on the left are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, he does not reason clearly: The fact that anti-Israel hatred emanates from the left does not mean that all those on the left hate Israel. 

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal, has repeatedly asserted this truth about the left and its anti-Israel animus.

For the record, the Gallup poll in March asked American voters, “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” Seventy-eight percent of Republicans chose Israel, 53 percent chose Israel.

Mr. Lipofsky is right, however, about America’s Evangelical Christians being beloved by this Jew. I wonder if there is any instance in modern history of a group of people so decent and so supportive of another group — in this case, Jews — so many of whose members, like Mr. Lipofsky, return that support with ingratitude and even calumny (Evangelicals are “abhorrent to democratic principles”).


For those who do not understand Dennis Prager, perhaps this will help. My son, a young lawyer who worked for a prominent Jewish law firm whose partners predominantly supported the Democratic Party, was once asked by the senior partner for whom would my son vote. My son said that he would vote Republican. The partner was astonished and exclaimed, “How could you vote for the Republicans when they oppose all Jewish values such as support for the poor, gay-lesbian rights, affirmative action for African-Americans and Chicanos, abortion rights and equal pay for women?” My son replied that he would vote Republican because they supported Israel. The senior partner sneered, “The only reason Republicans support Israel is because of the influence of the Christian Evangelicals who dominate the Republican Party, and the only reason the Christian Evangelicals support Israel is because they believe that the establishment of the State of Israel is a necessary precondition for the second coming of Christ.” My son replied, “That’s fine. For now I’ll vote Republican, but when and if Christ comes back to earth, I will vote Democratic.” 

Leib Orlanski
Beverly Hills

Bassoonist Has Storied Career 

The article “Israel Philharmonic’s Storied History” (Oct. 26), in describing the participation in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) of Maurice Surovich, son of co-founder Jacob Surowicz, reported that he “filled in occasionally.” In fact, Gabriel Vole’s uncle Maurice, after a successful career with major British orchestras, joined the IPO as bassoonist in 1960, and continued actively as such until his retirement a few years ago. At 95, he resides with his wife, Fay, in Savyon.

Celia Raven
Los Angeles


The My Single Peeps column profile of Jered F. (Nov. 2) quoted him as saying “my parents cut me off” financially. In fact, Jered said in an e-mail following publication, “My father was in no position to help due to divorce fallout. He and my stepmother have always stood by me, and he is an incredible friend, parent and invaluable ally to me to this day.”

Letters to the Editor: Entitlements, Women of the Wall, Mormons, Christians, Prager

Eshman on Entitlements

Rob Eshman correctly notes that tzedakah is not merely charity but is also a religious and community response about social justice (“Entitled,” Oct. 19). Nowadays, “entitlements” are frequently used as a synonym for charity. However, Eshman inadvertently undercuts his own argument by failing to point out an essential fact: For working Americans, Social Security and Medicare are earned benefits paid for by payroll deductions.  

Gene Rothman
Culver City

What Happened at the Wall?

In your article on “Kotel Arrest Galvanizes Jews” (Oct. 26), it would have been nice to read a comment from someone “on the other side” of the argument. The only dissenting line was that Hoffman’s report of her imprisonment was inaccurate. Was there no one to talk to who opposes what Hoffman is doing?

The article also gives the impression that women are forbidden to pray at the Wall, a fact we all know to be false. So what exactly were Hoffman and her group trying to do that prompted the wrath of the police? Unfortunately, the report seemed more interested in promoting a political agenda than it did in clarifying a sensational news story.

Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky
via e-mail

More on Mormonism

Is this the sixth thing Jews should know about Mormons (“Five Things About Mormonism,” Oct. 26)? Article of Faith 10: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

How about that the Book of Mormon is the word of God?  (Seventh thing?)

Mitch Paradise 
Los Angeles

Not All Churches Are the Same

David Suissa is correct in pointing out the outrage of certain Christian denominations’ views and the censure of Israel (“Christians Picking on Israel,” Oct. 19). Despite the moral repugnance and sheer idiocy of their views, Suissa neglects to cite the common link between these various anti-Israel Christian denominations: It is the churches on the far political left that share these biased views on Israel, from liberation theology in Latin America to the black liberation church’s anti-Semitic views as exemplified by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church, reaching back to Jimmy Carter’s Southern Baptist leftist church. Recently, the anti-Semitic views of the far left have begun to permeate the once-centrist American Presbyterian church.

Politically conservative American Protestant churches wholeheartedly support Israel. Yet the majority of American Jews fear the Christian right. Really?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

Prager and Politics

Dennis Prager attempts to make the case that Gov. Romney and the Republicans would be better for Israel than President Obama and the Democrats (“The Election and Israel,” Oct. 19). But in his article, Mr. Prager makes the following outrageous assertion: “The attitude of a party or candidate toward Israel tells you more than perhaps any other issue about that party or candidate. Treatment of and attitudes toward the Jews and Israel is an almost perfect indicator of a party’s, a country’s or a candidate’s values.” In other words, Mr. Prager believes that the Republicans’ love and support for Israel is the clearest indicator of their pure and superior moral character. 

If Mr. Prager believed that the Democrats were the better party for Israel, would he still make the same ridiculous, self-serving assertion? 

Michael Asher
Valley Village

Mr. Prager is wrong about which presidential candidate will be the strongest supporter of Israel. As I write this letter on Oct. 19, there are 3,000 U.S. troops in Israel conducting war games with Israeli troops. They are demonstrating their overwhelming power to Iran. The Israel defense minister said President Obama is the best friend of Israel of all the U.S. presidents, and without President Obama, Israel would not have been able to build the defense structure costing $300 million to defend itself against the deadly rockets Hezbollah had been firing into Israel from Lebanon.

President Obama has proven he has the character to do what is right and will stand by Israel no matter what happens.  

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles



An article about “Orchestra of Exiles,” a film about the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (“Rescuing Jewish Musicians,” Oct. 26), gave an incorrect name for its support organization. The correct name is American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Everything is easier than doing good

Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah:

If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess.

But if we say we value goodness above everything else — and surely Judaism does — why aren’t there more good people?

A big reason is that it is easier to value other things — including, and especially, positive things — more than goodness. So it’s much easier to be just about anything rather than good.

It’s easier to be religious than to be good.

The history of all religions is replete with examples of individuals who seem religious, yet who are not good and are sometimes downright evil. The most obvious examples today are found within Islam. But Judaism, Christianity and all other religions have provided examples. It was mean-spirited observant Jews (observant of laws between man and God) whom the Prophets most severely criticized. God doesn’t want your ritual observances, Isaiah said in God’s name, if you don’t treat people properly. And too much of European Christian history produced people who valued faith over goodness.

It’s easier to be progressive than to be good.

Just as it is easier to be religious than to be good, it is easier to hold progressive positions than to be good. Too many religious people have equated religious piety with goodness, and too many believers in today’s dominant religion, progressivism, equate left-wing positions with goodness. I saw this as a graduate student in the 1970s, when the most progressive students were so often personally mean and dishonest. They seemed to believe that protesting against war and racism defined the good human being — so how they treated actual people didn’t really matter. Defining goodness as having progressive social positions has helped produce a lot of mean-spirited and narcissistic individuals with the “right” social positions.

It’s easier to be brilliant (and successful) than to be good.

Ask your children — whether they are 5 or 45 — what they think you most want them to be: happy, good, successful or smart.

Parents have told me for decades how surprised they were that their children did not answer “good.” One reason is that so many parents have stressed brilliance (and the success that brilliance should lead to) over goodness. Thus, many parents brag about their child’s brilliance rather than about their goodness. How closely do parents monitor their children’s character as compared to how closely they monitor their children’s grades?

Brilliance is probably the most overrated human attribute. And there is absolutely no connection between it and goodness. 

It’s easier to care about the earth than to be good.

Everyone who cares about the next generation of human beings cares about the earth. But we live at a time when many care about the earth more than they care about human beings. That is why, for example, the environmentalist movement in the West persisted in banning DDT, despite the fact that not using DDT to destroy the Anopheles mosquito has resulted in millions of Africans dying of malaria.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to fight carbon emissions than to fight evil.

It’s easier to love animals than to love people.

The secular West has produced many people who love animals more than human beings. Ask people who love their pet if they would first try to save a beloved dog or cat that was drowning or a human being they did not know who was also drowning. If my asking this question for over 30 years is any indication, a significant percentage would answer that they would first try to save their dog or cat. Why? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger.

Contrary to what is widely believed, love of animals does not translate into love of people. While those who are cruel to animals will likely be cruel to people, the converse is not true. Love of animals has little to do with, and can often substitute for, love of people. 

It’s easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.

The greatest moral teaching of the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “Love humanity [or “all people”] as yourself.” Why? Because it’s easy to love humanity; it’s much tougher to love our neighbor.

