Paraguayan Jewish soccer boss suspended for racial slurs against Arabs


Paraguay’s soccer association has suspended the Jewish president of a team for hurling racial slurs at a colleague of Arab descent.

During a match last month, the president of Asuncion’s Olimpia soccer team, Marcelo Recanate, accosted Juan José Zapag, the president of a rival team.

Recanate will be suspended for four months and suffer a 60-month reduction in pay, Dr. Raul Prono of the ethics committee of the Association of Football in Paraguay said on Thursday.

In a recording of the incident, Recanate is heard repeatedly cursing Zapag “and all of his countrymen.”

Recanate has apologized for the insults in a press conference, which he convened shortly after the incident.

“I want to offer my apologies to the father of my fathers all the way to Abraham, and the patrimony of the Jewish and Arab people. There can be no place for racism against my brothers,” he said at the press conference.

Olimpia has won 39 national titles, more than any other team in Paraguay.

Racial hatred trial opens in Perth


The trial of a West Australian man who posted a video on YouTube accusing Judaism of being a “religion of racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing” opened in Perth.

Brendon Lee O’Connell, 38, who is representing himself, described Monday’s proceedings in District Court as a “kangaroo court” and told Judge Henry Wisbey he should be facing charges of treason. Two of O’Connell’s supporters had to be removed from court at the judge’s request.

O’Connell is facing seven racial hatred charges relating to a 2009 altercation with two Jewish students in a supermarket where a Friends of Palestine protest was being staged against the sale of Israeli fruit.

On the YouTube video, which is still available on the popular video-sharing website, O’Connell is allegedly recorded as saying that “You have a religion of racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing” before calling one of the Jewish students a “racist Jew.”

“You are a racist, homicidal maniac,” he said, adding that “I will put you in the camps with the rest of them.”

Western Australia’s racial vilification laws were enacted in 2005. The maximum penalty for the offense is 14 years in jail or fines of up to $18,000.

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.”

Justice takes a beating in Long Beach racial hatred case


The nine black youths who beat three young white women have now been sentenced by a Juvenile Court judge, and there’s only one problem.

While these “kids” could
have killed their victims, the judge slapped them on the wrists lightly and sent them home. Astoundingly, after finding the nine defendants guilty of intent to cause bodily harm, with hate crime enhancements, the judge then reversed direction and gave them probation?

A tenth youth was acquitted.

The basic facts of the case are that last Halloween, a pack of black youths, with no evidence of any provocation, set upon three young white women who had come to an upscale part of Long Beach known to attract trick-or-treaters. Out of the larger crowd of attackers, 10 were identified and placed on trial.

After a lengthy process, that saw witness intimidation from gang members (one was forced to move; another had her car totaled), the expectation was — that if found guilty — a verdict and sentence would be handed down that delivered a strong message of intolerance for such uncivilized acts.

Instead, another message was delivered — that racism in its black guise will be treated with leniency and “understanding,” since this kind of racial retribution is an undesirable but understandable outgrowth of historic mistreatment at the hands of whites. What complete rubbish.

In case you wondered, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs, out of the 1.2 million cases of interracial crimes each year, 90 percent involve a black perpetrator and a white victim. The interests of law and order and a civil society were not served well by this judge’s sentences.

What highlights the crass, crude and bigoted nature of this ugly mass attack is the fact that Loren Hyman, one of the three victims, is both Jewish and Latino, but like a pack of hyenas converging on some yearling antelopes, this crowd was in no mood to parse out the finer points of ethnic and religious identity.

However, while these defendants have escaped culpability, others have not been brought before any judge. Ten black youths were put on trial, but it has been estimated that between 25 to 40 black teens surrounded Hyman, Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith last Halloween.

This was no routine youthful fracas — the attacks left Loren with more than a dozen facial fractures, a serious injury to her jaw, partial loss of sight in one eye and a recessed eye socket. Schneider was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

One male attacker knocked one of the girls unconscious with a skateboard, while another was stomped as she lay unconscious.

According to both victims and witnesses, the attackers hurled anti-white slurs while beating the girls.

And to add insult to injury, on the day that four of the defendants were being released from custody to the comfort of their homes, Hyman was undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair her shattered eye socket — the outcome of which is still unknown.

The rationale for giving probation, say Juvenile Court officials, is to promote rehabilitation — something presumably a harsher sentence couldn’t have accomplished? But, how can rehabilitation occur, when the parents and the teens have remained defiant, without any remorse.

Yes, they admit they were there but claim somebody else beat the girls. OK, I get it. They’re not guilty of an ugly assault; they’re actually, uh, victims.

But then the whole affair is bizarre, lodged squarely in the midst of the politics of racial identity. What if the scenario were reversed? For instance, what if the pack of black thugs who attacked these girls was white skinheads and their victims had been several young black youths?

Would the national media have virtually ignored the incident? Would every nationally known black leader have swooped into town, set up an encampment at the Long Beach Courthouse and demanded justice for the victims?

Wouldn’t everybody from the mayor to the governor and beyond be demanding that the judge send a message against racism? And, what if a judge handed down a sentence of probation for the skinhead scumbags — would the city have escaped massive “social justice” marches, with its leaders lustily yelling, “No justice, no peace”? Get the picture?

Some of us still remember the ugly incident on the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, you know, the one where white trucker Reginald Denny was set upon by several black thugs and nearly killed, simply for being white and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some excused the actions of the thugs who beat Denny, saying it was misdirected black rage, but in no way was it racism.

