The hate is all in one direction


In response to my latest column, “The Torah and the Transgendered,” the Jewish Journal was deluged with emails to the editor and comments on the Journal’s website. Virtually every one of them is shameful. If you care about the moral nature and intellectual viability of American Jewish life, they are actually frightening.

I am accused of cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, hate, publicly humiliating someone, ignorance and more. Yet, there is not a hint of any one of these things in my column. That’s why, the perceptive reader will notice, not a single letter has actually quoted me. They can only mock, denigrate, demonize and insult. But not provide a shred of evidence to support their attacks.

[RELATED: A response to Dennis Prager]

It is these letters and comments that are filled with hate; it is these writers who intend to humiliate; it is these people who are intolerant of any view but their own. With one or two exceptions, all these people live in an intellectual bubble that shields them from having to contend with opposing views. And when they encounter one, they get mean and throw childlike tantrums.

It is a complete lie that I attacked, let alone, humiliated, Rabbi Becky Silverstein. 

I wrote a total of two sentences about the rabbi:

“Likewise, a Southern California synagogue has hired as its director of education a biological female rabbi who identifies as male, wears masculine clothing, is referred to as male and insists on being called by her/his given female name. Obviously, the congregation and the rabbi believe that the Torah’s view on gender distinction is irrelevant.”

How is that an attack? How is it humiliating? Why did Joshua Levine Grater, Denise Eger, Sharon Brous, and Adam Greenwald — rabbis all — make such false public accusations? Does honorable behavior apply only to Jews one agrees with?

And for the record, the reason I did not mention the rabbi or the temple by name was so as not to make any individual or temple the issue. 

Rabbi Denise Eger, the president of the Reform rabbinate, writes that “Sadly, the Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard-working and devoted rabbis.” Rabbi Eger should back up that charge and that of “character assassination,” or retract them both. They are both lies. 

Other letters and comments accuse me of intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, transphobia, maligning, defamation, slander, xenophobia, foolishness, mean-spiritedness, inflicting “spiritual violence,” lacking compassion, anti-knowledge and more — all without providing a single example. Because there is no example to provide.

But these writers’ letters are more than merely libelous. They are insidious because at bottom they are all an attempt to shut me up, to shut the Jewish Journal up — in other words, to do to Jewish dissenters what the left is doing to all dissenters on campuses — fire them, disallow them from speaking, and bully opponents into silence. And they are largely successful both on campuses and in Jewish life. It will be interesting to see how many Reform, Conservative or Orthodox rabbis now write in support of my column. So far, apparently, none has. Even the Orthodox rabbinate is afraid of being attacked by the Jewish left.

The only reason I mentioned the rabbi was that I take issue with the rabbi retaining a female name while identifying as a man. I did not and do not take issue with the rabbi identifying as a male. I take issue with deliberate blurring of male-female identities. When Bruce Jenner came out as a woman, he/she took a female name, Caitlyn. Once he presented himself to the world as a woman, Jenner thought being called Bruce would be confusing and inappropriate. Rabbi Silverstein could have taken a male name — if only, for example, by shortening “Becky” to “Beck.” Had the rabbi done so, I would never have cited this example.

Retaining a distinctly female name while being called a man represents a desire to blur gender distinctions — which is all I care about in this matter, and which is precisely what Rabbi Silverstein intended. The rabbi said so in an article published in the Jewish Journal:

“I’m pretty attached to Becky and he, and creating that dissonance in the world … satisfies my need to push people, and to push society.”

If one wishes “to push society,” why is society not allowed to respectfully push back? 

But to all these progressive letter writers, any push back is characterized as “hate” and “attack.”

My column was not about transgender men and women. It was not about hiring trans-gendered people. It was about whether Jews view the Torah as a guide for living, and about the current unprecedented attempt to blur male-female distinction in biology and society.

Virtually all the letters and comments proved my original point.

In an attempt to show that the Torah does not seek to preserve male-female identities and the male-female distinction, some responders have distorted the verse in the Torah that I cited: “And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” They claim that the Torah, according to some rabbinic midrashim, didn’t really mean that God created male and female persons. 

That is not what the midrash teaches. The midrash, which consists of homilies, not literal statements, simply offers the notion that Adam (meaning humanity), like God himself, had female and male aspects. But no one contradicts the peshat, the Torah text itself, which is crystal clear. The text, to repeat, says, “male and female He created them;” “them” (human beings) — not “him” (Adam).

The notion that male and female has no objective reality, but is a subjective identity, is so contrary to scientific reality that these people have earned one of the epithets they throw at opponents: anti-science. It is not merely Torah and 3,000 years of Jewish affirmation of the male-female distinction that these people cavalierly reject; it is science itself. A human being who has two X chromosomes, mammary glands, a vagina, a uterus, produces eggs, and menstruates is a female. That is not opinion. That is science. No amount of midrash or left-wing dogma can rewrite science or the Torah.

My heart goes out to anyone who does not identify with his or her genetically assigned gender. But my heart also goes out to the vast number of young people who have to endure the left’s Brave New World experiments with them. To be told at the earliest age that the male-female distinction does not really exist because male and female are essentially the same, and therefore male-female distinction is not a blessing, but a patriarchal, sexist form of “binary,” “black-white” thinking is to deprive children of one of the blessings of human life — the infinitely complex and beautiful complementarity of man and woman, mother and father.

To believe that is compassionate, and true to both Judaism and reality, as challenging as both may sometimes be.

I welcome a public dialogue on this matter with any or all of the letter writers. The event can be run by the Jewish Journal and proceeds can be divided among the charities of our 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).

Iran Deal: A few comments on leadership and historical comparisons


Michael Berenbaum’s July 22, 2015 “Geneva is Not Munich, and President Obama is not Neville Chamberlain,” is written with characteristic knowledge and insight.  His concerns about polarization in the Jewish community are worth heeding, as is his reminder that we have to work together the morning after.  The problem of Iran’s nuclear program must transcend politics. 

But speaking as a younger Jew, I am not convinced that we should worry about whether our approach to this problem might alienate younger Jews.  Whatever one’s general views on poll-driven leadership, it is least fitting in matters concerning nuclear bombs.  Jews and other Americans of all ages should stand for the position that they believe best protects Americans, Israelis, and all people from nuclear incineration.

Turning to the substance of historical comparisons, Berenbaum is a leading Holocaust scholar whose knowledge of the issue is entitled to great respect, and there are indeed a host of differences that could be enumerated between the ayatollah and Hitler.  But it is not saying that the two are the same to note a salient similarity: both announced their intentions concerning Jews and liberal democracy before they finished acquiring the means to carry them out.  

The evidence shows that the ayatollah means it when he says “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”  We know that those aren’t mere angry slogans because Iran has been putting them into practice.  Just in the last decade, Iran has helped its proxies in Iraq kill American soldiers and has helped its proxies in Lebanon kill Israeli soldiers and civilians.  And its efforts stretch back before that, including the devastating bombings of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 and the American Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.  That is why we all agree Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. 

Returning to the question of historical comparisons, the article proffers that Reagan, not Chamberlain, is the better fit for the President’s approach to Iran, because the proposed deal is reminiscent of Reagan’s invocation of “trust but verify” in discussing the nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Soviets.  But taking account of relevant differences requires noting that at the time of the START negotiations, both sides already had sufficient nuclear arsenals and delivery mechanisms to wipe each other out entirely.  Here, Iran doesn’t yet have the bomb.  If the deal is honored fully, it postpones the full development of certain aspects of Iran’s enrichment capability by 10 or 15 years, although it allows improvements to enrichment technology during that time and allows Iran to acquire and develop ballistic missiles.

The article also invokes the Soviet analogy with the argument that “Israel has second-strike capacity and that anyone who contemplates a nuclear attack on Israel must take into account Israel’s retaliatory capacity, its ability to attack its attackers and to deliver its own weapons of mass destruction.”  Again, it is important to recall relevant differences.  The stability of the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff was grounded on the fact that a nuclear exchange would totally destroy both parties.  And unlike the Iranian regime, the Soviet regime did not profess a strong faith in the afterlife.  Iran is 636,372 square miles in size.  Israel is 8,019.  Iran’s population is 77 million.  Israel’s is 8 million.  Could an Israeli second strike, assuming it got through the improved Russian air defenses Iran will install, assure the same level of devastation that a few Iranian nuclear-armed ballistic missiles would have on Israel?  What is the Iranian regime’s assessment of that question?  If an Iranian bomb destroys Tel-Aviv and kills 500,000 people, how many Iranian civilians should Israel incinerate in response?  Should we rely on a strategy that requires answers to these questions?      

Another difference between Munich 1938 and Geneva 2015 is that in 1938, England and France were driven by fear of Germany’s military prowess and willingness.  But Berenbaum notes that “[t]he United States is unbelievably far more powerful than England and France were in the 1930s.  Israel is also far more powerful, and Iran is a long way off from achieving such power.”  Have we exhausted the options that our relative power provides to avoid having to rely on the awful specter of second-strike nuclear war with a regime, that, in the President’s words, is an “authoritarian theocracy . . . that is anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, sponsors terrorism”?

So, I agree that we must indeed “judge this agreement on its merits or lack thereof, not on fallacious historical analogies.”  I add that we must not judge the agreement based on our political affiliations, our age group, or the polls.  As Churchill said on October 5, 1938, in words that resonate beyond their particular circumstances, “this is certainly not the time when it is worth anyone’s while to court political popularity.”  Stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program–a goal agreed upon by Americans young and old, religious and secular, Democrat and Republican–is far too important for that. 

A response to stiff-necked playwright David Mamet


This piece is a response to “A note to stiff-necked people” by David Mamet which first appeared on JewishJournal.com on Nov. 1.

David Mamet recently asked the following questions of “Jews planning to vote for Obama.”  Herewith, my responses.

Are you prepared to explain to your children not the principles upon which your vote is cast, but its probable effects upon them? 

Yes.   My children will be struggling with climate change for their entire lives, which is one major reason I am voting for Obama.  I live in New York, and I do not want to see a Hurricane Sandy every year.

Irrespective of your endorsement of liberal sentiments, of fairness and “more equal distribution,” will you explain to your children that top-down economic policies will increasingly limit their ability to find challenging and well-paid work, and that the diminution in employment and income will decrease their opportunity to marry and raise children?

I would explain that, if there were any evidence of it.  I’m not sure what “top-down economic policies” you are referring to.  The “trickle down economics” of the last Republican administrations have widened the wealth gap, caused middle-class wages and savings to fall, and led to the financial crisis by aggregating risk at the top.  Moreover, the Republican refusal to invest seriously in education means that China is going to kick my children’s collective butts in the coming century.  For these reasons, the best vote for my children is a vote for Obama.