It’s easier to be intellectual and cultured than to be good.

The most cultured nation in the world created the Holocaust. The nation that produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Wagner also produced the Nazis and Auschwitz. For those of us whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by the art and culture produced by Germans, that is a sobering fact.

It’s easier to intend to do good than to do good.

It is a truism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nearly all the evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in history, were committed not by sadists, but by people with good intentions.

That is why, when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, only our behavior — not our intention, and not how much we feel for others — matters. 

The primacy of behavior over feelings may well be Judaism’s greatest message. 

A happy and healthy new year to all my readers.

Dennis Prager will once again be conducting High Holy Day services in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.pragerhighholidays.net

Letters to the Editor: Young Jewish hipsters, struggling with God

Keeping the Community Young and Vibrant

We applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for the wonderful cover story “Fueling the jFed Generation” (June 1). We commend The Jewish Federation and its leadership for their tireless efforts to engage young adults in Jewish life. The Federation’s new Young Adults of Los Angeles (YALA) initiative and its collaborations with dozens of young adult organizations are instrumental in ensuring the future vitality of our community. This undertaking is a direct result of the synergy between the Jewish Community Foundation’s Cutting Edge Grants Initiative and the Jewish Federation’s elevating young adults to a top priority.

Lorin M. Fife

Marvin Schotland
President and CEO

Jewish Community Foundation
Los Angeles

Holy Hipsters! The pursuit of the hip, rather than informed planning, is characteristic of our current local “organized” Jewish community.

Only a decade since L.A. Jewish Federation forced the closure and began the sell-off (for pennies on the dollar) of most of our Jewish community centers, Federation is announcing a multimillion-dollar initiative to rediscover the wheel and call them “hubs” or small-c centers.

Most of the communal real estate of Los Angeles’ JCCs is gone. New Jewish Community High School is the proud new bargain owner of the West Hills site of Milken JCC, the Help Group now occupies the former Valley Cities JCC, the North Valley JCC Granada Hills campus was sold to an Orthodox trade school, Bay Cities JCC was sold for $3.3 million and is now 44 units of affordable housing built by the Community Corp. of Santa Monica. The then “hip” Shalhevet High School occupying the corner of Fairfax and San Vicente, now over-housed and heavily mortgaged, was the failed suitor of the remaining, still thriving, Westside JCC.

Call them Jewish hubs, small-c centers or whatever you will. If the L.A. Federation had saved the JCCs and their skilled professionals with a proven century of successful Jewish communal service for a mere $2 million in 2001, it likely wouldn’t be planning to spend tens of millions of dollars now on trendy “social entrepreneurs” to fill the Jewish vacuum it created.

Pini Herman
Carthay Circle

Your “Holy Hipsters!” could have been a report issued from the fabled Chelm, where learned decisions did not stand the test of common sense.

All this money, you report, is being spent to attempt to capture a lost generation. To ensure a Jewish future? Why doesn’t even one writer look at the reality? 

Why not see what happens when you apply real-world statistics? I refer to the current fertility, education and other factors of known demographics: Today, the average fertility rate among Jewish American women is a shocking .9 children per Jewish mother. And post-pubescent Jewish education after bar or bat mitzvah for secular/liberal Jewish children is close to nonexistent, except for summer camp and the handful of confirmation students.

Unless fertility and Jewish education rates change significantly and immediately, it makes not the slightest difference if the community pours $100 million on the unaffiliated young Jews who then tikkun the world to pieces. What counts is whether anyone can influence them to average no fewer than three children per Jewish mother and that they will pay for all of them to have a liberal day school Jewish education through high school. The chances of that happening are virtually nil. 

Thus, all these wonderful programs and expenditures, as brilliant as any from Chelm, will have no effect at all on mitigating the future demise of the American secular/liberal Jewish community and all their institutions within two generations. Reality: It is only the Orthodox who, without much help from The Federation, are truly ensuring the Jewish future of Los Angeles with both their birth rates and expenditures on yeshiva education though high school or beyond.

Gary Dalin

Atheists Struggle With God, Too
I was pleased to read Dennis Prager’s article about struggling with God (“Israel Means ‘Struggle With God,’ ” June 1). Unlike him, though, I would say that atheists very much struggle with God. How much emotion is present to deny the One of which one is part? Everyone, the secular included, struggles every day with God.

My path most would designate as Hindu. For 50 years, I have practiced India’s yoga culture, associating closely with its scholars and saints to imbibe their wisdom and love. Although there is only one God, all have their unique relationship with Him. As the relationship (yoga) becomes more intimate, so do the arguments.

Sectarianism is ignorance. Those who enact blasphemy laws or laws forbidding conversion are themselves the greatest blasphemers and the most faithless. Feeling impotent in the free market of religious ideas, they hate God’s handiwork of variety and free will. A suicide bomber wants to kill God’s arrangement and make others submit to his own.

As Einstein commented, “Atheists are fanatics.” The uninterested are just uninteresting, not considering worlds beyond their own. A true rabbi is one who knows God speaks in many languages, passing constant tests of love, including acceptance that He may become more intimate with others in religions other than his own.

Roy Richard
Culver City

Happiness is a moral obligation

Readers who think I am preoccupied with political issues may find it interesting to learn that I lecture on the subject of happiness more than any other single topic. And, every Friday for the past 12 years, I have devoted an hour of my radio show to this subject.

I do so because I have concluded that the happy make the world better, and the unhappy make the world worse. Therefore, happiness is a moral obligation.

For the first half of my life, like most people, I regarded happiness as essentially a feeling – “I feel happy,” “I feel unhappy.” I regarded the pursuit of happiness as a selfish endeavor.

I was very wrong. Happiness — or to be more precise, a happy disposition — is actually a moral virtue. Whenever I meet an individual with a cheerful disposition, I admire that person. I have come to regard people who maintain cheerful dispositions in the same way I regard those are kind, honest, etc.

If you want to understand why happiness is a moral virtue that we are obliged to pursue, ask anyone raised by an unhappy parent — or who is married to an unhappy spouse, or who has an unhappy child — what that is like.

The unhappy — or those who act unhappy, such as the moody, the chronic complainers, the drama kings and queens — frequently ruin the lives of those around them. They cast a pall over their son or daughter’s childhood, they ruin their marriages, and they can make their parents despondent.

And that’s only the damage they do in the micro realm. In the macro realm, the unhappy often do even more damage. Those who became Nazis or communists were not happy people. Happy Muslims don’t become suicide bombers — the very fact that they want to murder and die in order to be rewarded in the afterlife is a testament to how little joy they experience in this life.

Given, then, how much damage they do, why do the moody and miserable act this way?

One reason is that they believe that they have suffered more than those who act happy.

But this is false. Most of those who walk around with a cheerful disposition have suffered at least as much as have the moody and miserable. There is rarely a correlation between suffering and disposition.

Another is that often they have been rewarded for their chronic complaining and bad moods. This typically begins in childhood, during which the moody child gets more attention than the easygoing child. And it continues into adulthood – the moody are often placated, and others frequently try to “make” the unhappy happy. So why change, when your miserable moods have only been rewarded?

People should regard bad moods in the same way they regard bad breath or bad body odor: Inflicting bad moods on others is just as obnoxious as inflicting bad breath or body odor on others. Just as we try to brush away bad breath and wash away body odor, we should try to brush and wash away bad moods.

A third reason is that we live in the Age of Feelings. Feelings have replaced standards (for example, “How do you feel about it?” has replaced “Is it right or wrong?”), and feelings have been elevated above behavior. The idea that one should not act in accord with one’s feelings, or, heaven forbid, not express one’s feelings is regarded as sinful.

Young people in particular recoil at the thought of acting contrary to how they feel. It is “inauthentic,” they say. But, of course, nice-smelling breath and bodies are also inauthentic. What is authentic about mouthwash or deodorant?

The fact is that we owe it to everyone with whom we come into contact to act in as upbeat a manner as possible. I suspect that more marriages survive a spouse’s infidelity than survive a spouse’s chronic bad moods. Indeed, regularly inflicting bad moods on a spouse should be regarded as a form of spousal abuse.

This rule applies everywhere. As one who flies hundreds of times a year, I can testify to how much more pleasant a flight is when the flight attendant is a cheerful person rather than a dour one. And in the workplace, it is simply vital. The constant good humor of my engineer, Sean McConnell, has had a measurable impact on the quality of my show.

And acting happy not only affects everyone in our lives; it affects us just as much. Our own behavior changes us. As the 12-step programs — perhaps the wisest programs in our society — put it: “Fake it till you make it.” Act happy, and you’ll be happier.