Fast forward that tape to 2007, and we find Farai Chedeya, a black National Public Radio show host, saying shortly after the Long Beach attacks that “… some people say black folks cannot be racists because the root of the issue is power.”

What a convenient dodge. I wonder if that came to the mind of the victim as a black thug broke a skateboard over her head, sending her into unconsciousness. Now that’s power.

Joe Hicks is the former executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is currently vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM talk show host.

Controverisal Israeli security approach takes flight in U.S.


The changes were inevitable. The Sept. 11 hijackers used box cutters as weapons, so box cutters were banned. Richard Reid smuggled explosives onto an American Airlines plane in his shoes, so passengers were ordered to remove their shoes for screening. The recent London air terror plot was predicated on liquid explosives, so now almost all liquids are forbidden, too.

 

Iconic Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, 77


The crusading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci spent the last years of her life issuing fiery warnings against a Muslim world that she saw poised to overrun the West.
 
Critics accused Fallaci of sowing racial and religious hatred, but she became a heroine to many Jews and Israelis for her vocal defense of Israel and denunciations of new forms of anti-Semitism.
 
“She was the most loved and most hated woman in Italy,” said Clemente Mimun, the Jewish director of Italian television’s main news program.
 
Fallaci, who divided her later years between New York and her native Florence, died last Friday in Florence after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.A glamorous woman always seen with long hair and thick eye-liner and a cigarette poised in her fingers, Fallaci was a war correspondent in Vietnam and fought as a child in the anti-fascist resistance during World War II.

She never married but had a passionate affair with the Greek left-wing activist Alekos Panagulis in the mid-1970s. After his death in an automobile accident, she wrote a book based on his life, “A Man,” that sold 3.5 million copies.Fallaci became a celebrity icon in the 1960s and 1970s with incisive, baring interviews of global VIPs including Henry Kissinger, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She also wrote a series of novels and other books.
 
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, marked a watershed.
 
Fallaci’s “The Rage and the Pride,” a vehement defense of the United States published soon after the attacks, became a best seller and provoked a storm of controversy with its strong language and uncompromising positions.
 
She followed with further books and articles that lambasted the West for weakness in the face of Islam and minced no words in her criticism of Muslims in general.
 
Islam, she wrote in her last book, “The Force of Reason,” “sows hatred in place of love and slavery in place of freedom.”
 
One of her most famous essays was a blistering attack on anti-Semitism published in April 2002 that read like a manifesto.
 
Repeating over and over the assertion “I find it shameful,” Fallaci unleashed a brutal indictment of Italy, Italians, the Catholic church, the left wing, the media, politically correct pacifists and Europeans in general for abandoning Israel and fomenting a new wave of anti-Semitism linked to the Mideast crisis.In the essay, Fallaci, who long had held pro-Palestinian views, declared herself “disgusted with the anti-Semitism of many Italians, of many Europeans” and “ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe.”
 
“I find it shameful,” she wrote,” and I see in all this the resurgence of a new fascism, a new Nazism.”
 
She recalled that in the past “I fought often, and bitterly, with the Israelis, and I defended the Palestinians a lot — maybe more than they deserved.
 
“Nonetheless, I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews,” she wrote. “I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, and not to allow themselves to be exterminated a second time.”
 

The Many Faces


“They both have dimples,” Rachel’s earnest classmate declared, “that’s how you can tell they’re sisters!”

The explanation was simple enough — no matter that 7-year-old Rachel has white skin and her 21-month-old sister, Angela, has black skin.

I just spent the weekend with more than 125 people (including 50 children) who came together because they are Jews with widely varying ethnicities and skin colors. They stay together because the intention of Bechol Lashon (In Every Tongue) — the initiative on ethnic and racial diversity in the Jewish community and the sponsor of the weekend — is to provide a time of learning and play in a Jewish atmosphere offering more than welcome. It is a weekend that offers embrace and delight, an opportunity for Jews to look around at Jewish faces who look different from stereotypes; Jewish faces who look as different as their own. These Jewish families belong to different synagogues or none at all and so often find themselves in (or feeling excluded from) American Jewish communities where they stand out from others in skin color or in accent, in background or in appearance. At Bechol Lashon events, stereotypes of what it means to look Jewish disappear within moments of one’s arrival, and instead, people see what really matters — sympathetic hearts and minds, the blessing of diversity, love of Torah and a desire for Jewish community.

Would that every Jew the world over were already so free from prejudice and fear that all Jews (let alone non-Jews) could expect and find a welcome no matter which Jewish community we walked into. The experiences of Jews throughout our history has not taught us how to be open-hearted. But our tradition does invite us to be, and perhaps our Torah begins with all human beings descended from the same first human beings for just that reason.

This week we begin our annual cycle of Torah — when God began to create the world in all its splendid variety.

“God created the human in ‘His’ image [b’tzalmo], in the image of God [b’etzelem Elohim], God created it; male and female God created them,” we are told in the first chapter of Torah (Genesis 1:27). And the Midrash plays with the concept: Each person is created in that person’s own individual, singular image (b’tzalmo), and also in the image of the Holy One (b’etzelem Elohim). So each one of us is unique, and also a reflection of God in the world. And why are all humans descended from the first person(s)? That none of us may claim, “My ancestors are superior to yours.” (see BT Sanhedrin 38a).

The history of Jews in the world has seen to it that we live in every corner of the world, and come in every color, but only in recent decades have we been given the opportunity to live together, to truly embrace that diversity of the Jewish people.