Will you explain (as you have observed) that a large part of their incomes will be used to fund programs that they may find immoral, wasteful and/or indeed absurd? And that the bulk of their taxes go to no programs at all, but merely service the debt you entailed on them? 

I will.  The largest shares of the federal budget are the military (spending which Romney wants to increase), Medicare, and Social Security.  All the rest is window-dressing.  As for the debt, Romney’s absurd additional tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% — including you, Mr. Mamet – cannot be paid for and will increase the burden on my children.

Will you tell your children that a liberal government will increasingly marginalize, dismiss and weaken the support for and the safety of the Jewish state?

If I told them that, why would they believe me instead of the Israeli generals who said that the Obama administration is the most pro-Israel in American history?   Really, what’s causing the marginalization of the Jewish state is the right/far-right alliance in the Israeli government which is undermining Israeli democratic ideals.  I will tell my children how I lived in Israel for three years, and how I continue to care about the state now – which is why I support the majority of Israelis who want peace, not more confrontation.

Will you tell them that, in a state-run economy, hard work may still be applauded, but that it will no longer be rewarded?

Yes.  Fortunately, only conspiracy loons on the far-right believe that the U.S. economy is state-run. 

Will you explain that whatever their personal beliefs, tax-funded institutions will require them to imbibe and repeat the slogans of the left, and that, should they differ, they cannot have a career in education, medicine or television unless they keep their mouths shut?

No, since this is demonstrably untrue.  Please provide a single example.

Will you explain to them that it is impossible to make a budget, and that the basic arithmetic we all use at the kitchen table is not practiced at the federal and state level, and to suggest that it should be is “selfishness?”

No, since this also is untrue.  First, as economists (rather than playwrights) understand, the  federal government is not a household.  Household debt is very bad; government debt is sometimes bad, sometimes good.  What is “selfishness” is to increase that debt so that the wealthiest 1% of Americans can enjoy a tax cut, can pay no taxes whatsoever on overseas income, and pay no taxes upon inheriting millions of dollars.

Most importantly, will you teach them never to question the pronouncements of those in power, for to do so is to risk ostracism?

Of course I will not teach that.  I personally have been ostracized from parts of the Jewish community for my support of a moderate Zionist organization, J Street.  However, I would rather be ostracized than abandon my love of Israel and the Jewish values on which I grew up.

Are you prepared to sit your children down and talk them through your vote on the future you are choosing for them?

Of course.  As a gay man married to my partner, I will explain how Mitt Romney wants to destroy their family and make it impossible for them to be the legal children of their two fathers.  I will explain how a small handful of neo-conservatives are making a ‘deal with the devil’ with fundamentalist religious know-nothings who believe that rape is sometimes a good thing and that evolution is a “lie straight from hell.”

Please remember that we have the secret ballot and, should you, on reflection, vote in secret for a candidate you would not endorse in public, you will not be alone.

Fortunately, I am not a hypocrite.  I do not do one thing in private and another in public.  For the sake of my children, my country, my Jewish people, and the world in which I live, I am proud to be voting Obama.

Palestinians insulted by Mitt Romney’s comments


Just eight weeks before the American presidential elections, Palestinians are furious over comments by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The private remarks were made in May to wealthy donors but released only now.

Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” Romney said, adding that prospects for a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel were dim.

“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this going to remain an unsolved problem, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

According to Mother Jones magazine, which posted the video clip of Romney’s comments on its website, the former Massachusetts governor made the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser at Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton has a wealthy Jewish community, although it was not clear how many Jews were at the Romney fundraiser.

“It’s political illiteracy – has he even ever read a book about Palestine?” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the president of the PASSIA think tank in east Jerusalem fumed to The Media Line. “On one level Palestinians are laughing at this, but on another level it will be very serious if this man has any say in our future.”

The comments come as the latest polls show a close race between Romney and President Obama. Although American Jews account for only two percent of the population, they represent significant voting blocs in important swing states like Florida. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Jews who plan to vote will cast their ballot for President Obama, although many believe he is not as supportive of Israel as were some of his predecessors.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the putative seat of Palestinian government, Palestinians reacted angrily to Romney’s comments.

“He’s buying votes,” 27-year old Morad Al-Siory told The Media Line. “How can you judge Palestine if you haven’t seen both sides? I’m right here and I see it with my own eyes.”

Al-Siory said he had come to Ramallah to visit his family. His father, Mohammed, who owns a falafel stand, agreed with his son’s comments.

“How can you swim if you don’t get wet?” he asked. “I’d love to see American policy in the Middle East change.”

He also said, however, that he was frustrated with President Obama’s policy and that there was only a slight chance that he might do something different than Romney if re-elected.

“In the last four years he’s done nothing” Al-Siory said. “He fooled the Arabs and the Muslims with his speech in Cairo.”

He was referring to the speech that President Obama made in Egypt soon after taking office in which he called for “a new beginning” in relations between the US and the Arab world. It was seen at the time as an effort to reach out to the Arab world.

Palestinian officials also responded angrily to Romney’s comments.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief negotiator Sa’ib Ariqat told the Reuters news agency. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

But other Palestinian analysts said the statements had to be seen in context — as part of the election campaign, where Jewish donors and voters play an important role.

“Palestinians have learned through experience not to take statements made during election campaigns seriously,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “When you compare what we hear during the campaign and what presidents do in the future, you don’t see the connections.”

At the same time, Khatib said the statements further reinforced previous Palestinian attitudes toward the Republican candidate, who is perceived to have little foreign policy experience.

“This is not a surprise for the Palestinians,” Khatib said. “The impression is that Romney has been extraordinarily hostile and negative towards Palestinians all along.”

Opinion: David Suissa’s settlements crisis


This op-ed is a response to a column by David Suissa. To read his piece, click here or see his response below.

David Suissa wants us to believe that settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace because their physical “footprint,” their built-up area, represents “only” around 1% of the West Bank.

That’s like saying that North America isn’t dominated by the presence of U.S. citizens because “only” about 2% of our great country is built up or paved over.  Or that Finland isn’t dominated by Finns and Sweden by Swedes because “only” 1.3% of those countries’ land area has been built-up or paved.  Or, more tellingly, that Israel – within the 1967 lines – isn’t dominated by the presence of Israelis, since “only” six percent of its land is built up or paved.

You get the point. The built-up “footprint” of people on the land is meaningless as a measure of the actual impact of their presence.

One percent of the West Bank isn’t a small number at all, especially when it’s measured in bits and pieces spread across the entire area, rather than in one neat chunk (and this one percent doesn’t include roads, security buffers, Israel’s separation barrier, East Jerusalem, etc.).  Travel across the West Bank and you’ll see the real impact of this 1% – more than 300,000 Israeli settlers whose presence to a great extent dominates and even dictates life for the more than 2.3 million Palestinians living there. 

Mr. Suissa would do well to go and see it for himself.  He can take a tour of the West Bank with my colleagues at Israel’s Peace Now movement and see the vast construction, the millions of tons of brick, mortar, and asphalt.  He can appreciate the huge security presence which, rather than protecting sovereign Israel, is devoted to protecting settlements (and which is attacked by the settlers when they feel it is interfering with their efforts).  He can consider the billions of shekels that have been poured into settlements, at the expense of needs inside Israel.  And then he can think about the monumental amount of political will that it would take to reverse these facts on the ground.

But let’s set that aside for a moment, and go to the heart of the matter. 

The settlements – and in particular the ones located deep inside the West Bank – were established with one goal in mind: to make a two-state peace agreement impossible.  The settlers aren’t shy about admitting that this has always been their objective. 

Mr. Suissa is right – Israeli control over all or most of the West Bank could be ended with a stroke of a pen.  But not the presence of more than 100 settlements.  Absent a peace agreement that resolves borders, every new brick laid in a West Bank settlement, every outpost to which Israel turns a blind eye or seeks to legalize, every new settler who moves to the West Bank and every new baby born to a settler already there – these all serve one interest only: to block a two-state solution and cement what some hope will be permanent Jewish control over the West Bank.

The architects of this effort are not ashamed to say so.  American Jews who wish to defend settlements should be similarly forthright. 

Then we could stop having artificial debates over whether what is important is the 1% that is the part of the West Bank taken up by settlement construction, or the 42% of the West Bank that it under settler control, or the 50% of the West Bank that has been expropriated by Israel by various means, or the 100% of the West Bank which Israel still holds in what the Israeli Supreme Court calls “belligerent military occupation.”  This is shorthand for a dictatorship in which the Israeli Defense minister is king, Palestinians have no rights, and Israeli settlers are the lords of the land, enjoying the full rights of Israeli citizens, including the right to bear arms, and bolstered by an army, police, and Israeli politicians who either fear to challenge them or, for ideological or crass political reasons, cater to their whims.

At that point, we could have an honest debate about an end game over which we may indeed strongly disagree.  On one side of this debate would be those of us who love Israel and who know Israel must end the occupation, urgently, or it will soon cease to be a Jewish state and a democracy.  On the other side would be those who prefer the dream of Greater Israel to the reality of democratic, Jewish Israel, and who value settlements and land over peace, human life and human dignity, and even over security.

David Suissa responds:
The occupation that really kills any hope for peace is the longtime occupation of Palestinian hearts and minds by Jew hatred—a deep, genocidal, well-documented Jew hatred that predates the settlements and refuses to stomach the “catastrophe” of a Jewish state within any borders. This hatred helps explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to end the occupation.

If Ms Friedman is serious about achieving peace, instead of joining the hypocritical global campaign against Jewish settlements in 1% of the West Bank, she ought to join the brave people trying to dismantle the Jew hatred being sponsored by our “peace partners” and by Hamas in 100% of Palestinian society—a hatred that is, by far, the biggest obstacle to peace.

Israel has shown in the past its willingness and ability to dismantle settlements for the sake of peace. Until the Palestinians show their own ability and willingness to dismantle the Jew hatred and incitement to violence that pervades their culture, peace has no chance, now or ever.

Opinion: Responses to readers on the left


I am devoting this column to responding to letters published in response to my last column, “Our Golden Calf” (March 9), because the topic is so important. If American Jewry’s embrace of leftism has not been a blessing for the Jews, then Jewish life is in trouble. On the other hand, if this embrace has been a blessing, Jewish life should be in great shape. It is hard to imagine, however, that many concerned Jews believe that American Jewish life is in great shape.

I salute The Jewish Journal for welcoming such dialogue. There is virtually no publication with a largely liberal readership that allows for non-left writers to interact with readers.

For some reason, I was shown only Doug Mirell’s letter prior to publication, so I responded to him in the last issue.

I will therefore begin with Barbara H. Bergen, whose blood pressure, she writes, both I and Red Bull raise.

Ms. Bergen’s letter illustrates the point of my article — that leftism causes decent people to say or do bad or foolish things.