None of this suggests that we should hide our unhappy feelings from our closest friends, one of whom, hopefully, is our spouse. But it does mean that whatever we are feeling, we still need to try to be, or at least to act, happy. That is certainly the message of Judaism, from which I learned this insight. Even during the week following the death of an immediate family member, we are forbidden to mourn when Shabbat comes.

Behavior over feelings is one of Judaism’s greatest teachings.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Adults who do not speak to a parent

For two decades I have been on a crusade: to convince adults who have cut off all communication with a parent to re-establish contact.

Through my radio show, which deals as much with personal issues as with politics, I became aware of something that, as a parent, I view as a nightmare:  children who voluntarily disappear from a parent’s life.

The pain I heard in the voices of parents whose son or daughter had ceased speaking to them broke my heart. In some ways, I would imagine, the pain can be more difficult to handle than the death of a child. It is, after all, a form of death, but it has the added pain of having been deliberately inflicted upon the parent. And in the case of grandparents whose adult children have severed all communication, they not only lose all contact with their child, but with their grandchildren as well — something that is not the case when an adult child dies.

While I can imagine situations in which there is a moral justification for cutting off all contact with a parent, those situations are rare. Beyond the parent who presents a physical threat to the child or who has a history — a real history, not a “recovered memory” induced by a psychotherapist — of sexual molestation or serious physical abuse, it is very difficult to imagine a situation in which never communicating with a parent is justifiable.

On one of my radio shows on this topic, I asked adults who have ceased speaking to a parent to call in. One woman in her late 20s, a resident of Santa Monica, told me that she had not contacted her mother in nearly 10 years. I asked the woman if her mother had molested or beaten her. On the contrary, she told me — not only had her mother never done such things, she had always shown her love.

I was, needless to say, mystified.

“So why don’t you talk to her?” I asked

“Because she has a very dominating personality,” the caller responded. “And if I let her in my life, she will dominate it.”

I suspected the influence of another person in her life, so I asked if she was seeing a psychotherapist. When she answered yes, I asked her what her therapist thought of her not speaking to her mother; she responded that her therapist was completely supportive of this decision.

Having dealt with this issue for so long, here are some conclusions I have reached.

In the majority of cases, children who have cut off all contact with a parent are engaged in an act that is so hurtful, it borders on evil.

And if this decision is abetted by one’s psychotherapist, that therapist is an accessory to a moral crime. He or she is also probably an incompetent therapist. The easiest things for a therapist to do are to affirm a patient’s sense of victimhood and to approve of selfish decisions of the patient, even when those decisions hurt others.

Just as good religion makes people better people and bad religion makes people worse people, good therapy makes people better and bad therapy makes people worse. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad religion and there is a lot of bad therapy.

There is an additional danger to cutting off all contact with a parent: How will people who do this feel after their parent dies? The importance of having made some peace with a parent before he or she dies is difficult to overstate. I know women who were sexually abused by their father but who, as adults, have not completely cut themselves off from him — solely to ensure their own inner peace after he dies.

Also, parents who do not speak with their own parent(s) might consider what sort of model they present to their children about how to treat a parent.

This painful subject is one of the many reasons I so strongly affirm a God-based and Torah-based values system. The great majority of human beings go through a difficult period with one or both of their parents, a period when anger or even hatred is greater than love for a parent. I am convinced that it is for that reason — the complex nature of many people’s feelings toward their parents — that the Torah avoids commanding that we love our father and mother. We are commanded to love the stranger, to love God and to love our neighbor, but we are not commanded to love our parents.

But we are commanded to honor our parents. In other words, even if we hate our parents, with rare exceptions, we must still honor them. Honoring them means, at the very least, staying in contact with them.

I wish a study would be conducted of a thousand adult children who have chosen to break off all contact with a parent to reveal how many of them believe in the Ten Commandments as a God-given document. My suspicion is that very few of them do. If I am wrong, however, if religious Jews and religious Christians are just as likely to cut off all contact with a parent as are irreligious people, then I would have to conclude that Judaism and Christianity, whatever benefits they may offer the individual, are morally largely worthless.

The greatest message of Judaism is to act nobly even when one doesn’t feel like doing so. If one cannot do this with regard to one of the Ten Commandments, that message has truly been lost.

And, speaking Jewishly, it is better to eat pork on Yom Kippur than to destroy a mother or father.

Dancing with the Rabbis?

On April 3, under the auspices of the American Jewish University, in its Gindi Auditorium, five Los Angeles rabbis competed with one another in an evening titled “Dancing With the Rabbis.” As reported in this newspaper, the sellout crowd loved the evening.

May I respectfully suggest — and I do mean respectfully, as I know that good intentions prompted the evening — that this be the “once in a lifetime” event that some who attended called it. It should not be repeated.

I say this in order to preserve the dignity of the rabbinate. When I was a child, the rabbi was an esteemed figure, by far the most esteemed figure in our Jewish community. Even though it was part and parcel of Jewish religious life to criticize the rabbi for what he said or didn’t say in his Shabbat sermon, we would stand up on those occasions when the rabbi walked by our row in shul. And not only did we not address our rabbi by his first name when we spoke to him, we never referred to him by his first name when we talked about him.

I have preserved this custom to this day. I address all rabbis by their title. In public, I do not even make exceptions for close friends who are rabbis, and in private I only make exceptions when the person is a close friend. I also call my physicians “doctor.” One of the characteristics of conservatism is conserving, and this is one of the many past values conservatives such as myself seek to preserve.

Beginning in the 1960s, this attitude, like so many other values in American, Jewish and Western life, was overthrown. Many non-Orthodox rabbis adopted the liberal egalitarian spirit and sought to end hierarchy wherever possible. They, their congregants and their students were to be on the same level. “Don’t call me ‘Rabbi,’ ” Jews were admonished. “Call me ‘Joe.’ ” And, so, the rabbi went from above us to one of us.

I guess one can say that with “Dancing With the Rabbis,” the movement toward “the rabbi is just one of us” reached its apotheosis. Our rabbis — or at least the rabbis who participated — are just one of the guys or girls. They, too, are hip. No more ivory tower rabbi. Our rabbi is so with it, he will dance with a 22-year-old swimsuit model: In the words of The Jewish Journal, the rabbi “twirls across the dance floor. His beautiful young partner reaches out her hand, and together they do a quick step and spin into each other’s arms.”

Had the rabbis danced with Jews with special needs, I could understand the message sent. But what was this message?

Though I was not present at the event, my opposition is to the concept, not the execution. I don’t think I am alone in the Los Angeles Jewish community in thinking that this was well-intended but not wise. Not only did no Orthodox rabbi participate — and not only for halachic reasons, I suspect — but some non-Orthodox rabbis also refused, and not because they were afraid to dance publicly. When I asked one of the country’s leading Reform rabbis, Rabbi David Woznica of Stephen S. Wise Temple, whether he would have participated had he been asked, he responded that he was asked, and refused.

If nothing else, what we have here is a learning moment. Good people can differ on the wisdom of the evening. But, as I believe that clarity is more important than agreement, it seems clear that we have a liberal-conservative divide here.

The liberal mindset is, first and foremost, one of egalitarianism. The notion of hierarchy is largely rejected. Thus, the rabbi is just like us, and we’ll prove it by having him or her dance with sexy professionals. The conservative mindset is that the rabbi is not, or at least should not be, like everyone else. This is no way means that a rabbi should lead an ascetic life. I would defend any rabbi’s decision to go with his spouse to Las Vegas, gamble and even see a Vegas show there. As regards a rabbi’s private life, I have nothing to say. That is between him and God. But what he does as a rabbi publicly should matter to any Jew who cares about Judaism and about the rabbinate.

Some will see this as an attack on the participating rabbis. It is not. It is a disagreement with their decision to participate and with the American Jewish University’s decision to sponsor the event — an event that ended with a performance by the professional dancers that The Journal described as “so racy that it may have had more than a few members of the audience wondering whether they should clap or head home for a cold shower.”

Moreover, my disagreement emanates solely from a desire to see these and all rabbis guard and preserve the prestige and dignity of their title. When Jews elevate rabbis, the whole Jewish people benefits.

I feel the same about teachers. We need to honor teachers and preserve their prestige. When they come into class wearing shorts or ask students to call them by their first names, they may be hip, but their profession loses prestige.

I am sure the evening was fun. But it was not the kind of fun a Jewish seminary should have sponsored, nor the kind of fun that its rabbis should have engaged in.

I understand the desire of some rabbis to be seen as real and human. But acting on a higher plane in public comes with the job description. You cannot have the reward of great communal respect without acting accordingly. And there are innumerable ways to humanize oneself — had the rabbis, for example, decided to put on a Shakespearean play or even a humorous skit, people would have had at least as much fun, and the rabbis would have just as successfully shown another side to their personalities. That, in at least one Jew’s opinion, would have been the wiser choice.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the Editor: Fogel photos, Prager, Valley Torah

Look Again

Rob Eshman is right (“Look,” March 18). We should mourn any child killed during war, either intentionally or unintentionally. But the real question is, who started the violence? The Nazis remained the aggressors even though many German children were killed by the allies in World War II. Look again at the facts. Palestinian leaders have misled their own people, rejecting all offers for peaceful compromise, incessantly fomenting state-sponsored hatred by demonizing Israelis and Jews, even in their children’s schoolbooks and TV shows. Look again.

