Sheket, b’vakasha!


Shutting Jewish Mouths

We were surprised to read the mischaracterization of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommitee) in Rob Eshman’s column (“Shutting Jewish Mouths,” Feb. 16).

As our 175,000 constituents know, we welcome a wide range of viewpoints in the AJCommitee “tent” and our members count themselves as liberals, conservatives and everything in between. AJCommitee is a strictly nonpartisan organization, long viewed as centrist in its orientation and we pride ourselves on a deliberative style of discussion and debate on policy matters. Contrary to Eshman’s view, there is no “party line” at AJCommitee.

Legitimate and informed discussion of Israeli policies is welcome, and, as ardent defenders of the Jewish state, we have been long-time participants in that debate. Indeed, AJCommitee is a leading advocate for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we must take umbrage with anyone, even fellow Jews, who call for Israel’s demise.

The essay by professor Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University addresses a very real threat that a Jewish imprimatur gives to the campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy. As the American Jewish community’s leading think tank, the AJCommitee chose to publish the essay because it is important to illuminate views held by those on the political fringes asserting that Israel has no right to exist and should either be destroyed or morphed into a so-called bi-national state, which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Their language needs to be read to understand why professor Rosenfeld, a highly regarded scholar, felt compelled to write his essay and why AJCommitee chose to publish it. It can be found at www.ajc.org.

Meanwhile, those who claim that an effort is underway to stifle debate are just wrong. Discussion online and offline has been vibrant, and we hope interest in the Rosenfeld essay will spark serious conversation on the important issues he raises.

Sherry A. Weinman
President
Los Angeles Chapter
American Jewish Committee

Bravo, well said … and it needed to be said. I admire your courage in speaking out against an increasingly stultifying establishment… which, of course, was itself the point.

No matter how much heat you catch — and I’m sure it will be plentiful — know that you have many readers who respect your resolve to deliver real journalism. Kol hakavod l’cha.

Rabbi Ken Chasen
Leo Baeck Temple

Your statement about being the former head of Americans for Peace now [in Los Angeles] made everything clear about how you have used The Jewish Journal to put down the religious Jews who really care about their G-d-given birthright, the land of Israel and the nominally Jewish traitors who would sell their soul for a fake peace with the Islamic terrorists who want nothing more than to eradicate Jews from the face of the earth.

If ever there were a case for removing a traitor from a “Jewish” publication, it is you. You are a pogrom all by yourself.

Bunnie Meyer
via e-mail

In “Shutting Jewish Mouths” (Feb. 16), Jewish Journal Editor in Chief Rob Eshman makes an almost comical argument: the American Jewish Committee can stop Peace Now’s abusive criticism of Israel.

But pacifists, whether in England in the 1930s, West Germany in the 1970s or in the West today, always blame the victim first.

Thus, while friends of Israel seek to improve Israel’s public image, Peace Now supplies the raw materials for anti-Israel coverage. While Israel seeks new markets for its products, Peace Now assists in economic boycotts. While the IDF maps Iranian nuclear sites, Peace Now maps settlements. While Hamas prepares to introduce sharia, or Islamic law, into the formerly “occupied” Gaza strip, Peace Now advocates splitting Jerusalem. While Hezbollah and Syria plan another round of missile strikes, Peace Now demands that Israel surrender the Golan.

It’s true that we all love Israel. But love from pacifists tends to hurt — a lot.

Nathan D. Wirtschafter
Rehovot, Israel

Justice Takes a Beating

Joe R. Hicks’ otherwise excellent article about the sentence of freedom given to the gang that nearly beat to death three innocent young girls on the street while screaming anti-white racial epithets against them left out the most important information: the judge’s name (“Justice Takes a Beating in Racial Hatred Case,” Feb. 16).

It is Superior Court Judge Gibson Lee, not only the object of worldwide scorn via the Internet and talk radio, but thankfully the subject of a recall petition. Lee is a disgrace to the bench and to America, and should resign immediately.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Dennis Prager

In the course of his lukewarm, non-defense of Dennis Prager, David Klinghoffer adds insult to injury by claiming that the “Muslim scriptures do not deserve” the same recognition as the Bible because “what has made America so special” can be traced to “a unique blending of Christian and Jewish beliefs,” in which the “Quran played no role whatsoever” (“Prager Shouldn’t Lose His Museum Post,” Feb. 16).