The National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, sponsored by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, tells us that 20 percent (1.2 million) of the Jewish population of the United States is “diverse,” including converts to Judaism, children adopted into Jewish families and raised as Jews, multiracial children of partnerships between Ashkenazi Jews and people of color and those who are themselves the generational descendants of Jews of color and those of Sephardic and Mizrahic heritage. (For more on that read “In Every Tongue: The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People” by Diane Tobin, Gary Tobin and Scott Rubin, or visit www.jewishresearch.org/socialchange.htm.) Most importantly, the number is growing — now more than ever. As corners of the world come together, we are being offered the opportunity not to blend in, but to embrace the diversity of God’s creations, right here, in our own city, in our Jewish community and in our own individual congregations.

There is another teaching I love based on the statement in Bereshit that all human beings are created bezel Elohim, in the image of the Holy One. In this Midrash, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comments on the verse of Psalm 55 that reads, “There are many with me.”

And who are they? Rabbi Yehoshua asks. “They are the angels who watch over people. An entourage of angels always walks in front of people, with messengers calling out. What do they say? ‘Make way for the image of the Holy Blessed One'” (Deuteronomy Rabbah, Re’eh 4).

As the participants of the Bechol Lashon retreat gathered for a farewell shalom circle, I looked around at all the dimples on all the gorgeous, smiling, colorful Jewish faces and I heard the angels calling out, “Make way for the image of the Holy Blessed One.”

It’s a new year, a new opportunity to study the Torah from Bereshit though to its very end in the company of friends and study partners — old and new. May our Torah circles and our Torah study be filled with beautiful and diverse images of the Holy Blessed One.

Lisa Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim.

 

A Plan to Take Over Troubled School


A successful charter school operator will launch a campaign to take over the Los Angeles high school where racial tensions erupted into campus brawls earlier this year. The Journal has learned that Steve Barr, who runs Green Dot Public Schools will announce, later this week, his bid to assume control of troubled Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles.

The 45-year-old Barr, who is Jewish, makes a point of serving students in low-income minority communities, even though he knows his schools would enjoy a ready market and have access to considerable financial support in the heavily Jewish and more prosperous neighborhoods of the Westside and West Valley.

If the school board goes along — and Barr already has some civic and political support — Jefferson would be the first existing L.A. campus handed over to an outside company.

Private companies have taken over schools elsewhere in the country with mixed results. In Los Angeles, however, most of the recent charter schools have been “start-ups,” that is, new schools that begin from scratch hiring teachers and recruiting students. Charter schools operate independently of established school systems, although school districts typically sponsor and supervise them. A Los Angeles public school has never been converted to a charter because it is failing or floundering or futile — pick your adjective for Jefferson.

Jefferson High gained notoriety when a series of campus melees erupted starting in mid-April. In many of the fights, black students squared off against Latinos. Officers arrested two-dozen students; three students were hospitalized and dozens suspended or transferred. Hundreds more stayed away from campus. The situation was disturbing enough that Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa visited the campus to plead for calm. Even before the unrest Jefferson had problems enough, with a high dropout rate and poor student achievement.

The move represents a gamble for Barr, the founder of Green Dot. He has never assumed operation of an existing school, especially one where academic achievement has lagged for decades. Barr’s first five charter high schools, all created over the last six years, have impressed many observers. His first school, in Lennox, which is south of Inglewood, has graduated 90 percent of its first two classes of students, said Barr, all of whom completed the coursework required to attend the University of California. L.A. Unified, by contrast, loses about half of its students as dropouts.

The Journal confirmed Barr’s intentions with several sources familiar with his plans. Barr declined to be interviewed prior to Thursday’s anticipated announcement, but confirmed the basic details. The plan has been in the works for weeks, but not widely known. In fact, late last week, one of the top aides to L.A. schools Superintendent Roy Romer was unaware of what was afoot. The superintendent’s office has since been alerted. Barr was tentatively scheduled Tuesday to meet with and brief Mike Lansing, the school-board member who represents Jefferson.

If allowed to run Jefferson as he does his other schools, Barr would divide the campus into eight or nine schools. Teachers would lose tenure protection, but could not be fired without “just cause.” Teaching staff also would have a central role in planning curriculum and purchasing instructional materials. The staff would not belong to United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful L.A. teachers union, but could instead join the independent union that represents faculty at Barr’s other schools. Teacher salaries would be 10 percent higher. Parents would be required to volunteer at the school. Staff currently at Jefferson, including the principal, would be invited to reapply for their jobs.

Barr plans to circulate petitions calling for the charter among teachers and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Jefferson. He’d also need the support of four of seven board members. Unfortunately for him, he can’t rely on board member David Tokofsky, because Tokofsky, a charter-school enthusiast, works part-time for Green Dot. Per board policy, Tokofsky cannot vote on a matter affecting Green Dot, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Two other board members, Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen are generally more skeptical about charter schools. Barr has already met with school-board President Marlene Canter, who represents the Westside and who would be a key vote for him.

Barr would have to move quickly to make a changeover possible by next year. In the meantime, L.A. Unified is pursuing its own remedies at Jefferson. Officials have reduced the number of students attending Jefferson by sending many of them to a newly completed high school. And a well-regarded administrator, Juan Flecha, agreed to move from Eagle Rock High School to Jefferson.

Vote May Be First to Blur Ethnic Lines


 

For more than a generation, racial and ethnic politics have dominated Los Angeles’ mayoral elections. That is, perhaps, until this year, which might be the first election of Los Angeles’ emerging post-ethnic era.