Israel vacated Gaza in 2005, making it Judenrein as Palestinians demanded, but Palestinian leaders chose to build rockets instead of better futures for their own children. Look at the thousands of rockets that Hamas and its affiliates launched at Israelis, including at children and nursery schools in Sderot and other cities. Israel waited for three years and tolerated thousands of rockets before it responded with military force, longer than any other nation would have waited to protect its people and children from such terrorism. They wanted to avoid war. Look again.

Hamas used human shields and hid its weaponry in Palestinian neighborhoods, schools and mosques. The deaths of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s daughters are indeed tragic. But Hamas and the PA’s anti-Israel incitement and actions fomented the war that caused their deaths. If Dr. Abuelaish directed Palestinian policy, his children might be alive today. But he doesn’t. Look again.

Roz Rothstein

Rob Eshman Responds:
Though I don’t think it’s historic or helpful to hold the Israelis 100 percent blameless and equate the Palestinians with Nazis, the point of my editorial was not to divide blame equally between the Israelis and the Palestinians. My point was that these two peoples’ destinies are irrevocably interconnected. Their political leaders need to behave in ways that increase, rather than decrease, the chances of a peaceful marriage. Palestinian barbarity doesn’t justify Israeli shortsightedness.

Death Penalty Disagreement

Dennis Prager is, of course, correct that the Torah sanctions, and even mandates, capital punishment for murderers (“Murderers Should Die,” March 18). And if you believe in the eternal truth of the Torah, that imperative remains as relevant today as 3,700 years ago. However, Mr. Prager’s argument is not as convincing when it comes to possibly putting innocent people to death. To argue that in the greater interest of society, it is OK to put a few innocent people to death, is disingenuous and against the basic values of Judaism. The Talmud teaches us that to save a single life is to save an entire world. How can we then be so cavalier about putting a few innocent people to death for the good of the greater society? I wonder if Mr. Prager would make the same argument if it were his own son who was wrongly sentenced to death.

Behrouz Soroudi
Beverly Hills

I will refrain from calling Dennis Prager a right-wing slimeball, as Marty Kaplan was labeled by someone who disagrees with Kaplan’s views (Letters, March 18), and neither will I dispute that many people deserve to be put to death, including Michael Woodmansee, Timothy McVeigh, Charles Manson, etc. But for Prager to state that the incidence of innocent people being put to death “is so rare (if it has happened at all in the last half century)” is disingenuous and false. What’s rare? And isn’t one [innocent person] one too many? Perhaps Prager has forgotten about the kangaroo trials in the South, or the recent events in Texas, where it was found that more than one person who was executed may have been innocent and where district attorneys and the attorney general are currently contesting DNA testing, including for those on death row. Or, perhaps, he is not aware of the correlation between those put to death and their economic status. Lobby for the death penalty if you will, but don’t overlook the fact that corrupt prosecutors, racist juries and economic disadvantage may still be factors operating in murder trials and subsequent penalties. Dennis, check out Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project.

Tom Fleishman
Valley Glen

Remember the Panthers

I was very happy to read of Valley Torah’s runs for the championship and disappointed they were not successful (“View Park Ends Valley Torah’s State Championship Run,” March 18). I would like to clarify that Valley Torah was not the first Jewish high school to reach the California Interscholastic Federation Division 5 state championship quarterfinal round.

The 1987 YULA Panthers had been victorious in the Liberty League and also reached the quarterfinals. The YULA team was composed of several talented individuals: Steven Glouberman, Jeff Kupietzky, Dan Laks, Lenny Moise, Bret Pevan, Elisha Rothman, Charlie Silberstein, Avi Steinlauf, Ari Wasserman and myself.

Rabbi Benjamin Kessler
Kew Gardens Hills, N.Y.

Letters to the Editor: Prager, Settlements, Chevy Volt

Yeshivas vs. Universities: Another View

As a liberal professor who studies the yeshiva world, I agree with Dennis Prager that there are interesting parallels (“Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and Secular Universities,” Dec. 3). But how can he say that social science professors study “increasingly irrelevant matters” and are “cut off from the real world”? I invite Prager to attend the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference, which includes talks like “Encountering Hostility to Jews: Research Ethics and Interim Findings From Conversations With the Westboro Baptist Church,” “The Purposes and Practices of Teaching Rabbinic Literature” and “Unintentional Hybridities: Christian Elements in Jewish Interfaith Families.” Are these exceptions to the disengaged scholarship Prager writes about? What about the scholars Prager quotes in his article? I’d write more, but I have to get back to my research, writing, teaching and administrative duties.

Sarah Bunin Benor
Hebrew Union College –
Jewish Institute of Religion
Los Angeles

Dennis Prager levels a very serious charge against the university system saying that its primary goal is to produce a secular leftist but offers not one iota of fact or argument to support his claim (“Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and Secular Universities,” Dec. 3).

He also attacks “secular left professors” as living off of public funds, but if he’s talking about private schools such as the Ivy League schools where presumably many “left” professors are employed, their salaries overwhelmingly come from tuition fees and private donations, not tax money.  Indeed, these “left” professors probably contribute more in taxes to the system than does the average taxpayer.

Dennis is troubled by the insularity of these professors and singles them out for criticism. Is he as troubled by the insularity of conservative “think tanks” and organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, National Rife Association and the plethora of conservative talk-radio outlets? Maybe the problem Mr. Prager has with professors on the left has more to do with their politics than anything else. In that case, he should make that argument instead of hiding behind red herrings. Perhaps Mr. Prager should consider enrolling at his local university and taking a class in writing for argument.

Elliot Semmelman
Huntington Beach

Settlements: The Real Issue

Settlements are not the issue (“Settlements Are the Issue,” Dec. 3). The issue is the impatience, even a touch of animosity between the two prominent scholars of our community. Let them and us relax and clarify what is meant by “settlement,” “occupied territory,” “Fourth Geneva Convention,” “international community” and, finally and most importantly, “Jewish state.”

Dov Malkin
Los Angeles

I hope my son will be taking none of professor David Myers’ history courses at UCLA. The professor commences his article misconstruing the talmudic idiom: “Tafasta Meruba, Lo Tafasta” [“If one grasps for too much, ones ends up empty-handed”] (see e.g. Sukkah 5a.). Our sages use this precept to teach that one should use the strongest source to support the rule of law. They did not intend misapplication of this idiom to express political views, as the professor does in arguing that the settlements place Israel’s very existence in jeopardy. His argument debases the sanctity of our oral law and tradition. However, even for one who engages in such sophistry, the far more logical conclusion is that the Palestinian Authority’s demand for everything has led to its empty-handedness relative to statehood. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy remains the primary obstacle to peace. Further contrary to the professor’s suggestion, demographically, neither existence nor expansion of Israeli settlements will alter the birthrate of Arabs relative to Jews; but Israel’s miraculous existence has never been about size. Historically, settlement of the land has been Israel’s salvation. It will not be her undoing.

Mark Herskovitz
Los Angeles

The Obama Administration

Both Marty Kaplan and Raphael Sonenshein lament the failure of the Obama administration to bring about the changes to correct the evils imposed on us by the G.W. Bush presidency: unnecessary wars contributing to our huge deficit; favoring the wealthy and allowing them to obtain huge profits by sending our jobs overseas, thereby shrinking our middle class; and encouraging the bigotry of the religious right (”My Declaration of Independents” and “A Democrat’s Lament, and a Glimmer of Hope,” Dec. 10). Obama’s victory two years ago was probably brought about by the massive voting of the 18-25 age group. It is my understanding that only 11 percent of those eligible young people chose to vote this time. I believe it is because their hopes for change were destroyed by congressmen and senators who, in my opinion, hate the idea of having a black president. California bucked the national trend because the majority of Californians are more tolerant and do not believe that wealth alone is credential enough to rule our state.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

High-Voltage Response to Volt Test Drive

Rob Eshman needs to do his homework (“The Home Front,” Dec. 10). A road test by edmunds.com pegs Chevrolet Volt’s range at about 300 miles, and in extended range mode it only averages 31.4 miles per gallon.  That’s a huge scale-back from Eshman’s 235 mpg. If 9.2 seconds for the zero to 60 feels like “it takes off like a beast” and [has the] “handling of a muscle car,” in my humble opinion, Mr. Eshman is prone to irresponsible editorial exaggeration, especially where he writes [electric vehicles] “… are — finally — Detroit’s way of telling the Saudis to shove it.” Now there’s a line that’s going to embrace peace with the Saudis, shut down the Taliban’s opium profits and stop Sunni terrorist groups.