Klinghoffer needs to go back and study his U.S. history. What made America so special is not some Christian/Jewish exclusion of other religions, but the inclusive principle of religious tolerance.

Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson demanded recognition of the religious rights of the “Mahamdan,” the Jew and the “pagan.” Richard Henry Lee asserted: “True freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo [Hindu] as well as the Christian religion.”

Jefferson recounted that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature “rejected by a great majority” an effort to limit the bill’s scope, “in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan.”

Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded “the most ample liberty of conscience … to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians.”

News from the hood, eruv in the air


Neighborhood Angels

David Suissa gets it right when he praises the incredible work of selfless individuals (“Neighborhood Angels,” Feb. 2). Through their tireless efforts to feed struggling Jewish families, Yaelle and Nouriel Cohen bring honor not only to themselves but also to their entire community.

In the face of a problem as deeply entrenched as hunger, people like the Cohens are an important part of the answer. But they cannot do it alone.

Alleviating the suffering brought on by economic insecurity will take broad civic participation. In other words, it will take all of us, working together in concert with able community and government leaders, to make the critical difference that will finally end hunger once and for all.

Jeremy Deutchman
Director
Communications and Development
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Celebrating Holiday

I was quite perturbed by your article, “The Missing Holiday” (Feb. 9). In it, David Suissa seems to imply that the Orthodox community just picks and chooses its holidays. When Orthodox people celebrate a holiday, they do it with true meaning and observe the holiday’s laws.

It has been this way since the beginning of time. We do not make up laws and rituals, such as sitting under a tree eating fruit.

Suissa seems to be a big fan of Tu B’Shevat and what it represents, but I wonder if he feels the same way about other holidays that are a little more strenuous than eating fruit. To compare a Tu B’Shevat seder to the Passover seder is like comparing apples to oranges (pun intended).

David, you are better than that.

Yonatan Dahari
Valley Village

Eruv Controversy

In a letter published in The Journal, a Mr. Eli Ziv of Woodland Hills accused Jane Ulman’s article about the Conejo eruv of tiptoeing around the real issue, which he claims to be a real hatred of traditional Jewish observance, much of it coming from secular Jews (“Questions Remain After Agoura Eruv Dismantled,” Feb. 2).

The problem is that Ziv has never been in our Conejo Valley community, did not see the eruv that we commissioned and was not present at the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council meeting, where I, as the spokesperson for the eruv committee, gave a very sincere apology to the homeowners who had complained.

I don’t know what has driven eruv controversies in other communities, but here in Oak Park and Agoura Hills, it was simply a matter of our contractor doing a lousy job and creating an eyesore. The eruv was ugly, and it trespassed on private property.

Nobody made us take it down. That decision was ours, and the bottom line is this: The neighbors had every right to be upset, and we took our eruv down because we agreed with them.

If Ziv and others (i.e., reporters from the Daily News and Ventura County Star and KFI-AM’s John and Ken, none of whom were present at the Oak Park meeting) wish to convolute the facts to feed their own agendas, well I suppose I can’t stop them.

But I wish they’d all leave us in the Conejo Valley alone to work out our problems amongst ourselves, which we seem to be able to do quite well, thank you.

Your article, in my opinion, was fair and balanced.

Eli Eisenberg
Agoura Hills

False Statements

In “Time for Leaders to End Their Silence on Iraq” (Feb. 9), Aryeh Cohen’s and Adam Rubin’s compelling arguments are undermined by unsupported allegations and false statements. They write, “The Bush/Cheney war, launched on the basis of … outright lies against a country that posed no threat to the United States….”

“Lies” is a strong allegation, yet they do not say who, when, what and how the lies were the basis of launching the war. Iraq fired anti-aircraft missiles at U.S. no-fly-zone forces, plotted to assassinate President George H.W. Bush and supported terrorists (via $25,000 sent to the families of successful suicide bombers) striking against U.S. ally, Israel — that’s hardly “posing no threat”.