Take, for example, her defense of Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s statement that he respects the Muslim veil (which, I wrote, is “one of the most dehumanizing behaviors to women practiced in the world today”). How does she defend it? By comparing the veil to “Orthodox women in our own community who wear heavy wigs and headscarves along with ankle- and wrist-covering clothes in the California heat.”

“Could we find that equally ‘dehumanizing?’ ” she asks.

Only leftism — with its commitment to never harshly judging Islam and to multiculturalism — can explain how an intelligent person can morally compare wearing a wig, a headscarf, long sleeves or ankle-length skirts with never being allowed to show one’s face in public.

Martin A. Brower writes that it is not leftism that is our golden calf, but “Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater’s definition of the golden calf — ultimate truths, especially those ‘truths’ held by the right.”

This is another example of leftism causing people to say awful and irrational things. Ultimate truths constitute a false god? Do these people really believe that there are no ultimate truths? Is that what years at a Jewish seminary taught a rabbi, and what a college education taught Mr. Brower? How about, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Or, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”? Or, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …”? And what is the claim that there are no ultimate truths, if not something that purports to be an ultimate truth? I cannot think of a more morally distortive teaching than that there are no ultimate truths. This is how the left has created the moral relativism of our time — by teaching a generation that there are no moral truths because good and evil are purely a matter of opinion.

Leonard Kass begins his letter with: “Dennis Prager has written articles that consistently conflate liberalism with communism.”

There is no truth to that charge. I specifically wrote: “Leftism, not liberalism, has been the Jews’ golden calf… .”

Moreover, my reference to communism was to not to conflate liberalism, or even leftism, with communism but to note how many Jews have supported communism. I offered as examples the Yiddish press in the 1920s, which was the most pro-Soviet press in the Western world, and the many Jews who were leading communists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. One might add that many leftists who were not communist found more to hate in anti-communism than in communism.

Jacob Cherub writes: “Throughout history there have been repugnant dictatorships on both the left and right,” and their “repression and brutality is really no different than communist repression and brutality.” He then cites, among other examples, fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Nazi Germany, various Latin American dictators, the shah in Iran, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Ne Win in Burma and Sudan’s Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir.

This is close to constituting a perfect example of how leftist teachings pervert history and thereby distort the thinking of those who believe those teachings.

It is morally indefensible that anyone would write — after the communist genocides in China (65 million to 75 million), Ukraine (5 million to 7 million), Russia (about another 20 million to 30 million), North Korea and Cambodia — that there is no difference between communist regimes and other kinds of dictatorships.

There are two rather significant things wrong with Mr. Cherub’s list of dictators: Many are not rightists, and none came close to communism in terms of the number of people murdered and enslaved. Yet, nearly everyone on the left thinks as Mr. Cherub does, namely, that left and non-left dictatorships (they label all non-left dictatorships “right”) are morally equivalent. That is why so many on the left supported the Khomeini revolution — anything would be an improvement over the right-wing shah, the left reasoned. But, of course, what replaced the shah has led to incomparably more suffering among Iranians than under the shah — not to mention the first threat of Jewish genocide since the Holocaust.

But it’s not only about the shah that Mr. Cherub is so wrong.

While Mugabe is indeed a monster, he is no rightist. In fact, he is a self-described Marxist. And his destruction of Zimbabwe has been done entirely in the name of African solidarity and fighting white racism.

So, too, Sudan’s al-Bashir is not a rightist; he is an Islamist.

And as regards Nazism, it was neither right-wing nor left-wing (even though Nazism stood for “National Socialism”). It was sui generis, a unique racial, not rightist, doctrine.

Mr. Cherub ends his letter: “It seems Prager wants to paint anyone politically to his left as evil and comparable with Stalin and the like.”

Apparently it doesn’t matter to some people that I have written in every column concerning the left that there are good and bad people on both the right and the left. And while I am convinced that leftism has damaged Jewish life and almost everyone and everything else it has strongly influenced, I find it quite easy to distinguish between people with left-wing opinions — many of whom I know to be fine people — and leftism. I have never in my life written, said, implied or even thought that anyone politically to my left is comparable with Stalin and the like. That is a smear.

Syd H. Hershfield writes the one thoughtful letter among those criticizing my column. Like my article, his letter deals with issues, not personal attacks. He defends Jews who sided with Lenin and Stalin as having been so burned by czarist anti-Semitism that they supported whatever supplanted it. This is an explanation — at least for those communism-supporting Jews who escaped czarist Russia — but it is not a moral defense of them, and certainly not of American-born Jews who supported communism. Would Mr. Hershfield defend Ukrainians who sided with the Nazis because Ukrainians suffered under the Soviets (even more so than the Jews did under the czars)?

Finally, I thank Jeffrey P. Lieb for his thoughtful letter about how disheartening he finds Jewish support for the left. Perhaps it will console to him to learn that slowly but surely, more and more identifying Jews are rejecting leftism.


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).

A reasoned skeptic’s response


Read Joey Green’s article: Is Dennis the Menace?

In my two columns (part 1 / part 2) on why thoughtful people might be skeptical about the apocalyptic global warming/climate change scenario, I addressed the issue with a seriousness and respect that Joey Green does not exhibit in his response. He apparently felt that sarcasm and put-downs comprise an adequate response. They don’t.

Nevertheless, the issue is too important not to respond. So here are responses to selected statements by Green:

1. “Dennis explained the main reason why he and ‘many thoughtful people’ remain skeptical that human activity produced global warming.  . . .”

Green puts “thoughtful people” in quotation marks, as if it is impossible for thoughtful people to be skeptical of the four claims made by global warming advocates:

a) The Earth’s temperature is rising rapidly and dangerously.

b) It is doing so because of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide.

c) The result will be a worldwide catastrophe — including unprecedented rising of the sea level leading to inundated coastal countries and cities; similarly unprecedented droughts leading to wars for water; and extraordinarily severe and numerous hurricanes making landfall.

d) Therefore industrialized nations must immediately and drastically curtail use of fossil fuels by imposing high taxes on their use and vast government spending on “green” technology.  In that way, fossil fuels, the engine of mankind’s unprecedented economic prosperity and technological progress, will be abandoned. Industrialized nations must also transfer hundreds of billions, ultimately trillions, of dollars to poor nations to compensate for the alleged destruction those nations will experience due to our failure to halt warming in time.

Remember, one must fully agree with each of the first three propositions. Skepticism regarding any one of the three means that man-made global warming is not the crisis it is purported to be. And then there would be no need for the fourth proposition.

Green, like most people on the left, doesn’t believe that thoughtful people can be skeptical about any of the propositions. So, allow me to restate:

Aside from dissent by many very distinguished scientists within the small community of climate scientists and elsewhere, common sense dictates skepticism.

For one thing, how do those who are so certain about global warming and about what will occur a half century from now explain the fact that long before there were any human beings, let alone man-made carbon emissions, the Earth experienced periods of far greater warming and intense freezing? Isn’t it obvious that there have been myriad reasons for far more dramatic climate change — none of which have anything to do with humans or carbon dioxide?

Second, are we really going to transform Western economies — nearly all of which are already burdened by unsustainable debt (caused overwhelmingly by entitlements owed by the welfare state) — based almost entirely on computer models?

Cover, The Jewish Journal (Dec. 9)

Third, how do we know that warming is necessarily bad? When the world or portions of it have warmed in human history, it has usually been far more a blessing than a problem.

Fourth, very few of the global warming alarmists’ immediate predictions, or even descriptions of current developments, have been true. For example, one of the most frequent warnings by Al Gore and others has been that “climate change” — what happened to “global warming,” by the way? — will result in unprecedentedly severe and devastating hurricanes. Yet, this very week, on Dec. 4, the United States passed 2,232 days without being hit by a major (Category 3) hurricane — the longest period since 1906. Have you read that in your mainstream paper? Does it mean anything that yet another alarmist prediction has proved false? According to Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at University of Colorado, the previous record of consecutive days without a major hurricane in the United States, 1900-1906, “will be shattered, with the days between intense hurricane landfalls likely to exceed 2,500 days.”

But to Green, professor Pielke cannot be among the “thoughtful people.” For Green, no skeptic, no matter how distinguished a scientist he may be, can be thoughtful.

Green is not alone, unfortunately. This is typical of how most on the left think. They are certain that people with whom they differ — on virtually any subject — cannot be thoughtful, or intelligent, or compassionate; only those on the left possess these traits.

For the record, as I note in almost all my columns, unlike Green, I believe that there are thoughtful people on both sides of this issue.

2. “He [Dennis] wisely neglected to mention that a paper Lindzen delivered in 1992, titled ‘Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,’ was underwritten by OPEC, and that Dyson proposed that soaring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be offset by his cockamamie scheme to mass cultivate specially bred ‘carbon-eating trees.’ ”

Here is another example of how people on the left like Joey Green deal with those with whom they differ. Since he could not deny that professor Richard Lindzen of MIT is widely respected as the dean of American climatologists, he attributes corrupt motives to Lindzen’s global-warming skepticism. Again, in Green’s mind, it is impossible that a thoughtful and decent person, let alone a preeminent climate scientist, differs with the left. Therefore, Lindzen must be portrayed as a form of prostitute. Nineteen years ago, Lindzen was paid by OPEC to deliver a lecture on scientific consensus. And for Green that proves that Lindzen sold his lifelong reputation as a scholar for a lecture fee.

Likewise, Joey Green depicts Freeman Dyson, one of the most highly regarded physicists in the world, as a fool. One thing Green doesn’t lack is self-esteem. How else to explain that the author of “Joey Green’s Cleaning Magic,” “Joey Green’s Amazing Kitchen Cures” and “Joey Green’s Supermarket Spa: Hundreds of Easy Ways to Pamper Yourself With Brand-Name Products You’ve Already Got Around the House” feels capable of dismissing two of the world’s most highly regarded scientists — one as corrupt and the other as a buffoon?

3. “I’m not quite sure why Dennis is unwilling to wreck the economy to save humanity from the threat posed by global warming. A few years back, he was completely willing to wreck the economy by going to war in Iraq to combat the threat posed by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.”

As it happens, I only supported the war in Iraq once it was under way. To Chris Matthews’ surprise, I told him on “Hardball” before the invasion of Iraq that an invasion of Iraq would be a major gamble. I was always ambivalent about invading Iraq because I knew how inhospitable Iraqi culture was to democracy and liberty. But once we invaded, it was, to me, unconscionable not to support America and Britain and other free societies against al-Qaeda, the Ba’ath Party and other quintessentially evil forces we were fighting. If Green thinks that America, decent Iraqis and the civilized world would have been better off by leaving the Iraqi people to the Islamists and Ba’athists, we have a different moral code. And whatever huge sums we spent on the war in Iraq pale in comparison to the economic price we and Europe would pay if we taxed energy and transferred money to the Third World in the amounts demanded by global warming alarmists.