Although no doubt frustrating to the various candidates, this development is a promising one for Los Angeles as a whole. It is far healthier in this polyglot mess of a city if people can run for office based on their persona, qualifications and ideology, instead of their lineage. Better to be a confused and cacophonous democracy than one divided along communal lines.

Much of the evidence comes from the earliest polling. It appears that none of the leading ethnic candidates against white-bread Mayor James Hahn — Antonio Villaraigosa, Bernard Parks, Bob Hertzberg or Richard Alarcòn — are winning overwhelming and immediate support from their ethnic compadres. People may come around in the end to vote that way, but at least they seem to be giving a benefit of the doubt to the guys from other tribes.

Perhaps nothing is more illustrative than the relatively tepid support Villaraigosa is gaining from Latinos this time around. Last time, they gathered around him like the second coming of Cesar Chavez; this time, they seem more skeptical and pragmatic. This time, according to the Los Angeles Times Poll, he is garnering roughly half the amount he got last time.

Indeed, arguably the most powerful Latino in town, Labor Council boss Miguel Contreras, has chosen to back his dutiful and proven servant, the mayor, rather than his own compadre. Contreras would rather be the big boss of Los Angeles than its most important Mexican. Alarcòn fiesty candidacy, if not gaining votes, is also diluting the kind of Chicanismo message that propelled Villaraigosa the last time.

Similarly, Parks is not exactly proving to be a redux Tom Bradley. African American voters may be disillusioned with their choice last time, Hahn, but they are not flocking blindly to the former police chief. Parks arguably the most conservative of the candidates, is making some inroads where Hahn, the white Protestant, should be, that is, among Los Angeles’ remaining Republicans.

As for the Jews, they are even more confused and confusing than ever. By the laws of ethnic politics, they should be rallying en masse around former Assembly Speaker Hertzberg. Yet he so far has won the support of perhaps only one-fifth, with as many supportive of liberal firebrand Villaraigosa.

What’s behind these developments?

For one thing, ethnic politics are now increasingly trumped by factors of age, income and even geography. Take the Jewish vote. Ten years ago, a Zev Yaroslavsky candidacy would have brought a massive united Jewish turnout, which might have been enough to elect him mayor. Today, many Jews, particularly younger ones, vote based on something other than ethnicity, according to Arnold Steinberg, a longtime Los Angeles political consultant and pollster.

“We are a long way from a time when having a Jewish mayor would be seen as a great source of pride,” Steinberg said.

In other words, Jews are established enough, secure and rich enough not to feel the need to have one of theirs running city hall.

Ultimately, Steinberg believes we will see a more nuanced breakdown in the ultimate Jewish vote. Hertzberg, once he gets his middle-of-the-road message out, can expect to do well with more conservative Jews in the San Fernando Valley and among the more religiously oriented. These are people who tend to be more middle class, and who feel belabored by the city’s ultraliberal politics, high taxes and regulatory regime.

These represent very much the same subgroups that rallied to Richard Riordan in 1993 and 1997. Yet at the same time, there are many Jews, particularly on the Westside, who may opt for Villaraigosa. Their votes, suggested David Lehrer, former long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League, may be more swayed by the pull of liberal politics and an emotional desire for a hip, dynamic Latino mayor than anything else.

“There are people who support Hahn because of his father, and there’s people who want Villaraigosa because of his liberal politics,” Lehrer said. “It’s the same old politics now but without the ethnic overlay. The Jewish factor doesn’t matter the way it used to.”

But it’s not just Jewish identity that doesn’t factor in. If anything, the post-ethnic concept even more reflects the growing presence of Latinos and Asians in the city. These groups tend to be divided between native born and immigrants, each of whom has a somewhat different perspective. Recent arrivals may tend to judge people more on ethnicity; second- and third-generation people, particularly those born after the Chicano movement, may tend to support candidates for nonethnic reasons.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents a very ethnically mixed East Valley district, said she found that many Latinos supported her in her last election for reasons that had more to do with her approach on issues than on ethnicity.

“I got 50 percent of the vote in some Hispanic areas,” said Greuel, a non-Jew married to a Jew who is raising her young son Jewish. “They are about traffic, public safety — the same things everyone else wants.”

Then there is the intermarriage and inter-mixing factor. Today, about 5 percent of Angelenos are of mixed race. This number is likely to go up, given the roughly 30 percent-40 percent of second-generation Latinos and Asians who marry outside their ethnic groups. Today, suggested ethnic marketing expert Thomas Tseng, young people of all ethnicities choose from a similar menu of music, food and cultural-lifestyle choices.

“People are divided not by race so much as by their preferences,” observed Tseng, co-founder of the New American Dimensions marketing firm. “You are less an African American or a Latino than someone who is a rocker, a pop music fan or a hip-hop person.”

Translated into political terms, this means ethnic politics is blurring as people interact more with people of different backgrounds. In the Valley, now arguably the most racially diverse part of the city, many neighborhoods that were exclusively Anglo, now have many Latinos and Asians.

Valley Jews certainly are not immune to this process. Hertzberg himself is married to a Latina, and many younger Jews are more likely to have Hispanic, Asian and African American friends than their parents. They are as likely to identify with their cultural proclivities, ideological preferences or neighborhood as with their ethnic group.

For the candidates seeking to dethrone Hahn, this shift to a less-racial or lineage-based politics may prove a bit irritating. But for Los Angeles’ future, this post-ethnic trend may prove exactly what the doctor ordered.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by Modern Library in April.