The Volt costs way north of $41,000. Add in tax and license and it’s nearly $47,000 cash out of pocket if you buy, and first you’ve got to put the money where your mouth is before you get the $7,500 federal tax credit. If you initially lease and then purchase it for the residual value after three years, you’re going to pay even more. And that doesn’t include interest if you finance. Do the math: To own the “beast” means during these bare economic times of hardship, with 15 percent unemployment, GM’s target customer will have to earn at least an additional $80,000 before tax over five years, not including a reserve for the expired battery pack. Let’s see, the odds are that I will get hit by lightning twice before I win the Lotto, so do I moonlight to buy a ridiculously expensive oh-I-look-green-cool Volt, or send my kid(s) to college? Oops, I nearly forgot, the damn thing still uses gas.

Mark Shapiro
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman responds:
The 235 mpg I referenced was the calculation for the length of my drive, as I pointed out in my story and in our Volt driving video at jewishjournal.com. Under average driving conditions, Motor Trend rated the Volt at 127 mpg — not chopped liver. GM and the EPA are still working out what “average” means in a vehicle like the Volt.

My report on the acceleration and handling (“takes off like a beast”) was subjective — your impressions may differ. Remember, I was comparing the Volt to a Prius, which takes off like a toaster oven.

I never said the Volt was cheap; in fact, I was discouraged by its lack of interior space. It’s not perfect, but the Volt is, as Motor Trend points out, a major leap forward in producing a hybrid/electric car for the American market.

An article on the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at UC Irvine (“Palestinian Speaker at UCI Event Creates Rift Among Local Jews,” Dec. 10) incorrectly stated that OTI has ties to the Free Gaza movement and the Boycott Divest and Sanctions campaign. The group that has been linked to those efforts is another group mentioned in the article, the International Solidarity Movement.

In the Dec. 10 Torah Portion column, the photo was of Rabbi Dov Fischer instead of Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin.

Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and secular universities

The Wall Street Journal recently published a column about ultra-Orthodox (Charedi) Jews in Israel who do not work for a living. Sixty-five percent of ultra-Orthodox men ages 35-54 do not go to work. Instead, they study Torah while demanding increasing amounts of money from the taxes paid by Israelis who work for a living.

The author of the column, Evan R. Goldstein, wrote: “Voluntary unemployment has become the dominant lifestyle choice for [Charedi] men. And even if there was a desire to work, [Charedi] schools leave students unprepared to function in a modern economy.”

If these data are correct, this is not only a problem for Israel, it is a problem for Judaism.

It is a problem for Israel for the same reason that able-bodied citizens receiving welfare has been a problem for America. It is economically unfeasible to support large numbers of nonworking citizens, and it is morally wrong for citizens who work and pay taxes to have their money forcibly taken from them (i.e., taxes) to pay to people who could work but who choose not to.

The reason for this problem in Israel is that in 1948 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion excused 400 yeshiva students from serving in the army, arguing that after the Holocaust it was critical for the Jewish state to support some of its citizens to concentrate on Torah study.

Few Jews, inside or outside of Israel, would oppose continuing this policy for a handful of scholars. But for hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Jews to demand to be supported — and protected — by other Jews (and, for that matter, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel as well) is entirely different.

It is also a problem for Judaism. It presents religious Jews, Torah and Judaism in a terrible light. Of course, most Orthodox Jews in Israel work as hard for a living as other Israeli citizens. But the largest group of Israelis that chooses not to work while demanding public funds to sustain them is the ultra-Orthodox, who also constitute an increasingly large percentage of the Israeli population.

As Goldstein notes in his article, the Shulchan Aruch, the Orthodox compendium of Jewish law, declares that “a respected and impoverished scholar should have a trade, even a lowly trade, rather than being in need of his fellow man.”

Goldstein quotes Israeli Orthodox scholars who claim that there is no precedent in pre-1948 Jewish history for an entire community devoting itself to Torah scholarship, let alone getting paid to do so:

“ ‘Torah study has always been for spiritual, not material, sustenance,’ Zvi Zohar, a professor of law at [the Orthodox] Bar-Ilan University, tells me. Moreover, the notion that a man’s primary obligation is studying, and not providing for his family, is ‘diametrically opposed’ to Jewish tradition, Mr. Zohar says.”

Goldstein cites an additional problem for Judaism in state-supported Torah study for vast numbers of men: He quotes professor Shlomo Naeh of the Jewish Studies Department of the Hebrew University, who says that it has harmed the quality of Jewish thought. Writes Goldstein: “Ultra-Orthodox self-segregation has cut ‘learning off from life,’ he wrote in a recent essay. As a result, the current generation of Torah scholars ‘is far from being one of the greatest … despite the existence of tens of thousands of learners.’ ”

This “self-segregation” — these ultra-Orthodox men rarely interact with non-Orthodox Jews, let alone with non-Jews — has another negative consequence: These men gain and therefore impart little wisdom. One might say that insularity and wisdom are mutually exclusive.

The irony here is that a similar problem exists at Western universities. There, too, many individuals who teach in the liberal arts or “social sciences” live off public funds (they get paid to teach a few hours a week, but otherwise the parallel is apt), and spend nearly their whole life in a cocoon (a secular left one), interacting almost only with people who live and think as they do, just as the Charedim do.

Most secular left professors and most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva scholars are mirror images of one another: A life devoted to the study of increasingly irrelevant matters, with the result that both groups usually lack wisdom and therefore too often produce nonsense, sometimes harmful nonsense.

Both groups venerate brainpower and knowledge over wisdom and common sense. The fact that Jews are drawn to each of these lifestyles — that of the yeshiva scholar and secular professor — reflects a real problem in Jewish life, whether ultra-Orthodox or ultra-secular, namely, worship of the intellect.

I saw this at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva I attended and at the Ivy League university I attended. Men with fine brains and immense knowledge about narrow areas of life taught me little about real life.

The intellect cut off from the real world, whether in a Charedi yeshiva in Israel or at almost any modern Western university, is not good for society. The issue is not Charedim or professors per se. The issue is Charedim and professors who leave the world to live in yeshivas or academia their whole lives. Thus, ultra-Orthodox like Chabad and others who do not want their followers to spend their lives only studying, and professors in junior colleges, who often come from outside of academia or who combine outside work with teaching, are not the problem.

The lesson is that far more important in life than intellect are common sense, goodness and the wisdom produced by a life that comes into regular contact with the Other. The Other in the Charedi yeshiva world is the non-Orthodox Jew and the non-Jew; the Other at the university is a conservative Christian or a conservative, period.

There is, however, one important difference between ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and universities. Yeshivas are honest about their primary goal: to produce an Orthodox Jew. Universities never acknowledge their primary goal: to produce a secular leftist.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.

Settlements are the issue

While clearing away the rubble from Dennis Prager’s latest attack on “liberals,” which he likes to think is not ad hominem (unless, of course, one understands the term literally), we have to acknowledge that he may have a point.  One can debate whether Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are “the major impediment to peace in the Middle East.”  After all, there are weighty factors other than settlements that complicate prospects for a negotiated settlement, including Israeli political opinion, Palestinian public opinion, the attitude of neighboring Arab states, and the lack of resolve of the international community to offer carrots and sticks at the appropriate moments.

And yet, to those who brandish the claim that settlements are not the sole or primary obstacle to peace, one can only say, in the words of our sages: Tafasta merube, lo tafasta—you grasped a lot, but you didn’t grasp anything.  For settlements are the major impediment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state.  If you care about this future, you have to stop blaming others and start looking at the harsh reality.  This is not a liberal or conservative question.  This is a matter of survival.  Ignore it, and you are hastening the demise of that which you profess to love and cherish.

There is no time to lose.  Meron Benvenisti, the keen observer and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has been arguing for decades that the process is irreversible.  He suggests that it is no longer possible to uproot the intricate patchwork of settlements housing nearly 300,000 settlers that snakes through the West Bank (which is not to count the nearly 200,000 in the suburban communities ringing Jerusalem).  Not only is settlement a multi-billion dollar investment.  Pulling out of the occupied territories would require an exertion of political will that no Israeli government since 1967 has demonstrated.  Experience does indeed show that it is far easier for the Israeli government to build another housing unit in Ariel than to tear one down in Gush Katif.

This tendency follows the logic of what is often called “natural growth.”  Why should a family not be allowed to build an additional room or even apartment for its children?  Even if one accepts the claim that settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, as I do, it is not easy to turn a deaf ear altogether to the call for new housing starts, especially when thinking of the children or grandchildren of settlers who had no say in the decision to live in the territories.