4. “Dennis also claims that the left wing has exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power because the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl resulted in only 56 direct deaths.”

That is not an honest summary of my argument. Chernobyl was one of my examples. I argued that the left wing exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power when it used the film “The China Syndrome” and its star, Jane Fonda, and organized huge rallies against nuclear power across America, after the accident at Three Mile Island — where not one person died. As for Chernobyl, my two points were that the disaster there was caused by incompetent design and a lack of safety measures due to Soviet disinterest in the lives and health of its citizens, not because nuclear power is so inherently dangerous that the danger can’t be mitigated when built and run responsibly; and that even Chernobyl, which, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, released 400 times more radioactive material than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, killed only 56 people.

So, yes, the left has wildly exaggerated the dangers of nuclear power — as it did every one of the other examples I gave.

5. “I can’t really understand how anyone could seriously equate the threat posed by global warming with the dangers of silicone implants, secondhand smoke, baby formula and peanut allergies.”

This, too, was intellectually dishonest. I did not equate the threats. Of course the alleged threat of worldwide inundation of coastal cities is incomparably more serious than the alleged dangers of peanut allergies. What I wrote was: “We see this doomsday scenario as only the latest in a long line of left-wing hysterias — every one of which turned out to be either fraudulent or wildly exaggerated, and propagated for reasons having little to do with science, but labeled as ‘science.’ ”

6. “Even if every example Dennis gave of the left wing’s attempts to incite hysteria had not contained misleading half-truths …”

This is a falsehood. Not once did Green show that any example, let alone “every example,” on my list of left-wing hysterias “contained misleading half-truths.” Each example was documented and remains the whole truth. In 29 years of broadcasting, I have earned a reputation as scrupulous with regard to truth — I even wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal defending Hillary Clinton against charges of anti-Semitism, because I was certain the charges were false. It was, therefore, more important to me to defend Hillary Clinton, with whom I differ on just about every major issue, than to allow a falsehood to go unrefuted. Had Joey Green been more interested in intellectual debate than in mockery, sarcasm and writing non-sequiturs about Herbert Hoover, horse manure in early 20th century New York, the economics of slavery and Gerald Ford’s silly comment about Eastern Europe (which no conservative in America believed), he would have made the effort to prove why my examples were indeed “misleading half-truths” instead of simply declaring them so.

7. “Why discuss a scientific issue scientifically when you can turn it into an illogical and irrational partisan argument for your own self-aggrandizement?”

Green asserts that I turned a scientific issue into “an illogical and irrational” argument. I suppose that when one is used to writing or speaking only to those who agree with him, an assertion is sufficient to convince. But nowhere does he demonstrate my illogic or irrationality. My argument about all the previous hysterias believed in and advanced by lay people and scientists that turned out to be fraudulent was made because, like just about every reader of this journal — and, I presume, Joey Green — I knew nothing about climate science. But I also knew very little about heterosexual AIDS when I read the decidedly minority view of Michael Fumento in Commentary Magazine that heterosexual AIDS in America was a myth. His compelling arguments, grounded in scientific evidence and logic, convinced me, and he turned out to be entirely right. For the sake of more AIDS funding, and in order to de-stigmatize AIDS as primarily a gay men’s (and intravenous drug user) disease, people lied about a looming epidemic of heterosexual AIDS in America. I also knew nothing about the science of silicone breast implants. But I read both sides and concluded that the alleged terrible dangers of the implants constituted junk science. In other words, my point was that on all these left-wing scares, my batting average on ferreting out truth from hysteria was very high, and the left’s has been zero.

The more I have read on global warming over the last five years, the more I have become convinced that what we have here are agendas — most especially the abandonment of fossil-based fuels for green technology and the transfer of wealth to the Third Word — in the guise of science. We also have sincere scientists on both sides. I ask all those reading this debate to please acquaint themselves with all the scientists who write against the global warming scenario. These scientists are overwhelmingly ignored by the mainstream American media. (They are not ignored in the UK, among other countries.)

Just last week, perhaps the leading authority on long-term (2 million to 3 million years) environmental changes, professor Nils-Axel Mörner, former head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University, wrote a scathing article about the alleged rising sea levels. This man, who headed the Maldives Sea Level Project, called the United Nations IPCC report on rising sea levels “a scandal that should be called Sealevelgate.”

But why be serious when you can more easily label all those with whom you differ as unthoughtful people, characterize your opponent’s arguments as “shoveling plenty [of …]”; assert that I engaged in “illogical and irrational partisan argument for [my] own self-aggrandizement”; claim that people like me are not “using their brains”; and that I used “twisted logic”?

Green should understand that while insults and sarcasm may elicit cheers from some fellow leftists, such writing doesn’t further honest debate. In fact, it may even convince some people who even Joey Green considers thoughtful that global warming alarmism is the latest hysteria.

The Osama postmortem


Evaluating the responses to the US action against Osama bin Laden is an important element in understanding who the West’s true enemies really are.

There have been four significant voices speaking out against the killing of bin Laden.

The most obvious voice is that of the Taliban. The most vociferous belongs to Hamas, followed by a very significant group of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and finally, as one would expect, Iran.

All four groups are united in their claim that the United States overstepped its role and violated international law. They describe the action as a premeditated cold blooded murder. They call the attack on bin Laden an attack on all believing Muslims.

The skepticism that the Taliban are displaying over whether or not bin Laden is in fact and truly even dead is sincere. The Taliban want more evidence and on Wednesday they issued a statement saying that there is no real evidence of his death. But honestly, even had the entire event been broadcast live these ‘believers’ would not acknowledge what was being shown. The Taliban are true believers. They believe that Osama bin Laden was their great leader and they believe that the West, especially the United States, is the devil.

For Hamas and Islamists in East Jerusalem, the logic of their outcry makes sense. Bin Laden was their hero. Bin Laden challenged the US and the West. Bin Laden fought for the Muslim cause. For Hamas the demise of Bin Laden is a vehicle to garner supporters. For Hamas, the death of bin Laden is an opportunity. The murder of their hero at the hands of infidels is an opportunity to teach and to draw passive supporters and donors and fighters from al Qaeda into their stable. Now the leaders of Hamas can thrust themselves into the limelight as the center of Muslim activism challenging the established Western norm.

But why has Iran been critical of the demise of bin Laden?

Iran was a target of bin Laden. Iran and Osama bin Laden were sworn enemies. For bin Laden Iran represented religious heresy. Iranians were worse than non-believers, they believed in and follow the tenets of a misreading of the Prophet Mohamed.

So why is Iran upset by the demise of Osama bin Laden?

They are upset for the same reason that the Taliban, Hamas and segments of Palestinian East Jerusalem are upset. It is the reason that unites Muslim radicals around the world who wish to usurp the role of the United States as the preeminent cultural and economic and military power in the world.

The Machiavelli dictum is correct, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

These terrorists and terrorist supporters and terrorist wannabes have one thing in common. They despise US dominance and US values. They particularly resent the Western value of equality which includes equal rights for women and religious pluralism. They cannot comprehend the principle that suggests that you can agree to disagree and then leave it at that—and not take the further step and kill the person you disagree with.

Like Osama bin Laden, Iran, Hamas and other Islamists are united in their hatred of the West. What unites them is stronger than what separates them. We must be stronger than them all.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

McCain, Obama, cancer and cows


20 Questions With McCain

It’s too bad Rob Eshman didn’t ask the “man with the plan” for Iraq the most important question: What his definition of “victory” in Iraq is, and how he plans to achieve it (“20 Questions With John McCain,” April 4).

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

Letter to Obama

The Barack Obama that David Suissa describes in his editorial this past month definitely sounds like the ideal candidate for the Jewish people (“Letter to Obama,” April 4). He’s sharp. He has street smarts. And most importantly, he’s “a human being first, and second a politician.”

Well, as just the tiniest bit of research will show, Obama went from state legislator, to the Senate, to a fancy book deal/tour, to becoming the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race. Sounds a lot like a politician to me.

I have also come across nothing that hints Obama won’t try and force Israel into strategically stupid land-for-peace deals, as Suissa suggests. I did, however, come across some nice clips of Obama’s mentor and pastor spewing anti-Jewish and anti-American rhetoric.

And I did hear Obama say he’s in favor of sitting down and meeting with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a leader who seems to decorate his every speech with promises for the destruction of the State of Israel.

So Suissa, tell me, are we talking about the same Obama?

Isaac Himmelman
Santa Monica

Your article on Obama is brilliant and not just because you agree with me.

Although I am politically liberal, Israel’s safety is of prime importance to me. I believe that only when someone without an agenda decides to take a stand will anything get done.

We can only pray the political machine doesn’t get to Obama. I really hope, somehow, he gets to read your letter.

Linda Rohatiner
via e-mail

For several years I read your [David Suissa’s] columns (“Live in the Hood”) and found them worthwhile. You came across in Olam and in The Journal as a creative and thoughtful writer, a responsible citizen and a concerned Jew — until this month. Did you write that insanity (“Letter to Obama)? Were you sober? Do you really favor turning this country into an “Obama”-nation?

Suissa, say it isn’t so.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon
via e-mail

Fortunately, Mel Levine’s article was published in The Jewish Journal (“Obama’s Record on Israel Repudiates Critics,” March 21). It was the only feature concerning Barack Obama that was truly informed, nonspeculative and supported its statements with facts rather than innuendo.

Proclaimed Hillary Clinton supporter Daphne Ziman stated, “I for one need to know the truth” (“Sen. Obama, Answer My Questions on Your Past,” March 21). If this was actually the case, why didn’t she call The Jewish Journal and inquire about contacts within Chicago’s Jewish community who know Sen. Obama in an attempt to secure those answers?

Masquerading as call for truth, Ziman’s article was nothing more than an obvious attempt to create suspicions around the candidate she opposes.

Utilizing his well-honed research skills, Edwin Black presented old information meant to discredit Obama through guilt by association, a technique similarly employed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his 1950s witch hunt for communists in America (“Obama Ties to ‘Separatist’ Pastor Raise Big Questions,” March 21).

Black’s Web site reveals journalistic ties to Chicago, yet he apparently interviewed no one there or anywhere else in support of his thesis that Obama was less than truthful with his recent explanations concerning the Rev. Wright or Louis Farrakhan. His article was as disingenuous as Ziman’s, just presented in a more sophisticated manner.

Roy M. Rosenbluth
Sherman Oaks


Click here for MP3 audio of the 15-minute phone interview Obama gave JTA’s Ron Kampeas on Wednesday

Cancer’s Worst Enemy

Remove healthy breasts? Jewish women please take the time to read and research further before you do such a radical act as a radical mastectomy and/or removal of your healthy ovaries.