Kenny Laitin
Los Angeles

Premarital Counseling

In 1994, my daughter announced her engagement to her beshert. My engagement gift to the couple was the “Making Marriage Work” course at the University of Judaism (“Premarital Counseling Gets Short Shrift in Jewish L.A.,” Feb. 9). It was inestimably meaningful for them both and for their very successful and enduring relationship.

I encourage all of you prospective parents of the bride or groom to invest in maximizing your kids’ chances for a happy and successful marriage.

Barbara H. Bergen
Los Angeles

Counters Misinformation

The StandWithUs community is a big umbrella that includes people with a wide range of opinions about Israeli policy (“Divided We Fall,” Feb. 9). When The Journal uses labels like “conservative,” and “left” or “right” wing, it misrepresents all groups’ positions, leaves too much to personal interpretation and ignores the significant variations within each label. StandWithUs regularly takes heat from those who consider themselves more conservative or more liberal than our organization.

We did not identify Combatants for Peace as anti-Israel because we are “left” or “right” or because we want to silence criticism of Israel. Simply put, Combatants for Peace presentations are one-sided (blaming only Israel for the ongoing conflict), ignore context (like Palestinian terrorism and extremism) and make unsubstantiated charges against the Israel Defense Forces and Israel.

The StandWithUs mission is to counter, not to silence, such misinformation and unfounded accusations through education, precisely so there can be informed, open debate. Combatants for Peace does not meet this litmus test.

Roz Rothstein
National Director
Roberta P. Seid
Education/Research Director StandWithUs

Ireland’s Example

I was a college student when the Jewish State of Israel was born. We Jews were so proud of the founding fathers who issued a declaration of independence, stating that all the citizens of their democracy would be equal and [expressing] a desire that their country would be a “light unto the nations.”

A match made in D.C.?


One of the primary reasons many groups give for the limited availability of premarital counseling programming is the lack of available funding.

However, millions of dollars are spent every year in divorce proceedings, legal fees and mediation and, with that in mind, the federal government offers grants through the Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood program, established under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The initiative provides $100 million in grants for faith-based groups and individuals to administer programs that fall under at least one of the following eight categories:

  • Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health.
  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.
  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs — which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict resolution and job and career advancement — for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers.
  • Premarital education and marriage skills for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage.
  • Marriage enhancement and marriage skills programs for married couples.
  • Divorce-reduction programs that teach relationship skills.
  • Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities.
  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.

In addition to information about the type of training an agency or synagogue intends to provide and their target audience, applicants must describe how issues of domestic violence will be addressed, and show that program participation is voluntary. The funding is available through 2010.

Many Jewish groups have yet to tap into these resources, because “they see it as a ‘Christian’ project” and might not agree with the government guidelines toward marriage and family, psychologist and author Dr. Joel Crohn said.

Those who oppose the federal grants argue that government-sponsored marriage promotion could encourage women to stay in abusive relationships by discouraging leaving a spouse in cases of domestic violence.

Proponents, however, say the programs can improve relationships by getting to the root of problems and encouraging couples to communicate, thereby reducing the incidence of domestic violence.

For more information, visit www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage/index.html

Premarital counseling gets short shrift in Jewish L.A.


Couples make many choices that represent shared values in the run-up to a wedding, from filling the ceremony with long-held family traditions to tackling stress-filled tasks like whittling down the “I can’t believe we know this many people” guest list.

Often such to-dos are completed in the hurried context of daily life, including requisite counseling with a rabbi.

Premarital counseling can be a time for honest reflection and sharing, but frequently the lines of communication can get buried under layers of tulle and wedding cake.

At a time when shows like MTV’s “Engaged and Underage” and VH1’s: “My Fair Brady” have made weddings out to be the fun, natural step after prom, prerequisite counseling is increasingly being looked at as a party pooper.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch has encountered the negative stigma associated with premarital counseling. She says that although the couples approaching her to officiate at their weddings believe they are ready for marriage, not all grasp the depth of commitment marriage requires.

“There’s a difference between relationships and recreation: recreation is going somewhere with someone and doing something fun; relationships involve the difficult things, and it’s 100 percent full time,” she said.