But “natural growth” is not the benign and unobjectionable process that the expression implies.  All growth in today’s world is regulated, contingent on the kind of sensitivity to the surrounding environment and one’s neighbors that the settlers blithely and often violently eschew.  In the context of Israeli settlements, natural growth is but a mask for expropriation and dispossession of the Palestinian population.

Even more dangerously, the minute one begins to argue on the grounds of natural growth or, for that matter, Jewish rights to Judea and Samaria, the battle is lost.  If settlements remain where they are, then the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will become one political entity.  And within a matter of decades, if not years, the majority of the residents of that area will be Palestinian.  How can Israel then describe itself as democratic if it doesn’t allow all the residents of the land over which it claims control the right to vote?  If it grants the franchise at that point, Israel will have engaged in a fifty-year building project the net result of which is to vote itself out of existence.  The alternatives to this scenario are even more dire—either the denial of the franchise to Palestinians or their expulsion in the name of preserving the Jewish character of the state of Israel.

Faced with this array of options, it seems strange to trumpet the claim that settlements are not the major impediment to peace.  This dangerously misses the point.  To salvage a ship that is already sinking requires clear-headed, rapid, and dramatic steps.  Israel is now faced with a difficult, but unmistakable choice: either subordinate the interests of individual settlers or sacrifice the survival of the larger society.  There is no reason to believe that the Israeli government will make the right decision.  In any case, the moment for course correction may have already passed.  But at least we should not join Dennis Prager in the kind of willful and triumphant blindness that has brought Israel to the brink of collective suicide.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and chairs the History Department at UCLA.

Letters to the Editor: Flotilla, Young Jews, and Prager

More Insight, Less Confusion

Can you please replace the mindless Rob Eshman (“Haiti Versus the Flotilla,” June 4) with reprints of Charles Krauthammer? Instead of aggravating the intelligent, confusing the equally naïve from his position of authority and supporting all those who intend to cause Israel harm, please publish an insightful piece instead from Caroline Glick or Charles Krauthammer like his intelligent Washington Post article on the same topic that shows how it is all really not that complicated.

C.J. Wright
via e-mail

Demonstration Pros, Cons

As one Jew among the many who attended Sunday’s pro-Israel rally, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the many Christians who came out to show their support for Israel in the current crisis. At a time when many in the world would be happy to see Israel disappear from the planet, the support of Christian groups is tremendously meaningful and deeply appreciated.

My special thanks go to the group of Armenian Christians who drove all the way from Las Vegas to participate in the demonstration. When I asked them what motivated them to join the Jewish cause, their answer filled me with pride: “It’s because when the earthquake happened in Armenia, the very first planeload of aid and supplies was from Israel.”

Thank you to our Christian friends for recognizing that Israel, despite all her faults, remains a shining light in a world rapidly being overcome by darkness.

Lida Baker
Los Angeles

There isn’t even an attempt in Federation’s call to demonstrate at 6380 Wilshire Blvd. to justify or explain the commando raid, and since it is clear that there is little understanding or support for the blockade of Gaza, we’re supposed to “mobilize the community” and wave flags.

This is not the kind of “support” the educational and social services partners in our twin city of Tel Aviv want or expect from friends who know anything about their concerns with Israel’s direction and choices.

“Anyone who cares about Israel” should consider whether the Netanyahu government can build sustainable security for the Jewish state. Nobody who has been paying attention can believe Israel’s problems are solely to be blamed on Islamic extremists, pro-Palestinian activists, naive young people, political anti-Zionists and persistent anti-Semites.

Perhaps a Yom Limmud would be more appropriate than a demonstration, so we could seriously consider ways to support Israel’s integration of her neighborhood and address the humanitarian and political needs of the Palestinians.

Jake Wirtschafter
via e-mail

Who Should Be in Charge?

I am grateful that David Myers, Rabbi Wolpe, Rabbi Seidler-Feller or Elissa Barrett are not in the Knesset or the IDF and are not making life-and-death decisions (“Jewish Community Reacts to Gaza Coastal Raid,” June 4). In the face of deadly forces, the last thing we need is liberal, misguided, misleading “commanders-in-chief.”

Robert Reyto
Los Angeles

Prager a Fundamentalist?

It makes me sad to read Dennis Prager’s assessment of why young Jews do not have a deep positive sense of Jewish identity (“A Letter to Young Jews,” May 21). The very arguments he sets forth about God as the source of right and wrong are exactly the same as those used by every fundamentalist group in inculcating into their children the surety that they are right and the others wrong; so wrong, in fact, as to require either “salvation” or “destruction.”

I raised my daughter with a positive sense of her Jewish identity, and, at age 14, she already sees herself as a leader in her Jewish community. She feels herself an equal to the males in our tribe. She went through a bat mitzvah and is a part of a wonderful local Jewish youth group that focuses not only on being with other Jews but uses the forum to create discussion on social issues relevant to that age group, such as how to make decisions about sexual or drug-use behavior. I am proud of the Jewish identity she has developed. 

On our living room wall hangs a poster of a quote by Albert Einstein that embodies the Yiddishkayt that I want my daughter to pass on to her own children: “The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice, and the desire for personal independence … these are the features of the Jewish tradition that make me thank my stars I belong to it.”

Sharon Alexander

Grater vs. Prager

In response to Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s criticism of the Bush presidency for, among many other things, its “disdain” for “civil liberties,” Dennis Prager offers the astounding claim that there is “no validating evidence” — “none,” Prager emphasizes — of any such disdain.

Prager proceeds for 22 paragraphs (“Rabbi Clarifies Left’s Beliefs,” June 4) to discuss Rabbi Grater’s other complaints about Bush (using scarce space to reminisce about his days as a graduate student at Columbia University) but never defends this outlandish claim.

In fact, federal court decisions, Congressional investigations and several books — including Janet Mayer’s “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals” — have documented not only Bush’s disdain for, but blatant violation of, civil liberties.

From inflicting torture, including waterboarding; and cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment on detainees to kidnapping people and “rendering” them to other countries to be tortured; from illegal warrantless wiretapping to the infiltration of religious and political organizations; from the systematic use of the “state secrets privilege” to deny accountability to restricting the Freedom of Information Act;
from profiling innocent members of religious minorities to abusing the collection of information without court orders, Bush has one of the worst civil liberties records of any U.S. president.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Parenting Book Has Value

As an early childhood and parent educator for over 25 years, I take issue with Larraine Newman’s review of “You’re Not the Boss of Me” (“Give Parenting Book’s Author a Time-Out,” May 28) by Betsy Brown Braun. Not only do I feel this book is an invaluable asset to my ethnically and economically diverse parent body, I feel it is a must-have for any parent’s bookshelf. Perhaps Ms. Newman did not read the whole book. I feel her review, and the reality of the book’s wit and wisdom, are misaligned. I use this book (and Ms. Braun’s first book, “Just Tell Me What to Say”) repeatedly as references and guides in the teaching of young children and their parents. I recommend both books wholeheartedly. I hope your readers do not summarily dismiss this invaluable tome as a result of Ms. Newman’s misguided review.

Barbara Elson
National Board Certified Teacher
Early Childhood Education
via e-mail

I read the article “You’re Not the Boss of Me” ( (May 28) with curiosity about the mean-spirited nature of the article. As someone who has worked professionally with both Betsy Brown Braun and Wendy Mogel, as well as with thousands of parents and children, I can assure Ms. Newman that both of these women are extremely talented and popular experts in the field of parenting. They are both treasures for the Los Angeles community and are in no way comparable. I don’t understand why anyone could compare their books, since they are quite different. Both are valuable resources for parents (and since when can parents not tolerate two different books on child rearing?). If the author thinks that Braun’s advice is “impractical,” I would encourage her to join one of Braun’s groups (she runs dozens of them around the Los Angeles area) to see just how practical and down-to-earth she can get. This is a refreshing and remarkably honest parenting book—she dares to take on …brats? Entitlement? Affluenza? What did parents do before Betsy Braun came along?

Rita Eichenstein
Los Angeles

We have just finished reading Laraine Newman’s article about parenting books (“You’re Not the Boss of Me” (May 28). We find that her criticism of parenting books in general is harsh, and particularly her remarks about “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy Brown Braun is very knowledgeable and experienced with her work counseling parents and helping them solve issues with their children. Parents need to hear many approaches to help them develop the skills that will work for their family.

Sue Avisar and Marilyn Balachio
via e-mail

Interest-free College Loans

It was a pleasure to read of the outstanding accomplishments of the graduating seniors (“Examples to Us All,” June 4). Their passion and commitment to making the world a better place is inspiring. As they go off to college, they will learn that higher education is also quite expensive. When they do, they can call the Jewish Free Loan Association for an interest-free loan for the university of their choice. More information can be found at the Jewish Free Loan Association’s Web site, jfla.org. Congratulations to all the graduating seniors.