The article, “Combating Breast Cancer Before It Hits,” March 28, is very misleading. It shows a happy woman with her happy kids after her surgery. Then the article states that this surgery “reduces the risk of breast cancer by 90 percent,” however no medical study was cited.

Common sense makes me want to read this study to ascertain how many and what group of women were tested, and what were their ages. But most importantly, over what period of time was this test done? Remember that genetic testing is fairly new, and it takes many years for even a tiny cancerous mass to appear on a mammogram.

Dr. Susan Love has groundbreaking research on early detection screening, and Dr. Matt Lederman has remarkable results with the RAVE diet. Their Web sites will lead you to hundreds of alternatives and useful information. So go Google. It’s your body.

Sharon Asher
Los Angeles

Thank you for educating readers about testing for genetic mutations, but you left out an important piece of information. In addition to Israel, genetic screening of embryos is also regularly done in the United States. It’s a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and is performed at virtually every fertility center in Los Angeles. It has also been accepted by Jews of all stripes, including the most traditional and Orthodox groups.

The reasons cited for not getting tested — potentially higher insurance rates and a social stigma that could affect their families — cannot possibly outweigh the benefits of PGD. A woman can eliminate the BRCA gene (as well as scores of other inherited diseases), ensuring that her children and her children’s children will not be affected by it.

Furthermore, PGD is entirely confidential, so there is no stigma attached. Aside from the patient, her husband and her doctor, nobody needs to know. And though PGD can be costly, you can’t put a price on your children’s health.

Not so awful being green, honorable menschen


Greening Hypocrisy

Just read your article in the green edition of The Jewish Journal and bravo (“End Hypocrisy Now,” Jan. 4). Thank goodness someone finally said something. I am a filmmaker and environmental educator living in the Fairfax district, and I can’t tell you how shocking I find the indifference to the problems at hand from the Orthodox community as a whole. It absolutely astounds me. I have taught the course I created to a number of schools in Los Angeles and until just recently have had no interest from religious day schools. Thankfully, I will be teaching at YULA next week and Shalhevet in February, but I’m amazed by the wall I have faced. As you put so well in your piece, it seems that of all people Orthodox Jews should embrace the concept for their sake, for Israel’s sake, and for the sake of the planet that Hashem created for them. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work.

Dave Chameides
www.sustainabledave.org

What a great editorial. Thank you!

You are right — the one thing Jews agree on is the need for America to achieve energy independence. And not just Jews think so!

Thank you also for the example you set in driving a bio-diesel car and for the cleverness to show its ease in a video.

I just hope you’re not in the hospital right now … ha, ha!

Brave — Kudos!

Jennifer Kutner
StandWithUs Publicist

Congratulations Mr. Eshman, another article on the need for a Green Revolution, energy independence and global warming. While you’re patting yourself on the back at the next dinner party, consider just a few ways that innovation has been treated in the United States in the last 30 years, mostly by those on the left side of the aisle.

Consider the following: Nuclear power provides a huge chunk of energy in France and just a small percentage of that in the U.S. The nuclear power industry has been stymied by those who alarmed the population of “pending disaster” if these power plants proliferated across the country. As a result, no new nuclear plant has been built in many years. I don’t think that France “glows in the dark” from it’s use of nuclear energy.

You might have used your editorial power to better effect if you would ask your readers to truly support sources of power, other than oil, with constructive action to help companies through the tangled web of regulations, which have prevented the above ideas from becoming reality. It’s truly sad that a great number of our country’s “intellegentsia” have wasted so much time and money doing the exact opposite.

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Go Neutral

As the lead staff person in the Los Angeles Jewish National Fund (JNF) office, I was elated to open our mail and find your Green Issue (Jan. 4). I flipped instantly to Jane Ulman’s cover story, “What Would Noah Do?” as I was an attendee at the meeting with the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. JNF, as many realize, has been a leader in environmental preservation, so our attendance at such an event was a natural fit. I was happy to see you mentioned our organization’s online calculator to help families and individuals see their carbon footprint.

My face and excitement fell, however, when I turned the page and read the paragraph about our new green initiative, GoNeutral. Ulman states, “Jewish National Fund kicked off its Go Neutral campaign for individuals or organizations that want to reduce their carbon footprint by planting trees.” This is, in fact, only a piece of GoNeutral. We, of course, still very much believe in the importance of planting trees in Israel, and certainly this is a component of our initiative. However, GoNeutral also includes pieces of education for youth ages K-university level on how to reduce their effect on the environment (not just through tree planting, of course), as well as the opportunity for people to contribute to the numerous environmental projects JNF is involved in abroad. These include the halting of desertification, boosting water supplies through reservoirs and water reclamation, and helping farmers produce agriculture more efficiently.

JNF has, for some time, been committed to keeping our environment healthy, and we are anxious to work with synagogues, schools, and individuals to continue to make a positive impact on our planet.

Lindsey D. Brengle
Campaign Executive
Jewish National Fund

More Greening

In an effort to be “greener,” we purchased a Honda Civic GX, a natural gas powered car, early last year (Green Issue, Jan. 4). The car has been driven about 20,000 miles. In some analyses, the car (because it does not have a battery in need of disposal at the end of its service life) is considered even “greener” than a Prius. I would like to see more of this type of car and fewer large SUVs in my synagogue parking lot.

Bill Friedman
Studio City

All issues should be green! It is about time that The Journal has dedicated space to this important Jewish issue and value, which just happens to also be one of national and global importance.

I would encourage The Journal to include a Green column in each issue, just as you include a short drash on the weekly parasha.

David Aaronson
Los Angeles

Deserving Menschen

Love your item about “Mensches” (or is it menschen?) (“Mensches,” Dec. 28).

Delighted to see what you wrote about Benji Davis and David Landau. Can you add a P.S.? They grew up at Beth Am and attended Pressman Academy. Forgive my chauvinism.

Marjorie Pressman
Via E-mail

I am a member of the Valley chapter of the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club that meets at Temple Adat Ari El at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. It seems to me that when The Jewish Journal uses a Yiddish noun with an English spelling, The Journal would make an effort to do so correctly. Although many English nouns are pluralized by the addition of an “s” at the end of the noun, very few Yiddish nouns do so. In addition, as in the noun “sheep,” there are Yiddish nouns that are spelled and pronounced the same way whether singular or plural.

Annapolis, Chanukah, Jerusalem, Not So Weird


Annapolis and Jerusalem

Last month, Rob Eshman wrote, “Many of us are willing to let half of Jerusalem go so that the idea of Jerusalem can be saved” (“Annapolis and Chanukah,” Nov. 30). I’d like to respond with two points:

First, if, God forbid, East Jerusalem were handed over to the Palestinians, it wouldn’t be “ideas” they’d be firing onto the homes and institutions of West Jerusalem.

Second, no portion of Israel, especially Jerusalem, is the sole possession of the prime minister, to be traded for even a legitimate promise of peace. The state may be sovereign, but the land upon which the Israeli government presides is unique and distinct from any other parcel of land on earth.

Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, everywhere: those of us who pray every day for its safety, teenagers visiting for the first time through Taglit-birthright israel, grandparents who buy Israel Bonds for their grandchildren, Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fought to protect and reunify the city and their families and friends who grieved when they paid the ultimate price.

Although we’ve been scattered around the world for the past 2,000 years, our hearts were always in Jerusalem. Seeing the city divided now would break our hearts.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

I want to thank Rob Eshman for his insightful and honest piece about Annapolis. I am heartened that the parties met and that the Arab world seems ready to move in the direction of making peace with Israel. The hard work is yet to come.

And it is so true that the story of Chanukah, the spiritual side, which the rabbis highlighted through the haftarah of Zecharia, can inform us in how we go forward in this new round of talks. We must all be truthful, hopeful and courageous of spirit in our desire for peace.

Jerusalem can be shared, as it is already, and the holy sites will be open to all people.

The naysayers are out in force, but I am choosing to stand with those who believe in hope and a future of peace. The realities will be hard to swallow, but with a healthy dose of spirituality, a belief that tomorrow can be different from today, we can be the generation that makes peace a reality. Not by might but by spirit.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center,
Brit Tzedek V’Shalom National Secretary

‘New Kind of Mikveh’

There are many beautifully designed mikvehs throughout California (“New Kind of Mikveh Washes Off Ritual’s Negative Image,” Dec. 7). This new trend started some 30 years ago with the Long Beach Mikveh. Its establishment was prompted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Since then, mikvehs have taken on a new approach to design and sensitivity to femininity. For instance, the recently constructed mikveh in Agoura is a prime example of this trend.

In our community of Yorba Linda, the Orange County mikveh is slated to open in just a few weeks. The mikveh was constructed with great attention to detail. It is a haven of holiness and purity. Many in the community will benefit from it.

For more on mikvehs around the community, visit www.mikvah.org.

Rabbi David Eliezrie
North County Chabad Center

‘Wandering Minyan’

I must confess that it was with special delight and pleasure I read David Suissa’s Pearl Harbor Day column titled, “Wandering Minyan” (Dec. 7).

There are three reasons I was thrilled by your explication. First, the dynamic writing style offered a cerebral joy associated with pleasure of experiencing fine craftsmanship. Secondly and more importantly I shared an experience with Young Israel of Santa Monica, and your words were true and familiar. What reverberated deeply was your prophetic call to act as a true guardian and trustee of community assets, to act benevolently and righteously, to act as a brother to a brother.

My encounter with this little congregation was similar to yours. My wife and I sauntered into the Levin Center and encountered an eclectic group, unified in their respect and warmth toward guests and each other.

I wish I could share your optimism that with a new voice in The Federation, there can be exhibited a breath of kindness to engage Young Israel.

I ask all like-minded folk, especially Young Israel congregants, to make a small amendment to their annual gifts to The Federation. Make their checks payable to Young Israel of Santa Monica Rent Trust (Negotiable when Young Israel resumes residency at the Levin Center).

If enough dollars are earmarked for Young Israel of Santa Monica, The Federation will yield to economy, if not brotherhood.

David [Suissa] keep up the good work in keeping our community leaders accountable and humane.

David Stauber
Santa Monica

Kabbalah

If Phillip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, is “trying to keep young Jews from cults,” then why is he discouraging them from taking pride in their Judaism (“Not So Weird,” Dec. 7)?

In his review of Jody Myers’ book and his own visit to the centre, Rob Eshman states that the Kabbalah Centre denies that it is Jewish (except when doing so would benefit its coffers). He also explains how centre regulars abhor the idea of converting to Judaism or even using the term Jewish.

If the centre and its adherents are so ashamed of being Jewish or being associated with something Jewish, then why did they steal the name of an ancient Jewish practice? Is it any wonder that the centre rubs many Jews the wrong way?