 

Anti-Semitic Sing-A-Long


Some viewers of Da Ali G Show" on HBO were a little taken aback during the Aug. 1 episode when the character, Borat, got up in an Arizona bar and had all the patrons singing along with him to this song:

;In my country there is problem. / And that problem is the Jew / They take everybody’s money / They never give it back;

Throw the Jew down the well! / So my country can be free — / You must grab him by his horns / Then we have a big party.;

Borat is a fictional Kazahkstanian reporter distinguished by his utter lack of social propriety who allegedly films segments on American culture for Kazakhstan television. Like the spectacularly stupid pseudo black rapper Ali G and the unashamedly vapid gay Austrian fashion reporter Bruno, Borat is a creation of British Jewish comic Sacha Baron Cohen. And, like the other characters, Borat uses his lack of shame to expose people’s darker sides by asking them uncomfortable questions. (Among other revelations, Borat had James Broadwater, an aspiring congressman, say that all Jews are going to hell, and Bruno got a hip Miami nightclub owner to admit he discriminates against handicapped people. You just try to ignore them and hopefully they’ll go away, said James Butler of Nerve Lounge.)

But for many viewers in this particular episode, titled Peace, Baron Cohen and his creations just might have blurred the boundaries between acceptable and disturbing political incorrectness. After the episode aired, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it received hundreds of complaints and wrote to Baron Cohen expressing its concerns.

Todd Gutnick, a spokesman for the ADL, said that Baron Cohen’s office responded to the letter, expressing a willingness to discuss the issues with the ADL, but no formal date has been set yet.

Back in Arizona, Carol Irizarry, the supervisor of Country West Dancing and Lounge, says the patrons of her bar are not anti-Semitic.

[Baron Cohen] definitely misrepresented the bar. He didn’t show the whole song, she said, referring to the fact that the song had other funny verses about Borat throwing his wife’s cooking down the well, which were not aired, but which helped rile up the crowd, and made them amenable to joining in the anti-Semitic song.

As Ali G would say "Hain’t that a bit racialist?

The Gifts


From 1955 to 1967, Magnificent Montague was the most riveting rhythm-and-blues disc jockey in the nation, presiding over the birth of “soul” music. In addition to working as a DJ in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and several other cities, he became a passionate collector of African American memorabilia, assembling a museum-sized collection of 6,000 items. Montague is best known for his trademark on-air scream of “Burn, Baby! BURN!” — which, to his horror, became the battle cry of the Los Angeles riots in 1965. But his new autobiography, “Burn, Baby! BURN!” (University of Illinois Press, $24.95, written with Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Baker) is devoted as much to history as music, including Montague’s admiration of Judaism.

You could not be a Negro in the record business in the ’50s and not be curious about how these two tribes — blacks and Jews — had

mingled together in rhythm and blues. You would have to have been an idiot, first off, not to notice the number of Jews who ran independent companies specializing in black music: Art Rupe, founder of Specialty Records in L.A.; the Chess brothers, Phil and Leonard, in Chicago; Syd Nathan, who owned King records in Cincinnati; the Mesner brothers in L.A. with Aladdin Records, and Jerry Wexler, one of the hearts of Atlantic Records. You’d have to have been only a little less blind to ignore the fact that Jews, like blacks, had gravitated to the music business because there were so many covenants locking them out of more respectable professions. I knew that just about the only white people who’d ever given me a break in this business were Jews, and a fair number of times they did it not only because they knew I could make them some money, but because they recognized my talent and genuinely wanted to help–genuinely identified with being on the wrong side of society’s line. If you had ever considered the Old Testament, you would instinctively understand what Paul Robeson explained in a 1927 issue of The Jewish Tribune: “The Bible was the only form of literature the captive Negroes could get at, even those who could read. It was natural for their quick imaginations to find a … similarity between their condition and that of the enslaved Hebrews.” Listen to the black voices sing: “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go!”

The more I collected history, the more it pained me that Negroes knew so little of our struggles and our remarkable successes. By contrast, I realized, the Jews had managed to educate so many generations of their own. I thought, vaguely, that if I studied the Jews, I could learn: What kept them going in the face of so much hatred? How did they survive?

This curiosity came to a head in 1960 when I was working on KXLW in St. Louis and met Rabbi Julius Nadel. My wife, Rose, and I and our baby boy, Martin, were living on the border between a black neighborhood and a Jewish section. I could see Nadel’s synagogue from my window, and one day some unseen hand touched me on the shoulder and I walked over. Everybody looked at me, wondered what I was doing there. The rabbi came over and shook my hand, and we went into his office and hit it off. He, it turned out, was interested in blacks. It was a hard time to reach out. St. Louis was still intensely segregated.

“Why don’t you teach me how to be Jewish, and I’ll teach you how to be black?” I say half-jokingly. “We’ll trade this off.”

“I like it,” he says.

We agreed that I would come every evening and study, and for every evening I would give him an hour on the history of blacks. For six, maybe eight weeks this went on. I learned the story of the Jews, the Diaspora, the holidays, the rituals, the foundation of ethical monotheism that paved the way for Christianity. And on the 14 of Adar in the Hebrew year 5720 (more commonly known as March 13, 1960) Rabbi Nadel issued me a certificate of conversion.

We went to dinner and celebrated, and he asked me to sum up what I’d learned about Jews and blacks. It was so personal I had trouble finding words. I’d found similarities in the spirituality both sides bring to the table, I told him, but Jews have an advantage I envied: Each of their religious holidays represents something historically significant to their people. Imagine, as a parent, the power that gives you — the tools it gives you by presenting each holiday to your child as a lesson in how to live his life, a lesson tied directly to real life, a way to reinforce values so the old mistakes or injustices will not occur again. That is what bands the Jews together, that and their intense pride in achievement.