Saul M. Korin, MBA
Loan Analyst and Community Outreach Coordinator
Jewish Free Loan Association
Los Angeles

Armenian Genocide

Remind me: What was Israel’s excuse for failing to condemn the Armenian genocide? Turkey’s friendship? And did anyone notice, now that Israel is knocked down by the anti-Semitic hysteria, who kicked us by joining the Hamas supporters demonstrating at the consulate? Our ever-loyal Jews for Peace!

Louis Richter

Insanity Defined

Re: “Eva’s Peace Process” (May 21), the last decade or so has made it painfully obvious that “concessions of land” and “constructive dialogue” policies simply have not brought Israel any closer to peace. All accommodations, offers and efforts made by Israel have failed to stem the anger and hostility of her Arab neighbors. Whenever Israel chooses to demonstrate understanding, empathy or exchange of ideas; whenever Israel withdraws from some piece of land, it has the exact opposite result from what was intended. Israel’s Arab enemies see these things as categorical weakness and inevitably respond to every initiative with repeated aggression. This egregious fact destroys any illusion that forgiveness or territorial compromise can or will bring about an end to this conflict.

A common definition of insanity is attempting the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. Israel must be kept secure, guided by a Jewish ethical and moral compass, tempered by the realities of Middle East politics and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Steven Zonis

More on the Flotilla Crisis

Israel is a true democracy. In the Knesset (parliament) which is democratically elected by the people, there are even MKs whose party platform includes the destruction of Israel. One such parliamentarian is MK Hanin Zoabi, who assumed that the IDF wanted as many fatalities as possible in the activist flotilla that was bringing aid and maybe arms to Gaza from Hamas supporters in Turkey. I wish that she was correct in her assumption, because the IDF could have easily destroyed this flotilla with a simple barrage of missiles from shore with the total safety of its citizenry. Not even one soldier would have died or been injured; but, that is not Israel’s way as she was only trying to blockade the Gaza from insurgents with a death wish for Israel. The IDF tried to peacefully stop the boats, first with megaphones and radio broadcasts and then with a very lightly armed landing party. It was the so called “peace-loving” activists who started the melee on board the ship with knives, axes and bats (part of the aid package?).

Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “The sole responsibility for the violent incident lies with the activists who have chosen violence and confrontation.”
Yet, as always, the world newspaper reports start by first blaming Israel for the atrocities caused by her enemies.

Harry Grunstein
Montreal, Canada

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I attended public school and L.A. Hebrew High School. In the summer of 1971, not long after terrorists attacked the airport at Lod,
I visited Israel for the first time. It was a heady time —the nation was still celebrating over the victory of the Six-Day War. The hope in the air was tangible. I returned the following year with my family and experienced the Munich massacre while living in an apartment near Tel Aviv. After the difficult victory of the Yom Kippur War, I left UCLA to volunteer at an Orthodox kibbutz. I loved it and decided to stay as an oleh. There I grew carrots, raised turkeys, celebrated holidays and suffered with the nation at the attacks at Ma’alot and Kiryat Shmona as I waited to be drafted. In February, I entered the Golani brigade and started basic training at an old English base in the northern part of the country, next to the Mediterranean. Despite the toughness of training, it was a wonderful place to be. Soon after my draft, terrorists struck again and my unit was popped up to Kfar Yuval, next to Kiryat Shmona to provide security. We saw soldiers enter the house where the terrorists were holding hostages—the first man in was killed. It was his house, and his wife and children inside.

Not a month later, my unit moved to a base south of Jenin to complete our basic training. It was the first of many bases in the West Bank that I served in. I spent much of the next two-and-a-half years in the West Bank, mostly as a drill instructor for basic trainees and later as a weapons expert. This entailed marching through villages, farms and fields belonging to the local Arab population. Families who had enjoyed the traditional Middle Eastern respite of sitting on patios watching and talking to neighbors no longer did so. It is difficult to relax with platoons of soldiers in full combat gear marching thorough your village.

Later on, at a base near Shechem (Nablus), I taught mortars. Despite orders to stay on farm roads, we would regularly turn our armored personal carriers and tear into the cultivated fields of local framers. We fired our mortars at targets in the fields and surrounding hills. I remember one particular exercise when soldiers who I was instructing dropped an 81-millimeter shell on the roof of the mausoleum of a local sheik, located on the side of a hill four kilometers away. We cheered. There was more. We broke into houses, turned over furniture and water barrels, sometimes beating the families who lived there. We were not fighting soldiers or an army, but rather farmers, villagers and townspeople.

I write all as this by way of introduction. I am no innocent—I have seen and done good and bad. But the news of the unprovoked attack upon the flotilla saddens me very, very deeply. Reflecting on the actions of the soldiers and the response of the government drove me to think about what was visited upon us by our enemies and what we have visited upon others. The similarities are sad. We have learned our lessons so well that we are comfortable doing unto others. Ghettos, checkpoints, walled cities, appropriating land and buildings, ignoring laws and making new ones limiting the rights of others. Attempting to break a naval barricade to bring people to a new land or food and supplies to an old one. The irony of this is obvious and sad.

I feel for the soldiers who attacked the boat. But these men were not clerks. They are naval commandos, highly trained men of war. If, as the Israeli spokesman wants us to believe, they landed with paint guns, then they were woefully unprepared and their commanders are very culpable for the events that took place. It is very difficult for me to believe that this unit, in particular, was not prepared for all contingencies But, from personal experience and current reading, I am familiar with the extensive training and quality of equipment that this unit has at its disposal.

I am proud of my people and my service. I am also outraged and deeply troubled and sad. It used to be said that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. During this time, I have been challenged by people who have asked me how we could trust those people and how we could be friends. But over the years, I have met and spoken with Palestinians in their homes and heard them express their desire to simply live without the army in their villages and homes.

Perhaps the Golden Rule of do unto others as they would do unto you is too true. We are doing unto others what was done to us. But we can make changes if we choose to do so. We do not need to be slaves to the past—ours or anyone else’s.  We can choose to leave our own Egypts and really enter into the land of Israel.

The bitter irony for me is the similarity to our own history. The people on the boats did the same thing that we did on the Hatikva as the British boarded it—they fought back. We really should not be surprised.

David Greenfield
Educational Technology
Veteran, Golani Brigade (1975-77)
via e-mail

I am old enough to remember the British navy preventing Holocaust survivors from landing in Palestine after World War II, and now the worm turns. Comparing the flotilla of private boats off Gaza to our Cuban missile crisis is simply ridiculous. How come Israeli intelligence did not know that there were no arms or ammunition for Hamas aboard the flotilla? I have to assume that the Netanyahu government simply has no interest in improving Israel’s global image.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

The June 5 edition of The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Israeli officials said their commando units spent nearly four hours trying to persuade the [Turkish] ship to alter course away from Gaza. The ship maintained a speed of 10 knots, and activists on deck taunted the Israeli military, shouting, ‘Go back to Auschwitz.’ ”

The IDF deserves the Nobel Prize for Peace for not sinking the Turkish vessel. It must have taken near-superhuman strength not to.

Carolyn Kunin

Support, Criticism for Rabbi Grater

I hope the editors will allow me to reply to Rabbi Grater’s many defenders (May 21). Like the rabbi himself, I reserve the right to be a critic without being an enemy. But neither the rabbi nor I stand in any imminent danger. We can agree to disagree, give each other a hug and know we will probably see each other again next Shabbat. If, however, I thought that Rabbi Grater was surrounded by enemies and in a mortal struggle for his very existence, I hope that I would know the time had come to withhold criticism and give him nothing but love and support. I expect he would do the same for me.

I know that the rabbi believes his criticism is good for Israel, and though I disagree with it, it wouldn’t bother me so much if this was some fringe view. Most unfortunately for Israel, many—if not most—American Jewish liberals, especially the young, seem to agree with his criticism, and, unlike the rabbi, they have callously abandoned Israel.

Is it possible to be both a liberal and a Zionist?  Rabbi Daniel Gordis came to the conclusion that it isn’t and has abandoned his liberal positions where they conflict with support for Israel (as discussed in his book “Saving Israel”). I know Rabbi Grater has read Rabbi Gordis’ book and has been influenced by it to some degree. I can, therefore, hope he and our synagogue and the rest of liberal American Jewry may realize the imminent dangers Israel faces and start defending her before it is too late. But I also fear that for Israel there may not be time enough to wait for such a miracle to occur.

Carolyn Kunin

How does a clergyperson (of any faith) engage in authentic moral reflection in a public setting when so many matters in our world are highly controversial and bitterly contested? This seems to me to be a key question raised by the letter written in support of Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater (May 21) in response to a previous congregant’s letter of different view.