Real Jews take pride in their Judaism. They don’t try to appeal to the masses or blend in with non-Jews, and they certainly don’t try to coddle spoiled movie stars and pop singers like Madonna, who are made sick by the very idea of being Jewish.

Needed: Rational Discussion


When David Lauter, the deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, began speaking to a crowd of about 400 at a Women’s Alliance for Israel program last
week, it was clear that most of the audience was out for his scalp, and not even the yarmulke he was wearing could save him.

Lauter was on a panel discussing news coverage of Israel’s battle against Hezbollah. I was also on the panel, seated next to Lauter, who is a friend and was a longtime colleague when I worked at the Times.

He is a highly intelligent, soft-spoken, logical man who thinks before he speaks. He is also an observant Jew.

That meant nothing to this crowd. Neither did his intelligence and logic. They booed when he tried to explain his paper’s coverage. When they weren’t booing, they talked among themselves, paying no attention to Lauter. To this bunch, the world outside their own community was a vast and hostile conspiracy against them and against Israel.

I’ve spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I’ve never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.

Nothing Lauter said warranted such a response. He told how the coverage began, with him and the foreign editor, Marjorie Miller, organizing the Times foreign correspondents the day the conflict began.

The regulars needed help. A couple of the correspondents were already arranging their transportation to Israel. Miller and Lauter dispatched more to deal with the unexpected story.

This crowd wasn’t interested in these details. Nor did they want to know of the courage of these correspondents, who willingly head into danger — and stay there. This crowd probably had no idea of how many correspondents have been killed in Iraq. These deaths are a clear warning that the same thing could happen to some of the reporters in Lebanon or Israel.

The questions were unrelentingly hostile. They weren’t questions, in fact. They were attacks. And when Lauter tried to answer them, there were more boos.
When he sat down, I told him that this bunch was out for blood. Later, he said felt there was a hard core of haters, “but I don’t think they were the majority.”

I don’t know about that. Hostility seemed to extend through the room, back to the far edges where my wife and cousin were seated.

And at the end of the program, Lauter announced to the crowd that he would stick around and answer more questions.

“Several people came up to me and said they appreciated my being there, but they said so quietly, not exposing themselves to the crowd,” Lauter told me later.
Not blessed with Lauter’s patience, I left angry and stayed mad all the next day.

In the first place, the Times’ coverage is excellent. It’s fair. The reporters and editors strive for balance in the writing and editing of stories and the placement of the stories and the powerful pictures.

This does not mean it is perfect. Putting out a daily paper is an imperfect business. Think about putting that thing together every day with deadlines. I did it for years, the last three as city editor of the Times. When I went home at night, I wondered how we did it. In the process, mistakes are made. Reporters get things wrong. Editors make bad choices. Journalists live — or should live — in constant awareness of their fallibility.

But the Women’s Alliance for Israel event illustrates a bigger issue that extends far beyond the reliability and honesty of the Times coverage: Why can’t we have a rational discussion of Israel and the war in Lebanon?

In my modest presentation — I thought it best to bore these people rather than anger them — I noted that never before in history was so much information available in so many forms of media.

In the morning, I read three papers called the Times — the Los Angeles, New York and Financial. When writing, I take breaks to read Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the DEBKA Report, all from Israel, plus take a look at the Guardian to check out the anti-Israel thoughts of the British left wing. All that, plus my lifelong support of Israel, shapes my opinions.

With this information overload, sometimes it is hard for me to make up my mind. Sometimes, I actually have to think.

I would have enjoyed a rational discussion of the media, in general, and the Times, specifically. I have talked to many anti-Times audiences. People hear me out, argue and exchange ideas. They concede a point. I concede a point. We all leave the room better informed.

This group did not want to be better informed. They preferred to get their information from e-mails circulated by like-minded friends, interest groups and, of course, by watching Fox. Any mention of this network, by the way, got a lot of applause.

But as this war continues, we’ve got to reach out and talk to people who don’t agree with us. If we won’t listen to fellow Jews, particularly those as well informed as Lauter, how can we convince anyone of the rightness of our cause?

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

Pink Floyd’s Waters Caught Red-Handed


“No thought control.”

The famed lyrics from rock band Pink Floyd’s much beloved “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” make for a powerful statement regardless of context. Scrawled last week in red paint on a concrete segment of Israel’s security fence in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters himself, though, the poignancy of the verse is undeniable.

Waters visited Israel to play a concert June 22 at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (literally Oasis of Peace), a cooperative Jewish-Palestinian Arab village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Originally scheduled to perform at the much more mainstream Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Rogers moved the concert to the fields of Neve Shalom in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian musicians.

“I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a non-violent path to a just peace between the peoples,” Waters said in a press release.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the concert in its makeshift venue drew more than 50,000 attendees and became the cause of one of Israel’s worst traffic jams to date. Waters performed the album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, along with many of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and the especially iconic “Another Brick in the Wall.”

“We need this generation of Israelis to tear down walls and make peace,” Waters told the audience before his post-midnight encore.

Waters’ performance received much acclaim in Israel, but it is his spray-painting stint at the security fence in the West Bank the day before the showcase that is making lasting waves there and abroad. The artist’s paint and pen additions to the already graffiti-laden wall marked Waters’ first stop after arriving in Israel. According to reporters present at the Palestinian town of Bethlehem when he made the markings, Waters likened the barrier to the Berlin Wall, adding that “it may be a lot harder to get this one down, but eventually it has to happen, otherwise there’s no point to being human beings.”

The musician’s deliberately provocative gesture prompted right-wing activists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir to call for the artist’s detainment.

The pair submitted an accusation to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court June 23 alleging that Waters destroyed Israel Defense Forces property, according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israeli authorities have not yet issued a response to the singer’s graffiti or to Marzel and Ben-Gvir’s retaliatory petition.

The fence that Waters dubbed “a horrible edifice” is being constructed in the hopes of preventing Palestinian suicide bombers and other attackers, who have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in the last six years, from entering Israel proper.

Additional information courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz.

 

Life More Ordinary


I recently visited a congregant in the hospital and was surprised to find a doctor crying in the hallway. I told her I was a rabbi and asked if I could help. The doctor immediately apologized for her tears.

“It’s been a hard week,” she said, “I’ll be OK.”

She told me she had just presented a terminal cancer diagnosis to a woman in her early 40s. I felt for this doctor, and for her patient, but I also felt pleased at what I saw — a doctor who cries.

Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of the books “Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal” (Riverhead, 1996) and “My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging” (Riverhead, 2000) tells the story of how, as a young intern, she had been reprimanded by her chief resident for crying with a young couple whose baby had just died. Her supervisor told her she had let them down.

“They needed you to be strong,” he told her.

Now a teacher of physicians herself, Remen remains true to her initial impulse and teaches that crying with patients can be an appropriate response, saying, “You can burn out doing ‘meaningful’ work, if you lose the meaning.”

In this week’s double Torah portion, Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 13, in particular), God instructs Moses and Aaron on the role of priests when people take ill. The priests play diagnostician. They do not try to cure the sick, but they do examine people stricken with strange skin eruptions. The text — with more than enough description of skin ailments — is a little too graphic for some people. It also often seems irrelevant, as it describes practices no longer done by a priesthood that has long since faded from Jewish life.

But this portion also focuses attention on people who are not well. In order for the priest to evaluate what ails the people who are ill, he must get near to them, probably even touch them. And the priests see those who are ill more than once; they return days later to determine whether the person has recovered.

The daily tasks of the priests described elsewhere in the Torah consist primarily of animal sacrifice and temple caretaking, suggesting that priests are usually apart from the rest of the Israelites. So it is remarkable, and instructive, to imagine the priests — a part of the community — attending to the ill, taking note of those in need. Imagine Aaron, the high priest, coming to see the weak in the midst of the Israelites. Imagine a priest taking the time to speak with the afflicted among the people. Imagine the priest being the one to escort an afflicted person back into the community, declaring them free from contagion and assisting them in offering a sacrifice to God upon their recovery. Simple gestures perhaps, but imagine how welcome they would be to someone who had suffered physical pain and the worry that they might bring illness to others. Imagine how they might have restored someone’s sense of self-worth or desire to remain alive.

This past week saw another Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah, the day of commemoration for the Holocaust and for Acts of Courage. When the Israeli Knesset years ago chose the 27th of Nissan for this annual day of commemoration, they did so amid controversy. Some would have preferred the anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but that landed (by Nazi plan) on the first day of Passover. Still, the Warsaw Ghetto and its heroes surely figured in the minds of those who selected the week following Passover for this memorial day – the uprising itself lasted almost a month.

Irena Klepfisz, whose parents managed to get her out of the ghetto and whose father died a hero in the Warsaw Ghetto, said in 1988, on the 45th anniversary of the uprising: “What we grieve for is not the loss of a grand vision, but rather the loss of common things, events and gestures…. Ordinariness is the most precious thing we struggle for, what the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto fought for. Not noble causes or abstract theories. But the right to go on living with a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth — an ordinary life.”

How poignant to read her words this week as we read of the priests tending to the ill — not focused on the grander work of the Temple or the sacrifices that took place at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

As we read in Leviticus of the extraordinary lives of the priests, tenders of the sacred flame, preservers of the religion as it was then, I like to think also about the sense of purpose God gave them in commanding them to offer simple gestures of concern and care; I like to think about the meaningfulness they might have found in their ordinariness and in their tears.

Lisa A. Edwards is rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, and is also currently teaching Bible at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

 

Cartoon Riots Spark Sweet Backlash


In the wake of a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Danish flags and embassies are beset by violent protesters in heavily Muslim countries. But a chocolate store in the windmill-filled, Danish American tourist village of Solvang has enjoyed a small spike in its mail-order business.

And it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, though that always helps, said chocolatemaker Bent Pedersen.

“One comment was that they were buying in support of Denmark,” said Pedersen, who owns Ingeborg’s World Famous Danish Chocolates, which does a brisk business online from its Copenhagen Drive store.

Pedersen said that since anti-Danish rioting began, several people have called in long-distance orders and mentioned their desire to “buy Danish.” Consumers in heavily Muslim countries, in contrast, are boycotting Danish products, reportedly costing Danish business up to $1 million a day. In response, European and American free-speech supporters have been advocating a less well-known “Buy Danish” campaign.

Local law enforcement has, in recent days, become more focused on Solvang, which lies about 4 miles west of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, in case it should become a target. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the rioting overseas to deputies on patrol.

“We’re on a heightened state of awareness, but we’re not on tactical alert,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Willis, Solvang station commander.

The only possible local targeting of Danish interests appears to be online. Before the anti-cartoon protests began, Denmark’s L.A. consulate, along with Danish embassies and consulates worldwide, received thousands of e-mails about the cartoons, overloading the Danish Foreign Ministry’s Internet systems.