Rabbi, I said, the only thing that bands my people together is our religious fervor, but we don’t have a racial religion, or holidays significant enough to loop it in right with our religion, with our hand-clapping.

We do have one thing that no one else has, though. We have “The Gift,” the gift of song, the touch that song has given Negroes. God gave the Semitic people certain gifts, and in the same regard he gave us music. Music had been so wrapped up in so many phases of my life, I took it for granted. It was as common as the air, and just as essential to my people’s survival. In the years that followed, my collecting of the black experience would intensify in the hope that I could give my people something similar to what Rabbi Nadel gave his.

More information about “Burn, Baby! BURN!” can be found
at

Take It to the Church


The church is not a place that one typically associates with Chanukah. But that will change on Dec. 6 when members of Los Angeles’ Jewish and African American communities come together at the West Angeles Cathedral. The Crenshaw District institution — with a new $60 million cathedral that makes it one of the largest African American churches in the western United States — will play host to a joint Chanukah service that will be led by the cathedral’s Bishop Charles Blake and Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts.

For Blake, the match is a natural one.

"It is a statement of our common humanity and our brotherhood," Blake said. "There has been a historic relationship between blacks and Jews because both races have been historically excluded, discriminated against and persecuted. By celebrating their heritage, in a sense we celebrate our own biblical heritage."

For five years, the 40-member West Angeles Gospel Choir has performed at the temple’s annual "Shared Heritage of Freedom" service. However, this is the first time such an evening will be staged in a cathedral. The final day of Chanukah celebration will include performances by the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir and the Beverly Hills High School choral group, led by Joel Pressman. Singer Nell Carter, star of the popular ’80s sitcom, "Gimme a Break!" will sing "Rock of Ages."

The idea of bringing both communities together is not new for Baron, who started organizing such cultural crossovers 20 years ago, when he and then-Cantor Judy Fox joined H.B. Barnum, composer of "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," for a program at Westwood’s Wadsworth Theatre. Over the years, relations among various Los Angeles communities have hit some highs and lows, with economic strife and municipal politics often occurring along racial lines.

"While those differences exist, I haven’t sensed any negativity or hostility or pulling away," Baron said. "It’s always been very positive."

Blake is looking forward to the Chanukah program.

"I’m quite excited about it," he said. "We get so bogged down in our own community that we sometimes do not take time to get involved with others. But we are just one community. If we fail to recognize other communities, communication will break down and misunderstandings will occur. I know that it’s going to be the most unusual eighth night of Chanukah I’ve ever seen."

The Chanukah service will take place at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the West Angeles Cathedral, 3045 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Parking is available on site. For more information, call (310) 444-7500.

Following the Leader


Not long after he took over as national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman was asked to fly to Geneva and head off an international crisis. It set the tone for what’s come since.

It was June 1990. Nelson Mandela, newly released after 27 years in a South African prison, was headed to New York for an expected hero’s welcome. A group of Jewish militants planned a rally, protesting Mandela’s links to Moammar Khadafy and Yasser Arafat. Fearing a Black-Jewish flare-up, civil rights leaders convinced a Jewish delegation to meet Mandela en route and hear him out. Some Jews warned, though, that the mission wouldn’t help, as it consisted entirely of stock liberals.

Just before takeoff, Abe Foxman agreed to join the mission. A veteran ADL staffer, he had a reputation as a staunch opponent of racial pandering and an Israeli security hardliner. If he found Mandela kosher, the opposition would dissolve. Indeed, Mandela went on to a triumphal American reception that helped cement South Africa’s peaceful transformation.

A decade later, it’s hard to imagine the episode repeating itself the same way. Not that Foxman no longer shakes hands with former foes. No, he’s accepted apologies from Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson (for an anti-Semitic song lyric) and George W. Bush, for saying Jews can’t enter heaven. Along the way, he’s all but lost his hardline reputation.

Lately Foxman is displaying his conciliatory side more and more. He’s still a hardliner by temperament, particularly concerning Israel. But he seems increasingly concerned not just with how others treat Jews, but how Jews appear to treat others.

“If you want people to change their minds and hearts,” he says, “you have to be ready to accept it when they do change.”

Last month he raised hackles by opposing isolation of Austria after Joerg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party entered the government. “Three quarters of the Austrian people didn’t vote for him,” Foxman says. “What are we telling them?”

And last year he caused shock waves by speaking out against what he saw as overemphasis on Holocaust restitution. If things continued, he said, “the last Holocaust soundbite of the 20th century could be about money.”

Attitudes like that infuriate Foxman’s onetime admirers on the right. One militant group has a Web site called “Foxman’s Follies,” detailing the treasons of “Dishonest Abe.” He’s repeatedly attacked by supporters of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew imprisoned for spying for Israel, because he refuses to lobby for Pollard’s release, insisting there’s “no evidence that anti-Semitism played a role” in Pollard’s draconian life sentence. Some critics say Foxman has been “bought by the CIA.”

Foxman says he’s used to being attacked. Louis Farrakhan, David Duke and “pontifex” Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator routinely single him out as Public Enemy No. 1. Militia Web sites and chat groups brim with curses and threats. “I guess you can measure the seriousness and effectiveness of ADL by how much we’re attacked,” he says.