Dennis Prager’s column, which references this support letter, oddly and mistakenly dismisses it with the phrase, “…for the rabbi of almost any Reform temple to write a leftist column or to give a leftist sermon is as courageous as an Orthodox rabbi sermonizing on keeping kosher.”

Perhaps there are not a few clergypersons who stick to public expressions of views that are largely “safe” in the context of their personal settings, for many reasons.  If this relatively rock-free path were indeed the one Rabbi Grater had chosen, it is unlikely both that his congregants would have seen the need to compose their letter of support and that Dennis Prager would have devoted a column to related matters.

As authentic moral reflection in a public setting requires courage, let’s pray that many have that courage.

Kathryn Kirui

Prager’s World

In his piece in The Journal (“Rabbi Clarifies Left’s Beliefs,” June 4), Dennis Prager writes “…Turkey and Brazil, two Third World giants …. ” I write not to agree or disagree with the thesis of Prager’s article, but to point out that the term Third World has been obsolete since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites in 1991. The First World included the advanced capitalist West, plus Japan and Australia, and perhaps Singapore and South Africa. The Second World included Communist regimes such as North Korea, Cuba, China, Vietnam, the U.S.S.R. and its Eastern European puppets, plus a scattering of Marxist regimes here and there. But since the collapse of Communism (Cuba and North Korea are economic basket cases, China is Communist only in name, and the other Marxist regimes are gone), there is no more Second World and thus no more Third World. It takes language a while to catch up with reality, but hopefully the use of this obsolete term will quickly fade away.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Dennis Prager deftly articulates cases against specific liberal thinkers on specific issues. I would like to see him render an opinion on each of the following conservative thinkers (I use that term loosely): Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly,  Michele Bachmann, Louisiana Gov. Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Sean Hannity and Sen. Mitch McConnell. These representatives of the new conservative wave often exaggerate, distort, malign, fabricate, rewrite history and slander. Their followers and listeners absorb this mush and make it part of their belief system. Then they gather in crowds with signs proclaiming they are oppressed, under a socialist government, overtaxed, losing their rights, fearing the loss of their guns. Signs picturing President Obama as Adolf Hitler along with the hammer and sickle are seen at these rallies. Down with Big Government is another signage theme.

Pearl and Sol Taylor
Sherman Oaks

Israel’s PR War

I’ve heard (too) many people say that Israel has lost the public relations war. In one sense they are right, with the understanding that nothing Israel does in terms of its own security will ever win a PR war with a world afraid to stand up to Islam fanaticism.

With the Haiti situation a unique exception (Did anyone in the Muslim world say anything nice about what Israel did in Haiti? No!), the only time Israel will win the PR war is when, G-d forbid, it is destroyed. So, let’s get off that bandwagon.

I am not sure anything we do will help Israel get better press. However, supporting organizations like MEMRI are a good beginning.

Better yet, especially for those of you sitting in your comfortable and secure living rooms who know better ways for Israel to respond and/or develop better PR, why don’t you make aliyah and put your lives where your mouths are?

Paul Jeser
Los Angeles

History Lesson for Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas OK, Helen Thomas is old. I am getting there myself. I guess she had a “senior moment” and forgot that Jews have lived in Israel for about 3,500 years—long before Arabs were anywhere in the area and about 1,500 years before there were any Muslims anywhere. Jews never left their homeland. Even when the majority of them were forced out of Israel by the Romans, who renamed their land Palestine after a people who no longer existed. There has always been a Jewish community in Israel.

Jews went to live in different countries because they had no choice. They certainly cannot call Germany, Poland or Russia their homeland any more then the Jews who settled in Persia, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria over 2,000 years ago can call those countries their homeland, even though they were there long before the Arabs sent armies out to occupy and take over those countries.

Jews need to be in their own homeland because every other country has treated them very badly. They were told that they were too rich, too poor, capitalists, Communists, trying to fit into their society, staying apart from their society, causing the Black Plague, ritual murderers and on and on. Jews were murdered in most of these countries at one time or another. And everyone, except Helen, it seems, knows that 6 million Jews were murdered in Europe only 70 or so years ago. This is what Helen Thomas wants them to go back to?

Is Helen ready to move back to where she came from? After all, the white man is occupying the Native American’s land.

Oh, and her apology? It simply meant, “I am sorry that I spoke what I really feel.” Is this really what nonbiased journalism is about?

Tobi Ruth Love
Thousand Oaks

L.A.’s Pro-Israel Rally

At the inspiring rally for Israel on June 6, the only discordant note was the appearance of a representative of Americans for Peace Now, the fifth column within our gates. With “supporters’ like these, who needs enemies?

Their invitation showed questionable judgment on the part of the organizers. When the speaker evoked a continuous, angry and vociferous response from the assembly, they should have recognized their mistake and dismissed him. But they actually allowed him to drone on and on, much longer than the other speakers.

Louis Richter

Missing From ‘Madness’

The most important part of the Nazir Khala article “Manhattan Madness and Muslims” (May 28) was what he didn’t write about. The utter condemnation of Jihad—the Muslim holy war.

Danny Bental

A column about a new law in Arizona (“Arizona Demands ‘Show Me Your Papers,’ “ May 14) misstated the previous job of Gov. Jan Brewer. Before becoming Arizona’s governor, she was secretary of state.


A Jewish Value That Has Influenced My Radio Show

In 28 years as a radio talk-show host, I have not consciously humiliated a single person — whether a caller to my show or a public figure.

And I give the credit to Judaism.

One of the best things that 14 years in yeshiva gave me was a keen appreciation of the sin of humiliating another human being. At a very young age, I was taught to memorize the Hebrew dictum “hamalbin et pnei chavero barabim, k’eelu shafach damo.” It means, “Whoever humiliates another person is considered as if he killed him.”

I cited the original Hebrew in order to explain how deep the Jewish thought on this matter runs. The literal meaning is that whoever “whitens [malbin] the face” … is considered as if he “spilled his blood” [shafach damo]. The play on words is brilliant — the blood drains from the face of the humiliated person, and that is how one figuratively “spilled his blood,” the Torah’s term for murder.

This emphasis on not humiliating anyone is itself a subcategory of Judaism’s larger emphasis on preserving the dignity of the individual human being. There are myriad laws concerned with preserving individuals’ dignity. One example: Equally poor people are not to be given equal amounts of charity. In Jewish law, a poor man who had been wealthy receives more money than the poor man who was always poor. Dignity is one reason (the relatively greater amount of suffering is the other). This law disturbs many contemporary Jews for whom equality is the greatest value. But for Judaism, the preservation of an individual’s dignity is of greater value than the pursuit of equal economic status.

It is sometimes even greater than truth-telling. Thus, we are obligated to tell a bride that she looks beautiful, even if we do not believe it.

From the day I started on radio, I realized how easy it would be to violate this fundamental principle of Judaism. When the rabbis came up with the dictum equating humiliating a person with killing him they could not have imagined a time when one person could humiliate another before millions of people at one time. Yet, of course, that is exactly what a broadcaster can do.

When Monica Lewinsky was at the center of national attention for her affair with President Bill Clinton, radio and television personalities routinely told jokes about her. I never joined in and forbade my callers to repeat these jokes on my show. I have never understood why being a public personality invalidates the stricture against humiliating people.

I wish that all people who work in the news media had studied this Jewish law. Recall how the media humiliated Richard Jewell, the man erroneously charged by news media, not by authorities, with planting a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics. News commentators routinely humiliated him for, among other things, living with his mother.

Because of the Jewish preoccupation with preserving people’s good name, I have frequently written and broadcast about what I call the “rape of a name.” The rape of a name can be as damaging to a man as the rape of a body can be to a woman. That is why I was furious when the woman who charged members of the Duke University lacrosse team with raping her was never punished for her lie. I likewise find it reprehensible that the Rev. Al Sharpton never served a day in jail and continued to command the media’s respect after he was found guilty of helping perpetuate 15-year-old Tawana Brawley’s lie that she had been raped by six white men. Sharpton even accused Steven Pagones, an assistant district attorney involved in the case, with being one of the rapists and a racist. The charges cost Pagones his reputation and his marriage.

One reason I opposed Al Franken’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate was his engaging in such behavior — as in his titling one of his books “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.” I always found mocking a person’s weight immoral and have identified such behavior with lowlifes, not to mention incompatible with serving as a U.S. senator. Apparently a bare majority of Minnesotans disagreed.

Many Jews think that Judaism’s way of “repairing the world” is to be politically active and take what they consider to be correct positions on social issues. A lifetime of studying and teaching Judaism has led me to a different conclusion. As a general rule, the Jewish way to repair the world is to engage first and foremost in repairing one’s own character and doing good on an individual basis. An excellent place to begin is by preserving the dignity of other human beings, even those one opposes politically. That is much harder, but usually much more beneficial to the world, than engaging in political activism.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.