“They were of just a magnitude that did create some problems in our e-mails,” said a diplomat at Denmark’s embassy in Washington, D.C. “We got several thousand of them. They were not hostile necessarily. Some of them, the ones that we could identify as being from the U.S., were sort of 50/50.”

A Northridge-based Danish American newspaper has no plans to reprint the cartoons that originally were published last fall. “We don’t need all that controversy,” said Gert Madsen, editor-in-chief of the national weekly Bien.

Pedersen in Solvang appreciated the handful of pro-Danish chocolate orders, which ran about $50 each, but thought it odd to get phone requests all the way from Maryland.

“It still was strange,” Pedersen said of one of the Danish chocolate lovers. “I don’t know how he found us.”

 

A Big Impression


I’m too old to have heroes. But for those who live their lives with courage, I can make an exception. Like the Impressionists, for instance, whose lives of self-sacrifice I was trying to share with my class of older adults.

“OK, everyone,” I say, “whoever’s not here, raise your hand.”

Naturally, Saul raises his hand. Maybe I should explain.

My senior students suffer from short-term memory loss, a condition less severe than Alzheimer’s and dementia but nonetheless frightening. They can recall exact moments from decades past, but in the present, from one moment to the next, many don’t remember who or where they are. Sort of like elected officials.

“Are you saying you’re not here, Saul?”

“Are you?” he asks, a sour look on his face.

“Good question,” I say. “Now let’s look at an amazing movement in art called Impressionism. First, we’ll watch a video to appreciate the magnificent works of Renoir, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, because this class is art appreciation, right?”

Nothing. No response. Twenty-five people and not a whisper, not a murmur, not a peep.

“Which art movement are we learning about this morning?” I ask. “Anyone?”

Louise takes a stab at it.

“Art.”

“Yes, but which movement?”

Silence. You can hear a pacemaker ticking. Imagine being able to remember the color of your socks when you were 3, but you can’t remember where you put your shoes five minutes before.

“OK,” I press on, “aren’t these just wonderful, these paintings of nature and the human form? What do you think Saul?”

He shrugs. He sighs. A big, burly man in his late 80s, he sits week after week collapsed in his chair, with his head in his chest, and I can’t get a word out of him.

I continue. “Now in the late 1860s….”

Suddenly, here’s Marla.

“Who does those clown paintings?” she yells.

“Clown paintings?”

“Yeah,” she hollers. “I saw a painting with a clown, and there was a tear on his cheek. Who does them? They’re great!”

Clown paintings? We’re talking Renoir here. It’s Monday morning; the class is five minutes in, and I’m wondering if it’s not too late to get my real estate license.

“Red Skelton,” I say with scorn.

“Oh,” says Marla, now softly. “That’s right. Red Skelton. Was he an Impressionist?”

“Yes,” answers Bob. “He did impressions of clowns. He was funny.”

“I used to be funny,” says Jake. “Then I got married.”

“Your wife doesn’t know you’re funny Jake?” I ask.

He makes a face. “My wife doesn’t know I’m living.”

“How about you, Saul?” I ask. “Are you married?”

Slowly, Saul raises his head, waves me off and drops his head back to his chest.

“Saul,” I say, “if you don’t take part in the class, I’m going to have to ask you to bring your parents to school.”

“You’ll have to dig them up,” he replies.

I throw my hands in the air. “Oy!” I exclaim.

“You’re Yiddish?” asks Jake.

“The world’s Yiddish,” I tell him. “Who knows the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel?”

“The shlemiel spills the coffee on the shlimazel,” says Jake.

“OK,” I say, “now how many of you know that one of the leading Impressionists — Pissarro — was a Jew?”

No response. Nothing. Nada. Bubkes. Maybe I could become a plumber. I already have a wrench. I know I saw one somewhere in the garage, I think, a month ago.

Two hours later, I’m exhausted. One last time, I explain how much the Impressionists believed in themselves and what they were trying to accomplish.

“OK,” I say, “what have we learned today? Nellie?”

“Nothing,” she says, cheerfully.

“Nothing? I’m up here talking for two hours, and you’ve learned nothing?”

“We remember nothing,” says Molly.

“Yeah,” says Ray. “Don’t take it so personal.”

Oh. OK. Surely, the West Valley could absorb one more real estate agent.

“What about you, Vivian?” I ask. “Tell me one thing you’ve learned about the Impressionists.”

“Stick to your guns,” she says.

“Thank you,” I cry.

On the TV monitor, the video is now showing breathtaking paintings of the French countryside. One last try.

“Has anyone here ever been to France?” I ask.

“France would be a great place without the French,” says Jake.

“Anyone else?” I ask.

Like an ancient tortoise, Saul lifts his head, and staring off into the beyond, mutters under his breath, “I’ve been to France.”

“Hallelujah! Tell us about it, Saul. Did you go to the museums?”

“I was on the beach,” he says to his feet.

“The Riviera, Saul? Girls? Bikinis? Ooh-La-La?”

“We landed in the water,” he says. “All my friends around me were shot. The water was blood. I was on the beach.”

The room goes extra silent, the only sound the air conditioning. My hero lowers his head back to his chest, but not before my eyes meet his. I am 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and I think I am going to cry.

Wildman Weiner is a credentialed teacher of older adults.

ADLs Foxman responds to Klinghoffer


It’s unfortunate that David Klinghoffer sets up a number of straw men in his condemnation of my speech warning about certain efforts to Christianize America.

By pointing out the various Muslim anti-Jewish activities during the week I made my remarks, Klinghoffer suggests I’m focusing on the wrong threat.

In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been at the forefront of efforts to expose Islamic extremism, if only Klinghoffer were interested. The very week that I spoke, ADL ran advertisements in The New York Times and The Hill calling on the world to stand up against Iran and take concrete steps against its Islamic government in light of the call by Iran’s president to “wipe Israel off the map.”

On the subject of the film based on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” being shown on Arab TV, for two years we have been working with the U.S. State Department and the American Embassy in Cairo to pressure Egypt and other Arab countries to stop airing anti-Semitic TV series. ADL regularly reports on anti-Semitism in the Arab media, keeping our Web site updated daily.

In other words, Klinghoffer is engaging in demagoguery when he suggests we’re ignoring the threats from the Islamic world.

Regarding evangelical support for Israel, the ADL always has encouraged it. When many in our community were raising questions about such support, we asserted that it was important — in a world where Israel has many enemies — to bolster support from evangelical Christians.

We also said all along, however, that in order to achieve that support we would not abandon our principles of keeping America the kind of society in which there is tolerance and in which Jews don’t feel excluded in any way.

My speech had nothing to do with Christians’ right to express their values and religious beliefs or to “influence the culture in what Christians regard as a spiritually healthful direction.” Of course they have such a right.

Indeed, the ADL has been very energetic in advancing that part of the First Amendment that calls for the “free exercise of religion.” We believe religion is a critical institution and value that makes America great, and should be encouraged.

I have no doubt that others, following Klinghoffer’s lead, will accuse me of all kinds of things — being anti-religious, anti-Christian, claiming that evangelicals are anti-Semitic or undermining support for Israel.

None of these accusations is true.

I have worked all my life to improve relations between Christians and Jews. I have not hesitated to acknowledge and comment on the significant reductions in anti-Semitic attitudes and policies by Christian churches. I have encouraged evangelical support for Israel and the free-exercise rights of all religions.

What my speech did deal with, and what I believe is a new development in American life, is a desire by some groups to coerce Americans to subscribe to a narrow religious perspective that will result in exclusion, both practically and psychologically, for Jews, other religious minorities, nonbelievers and even many Christians.

When the Alliance Defense Fund says “court victories are vital steps to … reclaim the legal system for Jesus Christ,” that points to its intention to threaten the pluralistic society that is at the heart of Jewish security in America.

When D. James Kennedy, head of Coral Ridge Ministries, says, “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ whatever the cost and to exercise godly dominion Over every aspect and institution of human society,” that’s not the America that I know.

When the Texas GOP platform says the United States is a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is a myth, that’s not merely a matter of expressing one’s religious views.

When hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds are appropriated for religious institutions without prohibitions against proselytizing, or when the U.S. Air Force Academy — a federally funded institution — is a place where Jews and other non-evangelicals feel religious coercion, then something is amiss.

As the head of an organization that fights for free expression of religion, that believes religion is an important part of a healthy American democracy and that has encouraged evangelical support for Israel, I’m very aware of how important these issues are.

In the long run, however, what has made American Jewish life a uniquely positive experience in Diaspora history and enabled us to be such important allies for the State of Israel is a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive American society. If those who seek a coercive America would have their way, American Jewish life would fundamentally change.

We believe the American people as a whole value such a society. We also believe that to alert the public to gathering threats to that kind of society serves America, the Jewish community and ultimately American Jews’ ability to support Israel in its quest for peace and security.

Finally, it’s sad that Klinghoffer has to resort to the charge that my speech was all about raising money. Disagree with me, make your arguments — but don’t resort to inappropriate accusations.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”

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Tribe


Back when I was working at a newspaper in New York, my editors and I tried to come up with a teen-sounding headline for a story on voting for our new teen section.

“How about ‘Gettin’ Out the Vote’?” my editor offered.

As if dropping a “g” off the end of the word is all one needs to do to appeal to teens.

I knew then, and I know now, that to really speak to teens, you just have to be one.

Adults can affect any sort of teenish language they want; they can claim to understand how the teenage mind works, to get the issues teens are thinking about. But teens know a fake when they see it.

That is why The Jewish Journal has decided to hand this page over to teenagers. Once a month, we will choose columns, feature articles or news stories submitted by teens in grades 9-12.

As you can see on this page, Natalie Goodis, a junior at Marlborough High School, has inaugurated the page with a column about how her experience in Eastern Europe and Israel changed her.

Here’s your chance. Write an article about what a teenager has to weigh when deciding whether to date only Jews. Send us your thoughts on evolution vs. creationism. Tell us about what you think about Ariel Sharon, about this country’s hurricane response, about your grandmother. Describe an event at your school that moved the whole student body to action.

The topics are up to you; the voice is yours.

We hope the monthly page is just the beginning. We want teens to talk to us — to have some input into what their peers should be writing about. That is why we are creating a Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee. (How would that look on a college resume?) The committee will meet several times a year to determine what topics you want covered in these pages, and to get your feedback on where things should go.

Being a teenager is intense. It is when you form your values, you solidify lifelong relationships, you choose a path for your future. Most teens are profoundly aware of just how pivotal these years are, and a lot of teens have something to say about it.

If you’re one of them, we’re waiting to hear from you. This is your chance to help more than 100,000 Jewish adults get a glimpse into your world.

Action Items:

  • Articles: First-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words — submitted as an attachment to an e-mail.
  • Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee: Send your name, age, school and up to 200 words on why you should be on the Jewish Journal Teen Advisory Committee.