Attacks by fellow Jews are something else. “They hurt,” Foxman says. “I would like to think we’re a little different, but I guess we’re not.”

After Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Foxman helped push for a code of civility among Jewish groups. It was adopted in 1996 by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. So far it’s been invoked once — against Foxman. He had lashed out in 1998 against a rightist who was accusing the ADL of softness on Israel. Foxman was forced to apologize.

Born in Warsaw in 1940, Foxman was taken by his nanny and baptized at age one, after his parents were sent to Auschwitz. His parents, leaders in Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Zionist Revisionist movement, survived the war and retrieved him afterward by court order. In 1950 they moved to New York, where Abe attended a series of Orthodox day schools and joined a series of Zionist youth groups — the right-wing Betar, then the left-wing Habonim, then the apolitical Young Judaea. “I wasn’t bothered by the severities of the ideology,” he recalls.

He went to work for ADL in 1965, after receiving a law degree from New York University. His first case was suing Aramco, the Arab-American Oil Company. A Jewish job applicant had been warned by the job interviewer that he wouldn’t fit in at Aramco. Ironically, Foxman recalls, “he was trying to be nice to him. But the young man felt it was discriminatory and came to ADL.”

Blunt-speaking and unreflective, Foxman rarely tries to articulate a seamless philosophy. There are common threads, though. They start with support for Israel and opposition to anti-Semitism, framed by a rare pragmatism. He’s always ready for a fight. He’s usually ready to patch things up.

This month Foxman was quick to reject the pope’s “apology” for church sins, saying it should have mentioned the Holocaust. Later he reminded reporters that John Paul II had an “unparalleled” record on Catholic-Jewish relations.

He’s a firm supporter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, reversing ADL’s staunchly pro-Likud policies during the 1980s. Yet he defends Israel’s West Bank settlements against Arab-American efforts at economic boycott.

Consistent or not, his formulas have vast appeal. In 13 years as ADL’s national director, he’s turned the league, traditionally the biggest Jewish defense agency, into a colossus dwarfing every other Jewish advocacy group. Its $50 million budget is bigger than the budgets of AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center combined. It runs diversity training for the CIA and the German government. Its intelligence on extremists often rivals the FBI’s.

Foxman himself has emerged as one of the only figures who can speak authoritatively for American Jewry and be sure that others — Jewish and non-Jewish — are listening. He’s one of just a handful of Jewish leaders recognizable outside their own office suites.

That unique stature was thrown into sharp relief this week, as Foxman’s ADL prepared to honor him with an unusual fundraising dinner, featuring Henry Kissinger as master of ceremonies and an all-star speakers’ list including CIA director George Tenet and sex guru Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Celebrities aren’t unusual at fancy Jewish dinners, of course. What’s almost unheard of is a Jewish organization throwing a fancy dinner to honor one of its own employees.

“I’m a product of the worst and the best,” he says. “The worst being anti-Semitism at its nadir, which killed people, and the best being a woman who risked her life to save me. How do you blend the two?”


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal

Civil Rights Redux


“Farther Along: A Civil Rights Memoir”

by Marvin Caplan.

Louisiana State University Press, $29.95

Black and white liberals, among them an inordinate number of Jews, who fought the civil rights battles of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, are now often seen as faintly archaic figures.

Except for Martin Luther King Jr., few of their names are remembered, and even some of their victories, such as affirmative action legislation, are now under widespread attack.

It is the merit of Marvin Caplan’s “Farther Along” to recall the idealism and fervor of the pioneers in a struggle that changed the face of American society and went a long way in overcoming deep-rooted institutional prejudices.

Caplan was born into a family that boasted generations of kosher butchers, first in Russia and then in his native Philadelphia. He was liberated from following the family tradition by joining the army during World War II.

After his discharge, Caplan accepted the invitation of army buddy Harry Bernstein, later to serve with distinction as labor editor of the Los Angeles Times, to establish the monthly “Southern Jewish Outlook” in Richmond, Virginia.

One of the sprightliest chapters in the book describes the efforts of the two young vets to keep the paper afloat, pugnaciously dedicated to end racial segregation and discrimination in the capital of the old Confederacy.

In the morning, Caplan might sell a badly needed ad to the Jewish owner of a large laundry and dry cleaning establishment, and in the afternoon turn out to support the black women pickets trying to unionize the place.

He also did battle, during Israel’s War of Independence, against the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism and founded the local chapter of the Labor Zionist Organization of America.

After four years in Richmond, Caplan moved on to Washington, D.C. and became a reporter for the Fairchild chain of business publications, but he carried his ideals and ideology with him.

He became a founder and first president of Neighbors, Inc., a group that formed the first integrated housing bloc in the strictly segregated national capital.

After participating in the civil rights struggle as a grassroots volunteer for 15 years, Caplan became a full-time professional in 1963 as executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

For the next 18 years, Caplan was a participant and ringside observer of the country’s most crucial civil rights battles, which he ably documents.

Caplan fought the good fight not only in the halls of Congress, but an equally difficult one within his own family. Despite the clear unhappiness of his three children, he insisted on their attendance at a 90 percent black public school, which had been deserted by almost all other white students.

Now in his seventies and still living in an integrated Washington neighborhood, Caplan, a widower, looks back on his life’s work with pride, but few illusions. “In the decades that followed [the ’60s], victories that once seemed indisputable advances to us — affirmative action, racial integration, for instance — are often questioned by the very ones we thought would benefit from them,” he writes.