Deitsch noted that many engaged couples now view “getting married as the end result … not a step on the lifecycle journey.”

Given that weddings as lifecycle events call for minimal study and preparation, compared with the two to three years required for b’nai mitzvah, some wonder whether making requirements for premarital counseling more stringent might help to minimize divorce among Jewish and interfaith couples.

There are currently no substantive guidelines regulating how often a rabbi and couple should meet, or what they should talk about before the wedding. Some rabbis might meet with a couple as many as five times, while others might get together once or twice and devote much of that time to reviewing ceremony details. Also, other than one program through the University of Judaism (UJ), the organized Jewish community has few direct counseling resources to offer engaged couples.

“We could and should be doing a better job in getting couples to counseling and spending more time and resources on it. With divorce rates rising, it would be money well spent,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. According to the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001, 9 percent, of all American Jews currently are divorced, only 1 percent below the national population. Premarital counseling is often cited as a way to lower the odds of divorce.

When Sinai Temple’s Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei counsels a couple before their wedding, he covers a litany of issues, ranging from finances to parenting. While he’s dedicated to the counseling aspect of his job, he acknowledges the limits of the services he can offer. If he senses that a topic could become a problem for a couple, he refers them to a professional.

“Marriage is a sacred partnership; it must be treated as such, involving the best people who are most qualified to help a couple make their relationship work,” he said.

Dr. Joel Crohn, a clinical psychologist who works with Jewish and interfaith couples, agrees with Schuldenfrei. But he sees the dearth of Jewish premarital counseling programs in Los Angeles as emblematic of a larger problem facing the Jewish community.

“The community is worried about Jewish continuity. You’re going after people on the edges … but what about the core — the core is Jewish marriage,” said Crohn, author of “Beyond the Chuppah: A Jewish Guide to Happy Marriages” (John Wiley & Sons, 2001).

The Jewish community’s premarital programs are “unbelievably weak compared to the Christian community,” said Crohn, who developed a now-defunct premarital counseling program with Diamond and Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis several years ago.

Crohn believes the organized Jewish community should adapt the Catholic model of premarital counseling as a way to prepare Jewish and interfaith couples for the road ahead.

Before Catholics are allowed to marry in the church, engaged couples must participate in a course on marriage called Pre-Cana. Each parish handles Pre-Cana differently, teaching it over one weekend or an entire month. Pre-Cana programs feature married volunteers sharing experiences from their own marriages, helping guide engaged couples through topics they can expect to face in the years ahead.

In addition to Pre-Cana, Los Angeles Catholic Engaged Encounter offers a weekend where couples, Catholic and non-Catholic, can talk about their relationship, including their strengths and weaknesses, desires, ambitions, goals, as well as attitudes about money, sex, family and society.

The L.A. Jewish community currently has only one institutionally run Jewish premarital program, the UJ’s Making Marriage Work.

The program, run through the university’s Department of Continuing Education, has been around since the early 1970s, features 10-week classes each quarter. The majority of the couples who enroll are in their 20s and 30s, with class sizes ranging from 30 to 40 couples. Spring quarter has the highest enrollment, due to the popularity of summer weddings.

“People who took the class in the 1970s have children in it,” said Judy Uhrman, the program’s director. “It has proven itself. We ran a study of alumni — their divorce rate is 9 percent.”

In addition to the program’s curriculum, each couple has two sessions with a rabbi, one session with a therapist and one session with a financial planner.
Unlike Pre-Cana and similar premarital couples groups, Making Marriage Work doesn’t feature advice from already married couples. But when asked, Uhrman said it “would be helpful to include married couples.”

Uhrman credits part of the program’s success to its group dynamic.

“A lot of the students become bonded [after the class] and stay together as chavurot,” she said, referring to small Jewish social groups. “If there are no particular problematic issues, group counseling works better. It brings up things you don’t necessarily think about when you are in love.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles also has yet to tackle the issue of premarital counseling in a structured group setting. Federation beneficiary agency Jewish Family Service, for instance, offers no premarital classes or programming. Instead, the nonsectarian agency tends to see many married couples “in deep trouble, looking at divorce,” said Dr. Margaret Avineri, the agency’s director for clinical and disability services.