Web Hate Sites Proliferating


The growth of hate sites on the World Wide Web is staggering, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

On April 19, 1995, the day a truck bomb leveled the Oklahoma City federal building, there was only one Web hate site, run by the Ku Klux Klan. A year ago, there were 600 such sites. And an updated compilation now lists 1,400 sites.

The figures are contained in an interactive CD-ROM report on “Digital Hate 2000,” released at a press conference this week by the Wiesenthal Center.

In the three weeks since the latest data were calculated, 120 new sites, espousing racial and anti-gay violence and anti-Semitism have sprouted, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

Aside from the sheer numerical increase, “we are now seeing a number of new developments pointing to the growing outreach and sophistication of hate groups,” said Cooper.

Most worrisome are the hate programs aimed specifically at children, from preteens on up. One common tactic is to alter popular computer games, such as “Doom” and “Wolfenstein,” by inserting racist and white power messages.

Also noticeable is the increase of extremist sites that originate with overseas groups. By establishing sites in the United States, they evade anti-hate laws in their own countries and can then be accessed by users back home, Cooper said.

One such site, originating in Sweden, has done a booming business by peddling the notoriously anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

There has been a particularly large jump in sites that preach hatred and violence against gays and lesbians.

As an example of the sophistication of many hate sites, Cooper pointed to one frequently visited by students and others looking for information on slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“That site is brilliantly put together, with all the bells and whistles,” Cooper said. “Initially, it looks like a serious, scholarly site. But when you come to the recommended reading list, you’ll find the autobiography of white supremacist David Duke.”

Cooper believes that in the fight against racists and Holocaust-deniers, “we’re entering a new era, in which the main battlefield is the World Wide Web.”

In combating hate groups, the answer is neither censorship nor abridgment of free speech, said Cooper. However, Internet service providers, such as America Online, or search engines, such as Yahoo, can and should set certain standards of their own.

“Like any responsible newspaper, they can refuse to carry obviously racist and dangerous advertisements and messages,” he said. “For instance, no paper would print precise instructions on making a terrorist bomb, but you can find that on the Internet.”

The Wiesenthal Center will distribute 20,000 free copies of the CD-ROM to police and educators. Others can order a copy for $20 through the Web site www.wiesenthal.com.–Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Torah Portion


You know me, Rabbi. You know how important thesynagogue is to me, how much I enjoy services; you see me at yourTorah classes. You know what kind of Jew I am: I am the only one atthe family seder table who can read the Hebrew side of the Haggadah,but they won’t accept me, because I wasn’t born Jewish!”

Every rabbi has heard these painfultestimonies.

“After my conversion, the Christians in myoffice congratulated me on this special moment. They wanted to hearall about the ritual and about my new faith. The Jews, on the otherhand, made sarcastic remarks — someone wondered aloud if they’dgiven me a Bloomingdale’s charge card at the mikvah as the symbol of myJewishness.”

Sociologically, it can be explained. Judaism is aunique composite of religion and ethnicity. One can convert into areligion by adopting its beliefs and practices. One cannot convertinto an ethnicity. Ethnicity is family; it is blood. Try as one may,one cannot become Italian or Irish. Ethnicity is expressed in acomplex and subtle culture of shared memories, language and symbols.Facing an ethnic culture, the outsider can at best become theequivalent of a daughter-in-law or son-in-law — invited to sit atthe family table even though he or she may never get our family jokesor share our intimate memories. You can come to the table, but you’llnever really feel at home. In an American-Jewish community whereethnic identity far outweighs spirituality, the convert faces adifficult dilemma — how to ever feel at home as a Jew.

This is compounded by the Jewish experience of2,000 years of oppression and exile. In response to castigation andhumiliation, Jews erected a powerful internal barrier between Us andThem. The defense against ghetto walls was an internal wall. But nowthat we are secure in a free democracy, the internal walls remain,held up by old fears and prejudice. Even when Jews assimilate, losingall vestiges of faith and culture, the last thing to go are theinternal walls. They don’t attend synagogue, own a Bible, orcelebrate a seder, but they won’t hesitate to tell someone that he orshe is not really Jewish.

Have we forgotten that the Jewish experience beganwith a radical act of decision, with a conversion?

“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Go forth from yourland, from your birthplace, from your father’s house to the land thatI will show you…and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2).

The convert’s journey follows the same radicalroute of Abraham and Sarai — cutting oneself off from the familiarand the safe, from all that provides identity in this world, fromhome and family, culture and memory — to pursue a promise. We callthem ben orbat Avraham v’Sarah — the child of Abraham and Sarah. The children of Abrahamand Sarah live among us!

An alternative interpretation reads God’s commandLech lecha as”Go into yourself!” Abraham’s journey is not geographic butspiritual. Those who have chosen Judaism are living witnesses to thespiritual journey of Judaism. They are a blessing to us, for theyteach us that the essence of the Jew is not in ethnic affectations –bagels and Yiddish quips — but in the deepest spiritual search formeaning and joy in life, in Covenant with God.

Eight hundred years ago, Maimonides heard the samepainful cry. A convert named Ovadia was barred from praying with thecongregation because some questioned how he could offer prayers tothe “God of our ancestors.” With all his rhetorical power, Rambamresponded: “Anyone who becomes a convert isa pupil of our father, Abraham, and all of them are members of hishousehold. You may say, ‘God of our ancestors,’ for Abraham is yourfather…and there is no difference between us and you. Toward fatherand mother, we are commanded to show honor and reverence; towardprophets, to obey them; but toward converts, we are commanded to havegreat love in our hearts. God in His glory loves theconvert.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.