Ground Rules

Why Scapegoat?


 

On March 31, The New York Times ran an astonishing page: a photo showing Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics gathered in what the newspaper called “a rare show of unity.” What brought these sometime enemies together? The headline told the story: “Religious Chiefs Decry Gay Pride Fest in Jerusalem.”

Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, sent the article out to many of us in the community with a short introduction:

“Finally, the way to peace in the Middle East. Uniting against us!”

Do we laugh or cry? The people in the photo would have us hang our heads in shame, but instead we shake our heads in disbelief. When I read further, I realized why they are afraid — the people they imagine us to be are not the people we are. They envision a scary “other,” a kind of “terrorist” actively seeking to destroy their way of life, while I picture people I actually know, people like me and my partner and my congregants — Jews who take Judaism seriously, living Jewish lives in a caring community. Like many who journey to Israel, we look forward to visiting Jerusalem in the company of others who would gather to study, to pray, to celebrate respect and appreciation for one another, earnest in our belief that we too are created in God’s image, and charged with the responsibility of making our world a better one.

This week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, gives us the first of two verses in Torah that have been understood for generations as prohibiting men from having sex with other men: “You shall not lie with a male like lying with a woman: it is an offensive thing” (Leviticus 18:22). Along with Leviticus 20:13, the verse continues to be the source of much agony in our time as gay men and lesbians struggle for civil rights and for a place in religious communities. During discussions of marriage equality or who can be a rabbi, it is still the verse most commonly quoted.

In response to the three clerics who made the front page of The New York Times, in just one week several hundred clergy, mostly from the United States, signed on to a letter of support for WorldPride in Jerusalem, saying, among other things, that “Jerusalem, a living, holy city, a pilgrimage site for people of many faiths and many beliefs, increases in holiness when all are welcome within her walls.”

I am grateful to be hearing voices of other clergy speaking out. But I’m also saddened by the necessity of pitting ourselves one against another, spending our time and energies fighting each other instead of looking for common ground.

Acharei Mot begins with a different set of instructions before arriving at the litany of sexual prohibitions. God instructs Moses to instruct Aaron on the sacrifices of expiation to be offered on Yom Kippur. Therein we find the original scapegoat — an actual goat on whose head “Aaron shall lay both his hands … and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites” (16:21) before sending it off into the wilderness. Ever since this practice ended (or maybe before it began), individuals and groups have served as scapegoats — the declared cause of this, that and another ill that has befallen society or that prevents people or nations from being all they could be. Having invented the idea of scapegoat, Jews ironically are no strangers to serving as one. So we know the unfairness and inaccuracy of the practice, yet we ourselves also often manage to engage in scapegoating. Liberal Jews scapegoat Orthodox Jews and vice versa, to name but one example.

But as Aaron did with the original scapegoat, when we scapegoat human beings we also send them away into the wilderness. We banish them from our lives by describing them as enemies, by imagining we have nothing in common, by deciding to fear each other, by condemning or dismissing or blaming one another. All of which, of course, makes it increasingly unlikely that we will ever instead get to know one another, ever look for our common humanity, ever discover our shared respect for the values and ethics of our shared religions or our shared God.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach begins, a time to ready ourselves for this z’man kheruteinu — the “season of our freedom.” Wouldn’t it be a wonder if “this year in Jerusalem” we found both freedom of religion and the freedom that comes to each of us when we feel true respect for one another?

Chag Pesach sameach.

Lisa Edwards is rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim — House of New Life — in Los Angeles.

 

‘Never Again’ — An Odd Thing to Say


 

How odd it was to hear Kofi Annan mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in an address before the United Nations.

“The United Nations must never forget that it was created as a response to the evil of Nazism, or that the horror of the Holocaust helped to shape its mission,” Annan said.

How very odd, indeed, considering how little he did to prevent the massacre of 800,000 Rwandans. Annan was head of the U.N. peacekeepers at the time of the 1994 genocide.

“The international community is guilty of sins of omission,” Annan later said by way of apology.

As a side note, do you know what Annan had to say about the ongoing genocide taking place in Sudan? — “The Security Council must wait to receive a report on Tuesday before it can decide how to act.”

I wonder what the thousands of black Darfurians dying at the hands of Arab militias thought about that. If we were being massacred, what would we think? What would we want from Annan, the European Union or President Bush? Some protection perhaps? Maybe a stockpile of M-16s to defend our families, our village?

God knows we have enough rifles in America.

With the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we recall once more the destruction wrought by Nazism, the chaos, desolation, the machinery of death. We peer unflinchingly at the ovens and gas chambers, the cattle cars and the concentration camps, we stare at the heart of darkness and swear, “Never Again.”

What a strange thing to say, “Never Again.” Do we think the world has tattooed a place for Auschwitz in its flesh? The world let Pol Pot kill more than one million Cambodians.

The world let 800,000 Tutsis get hacked to death. The world let Slobodan Milosevic bury his Muslim antagonists in mass graves. The world allows Arab Sudanese militias to bludgeon their black countrymen as we speak?

What an odd thing to say, “Never Again.”

And in spite of it all, there was more to Auschwitz than the gas chambers and crematoria, there was the Gestapo, there was Dr. Josef Mengele, there was the whole pathology of Nazism. Long after Auschwitz snuffed its last Jewish candle, that pathology, that pathology of nihilism and hatred, intolerance and irrational faith still cuts deep across the continents.

Even though the Gestapo was defeated in 1945, the secret police of Syria, Iran and North Korea still inspire fear and elicit subjection each and every day. Mengele’s experiments are long over, but female genital mutilation and physical torture remain rampant in Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sierra Leone.

Cast a sharp ear and you will notice that Osama bin Laden and Muqtada al-Sadr — who despise Bahais, Christians, Jews, as well as many of their fellow Muslims — do not lack for listeners. But in this world, where it seems that the United Nations fears Israel more than it does totalitarians or terrorists, bin Laden and Al-Sadr often lack for critics.

So it is with many of the wrongs of this age, every age really, very few bother to condemn true evil, and even fewer bother to act. And yet we keep saying: “Never Again.” Why? What for?

I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. But Maimonides gave us a stern reminder: sheyitmameiyah, the Messiah may tarry. To have false hope, to believe that the world is better than what it is, to think that a savior will rescue the Jewish people or any people if doom draws near, this is a grave careless error. An error Auschwitz commands us never to commit.

After the Holocaust, many presumed European anti-Semitism would never return. But here it is in Britain and France, in Belgium and Sweden, in Poland and Germany. Synagogues are torched. Men with kippahs and payot are bullied and beaten. This is the world we live in.

Each day, we unfold the morning paper and find proof that many peoples do not believe in the inestimable value of human life. Genocide and torture, suicide bombing and religious terrorism rages on. Alas, the cry of “Never Again” has not stopped evil from enduring. That doesn’t mean we ought to stop our cries, it just means we must shout louder.

Yehuda M. Hausman, a graduate of Brandeis University, is a part-time researcher for the Encyclopedia Judaica. He was a third-place winner in the “Reaching Common Ground” writing competition and is a fellow with the Institute for Judaism and Christianity (ICJS).

 

Stay Tuned


 

Last October, a man called with a complaint. Before I could ask what was the matter, he launched into a tirade about a biased and

inaccurate article. He said he couldn’t believe a serious newspaper would print such lies. He was so angry, he was this close to canceling his subscription.

I wasn’t sure which article he was referring to, so I gently asked him to be more specific. He went on to describe a piece I had absolutely no memory of.

“Are you sure you read this in The Jewish Journal?”

“The Journal?” he said. “No! This was in The Los Angeles Times.”

“The Times?” I said. “So why are you calling me?”

“Because they won’t pick up the phone!”

I tell the story often, because among other things, it says a lot about the role of community journalism. We are the paper that responds. We are the paper that can’t help but listen attentively to its readers. We are the paper that picks up the phone. My hope is that readers will keep this in mind as The Journal embarks on a new business model that is, as far as we know, unprecedented for a Jewish newspaper.

Starting Jan. 1, Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation. For 18 years, The Federation purchased annual Journal subscriptions for its donors. Last year, it purchased about 20,000 of the 60,000 papers The Journal distributed each week. Beginning next week, it will no longer do so.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles (subscriptions and a list of sites are available at www.jewishjournal.com).

When we announced this new arrangement earlier this year, many people approached me with their condolences, as if we had been consigned to our doom. But the impetus for this change came from us — yes, from us — and I believe it is a big step forward for the paper and the community.

Granted, of the 135 Jewish community papers in North America, none has a distribution plan like ours. But Los Angeles is a Jewish community like no other, and our new model will serve it well. Most importantly, it will enable us to reach the greatest number of readers across a vast and diverse landscape. Under the previous arrangement, postal regulations limited the number of papers we could distribute for free. But free distribution has been a boon to us — bringing the paper to readers who might otherwise have no connection to Jewish life, increasing our visibility to advertisers and giving us an audience far more diverse in terms of age and background than that of almost any Jewish institution I know of.

Our goal is to reach every possible reader we can (thereby becoming, not incidentally, the largest circulation mainstream Jewish weekly in the country), and this step takes us leaps and bounds closer to achieving it.

The move also establishes The Journal as one of a handful of truly independent community Jewish newspapers. About 85 percent of Jewish papers are either owned by or sell thousands of subscriptions to federations or other major Jewish philanthropies. These arrangements provide a cushion of guaranteed income.

But even when there is little question of outside editorial influence, as at the superb New York Jewish Week or at this paper, the arrangement is less than ideal. It diverts Federation dollars from urgent philanthropy, it involves a charitable organization in a business where it has little expertise and it creates a temptation for either censorship or self-censorship, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community.

If a Jewish paper can survive economically free of one organization or the other, it should make every attempt to do so.

Jewish newspapers have played an important role in Jewish life since the very first one was published just 70 years after the printing press was invented. As Jews dispersed, they no sooner established mikvahs and cemeteries as they did newspapers. There is no community without communication, and these papers have functioned over the centuries to deliver important news, to serve as a kind of communal bulletin board, to broadcast the teachings and values of Judaism itself.

Is the form antiquated? If anything, I believe a Jewish paper, whether delivered on newsprint or by Internet, is more important than ever.

We are a far-flung community, spread out from the South Bay to the East Valley to Thousand Oaks. We contain multitudes of different backgrounds, practices and beliefs. And The Journal is one place where we can meet each week, if only virtually, to engage in a common discussion on the things that matter so much to us. That conversation needn’t be parochial — it mustn’t be.

The crisis in Sudan and the disaster in Southeast Asia may not have a “Jewish angle,” but they do implore a Jewish response, which can be called forth and described in the pages of the Jewish press.

Since we announced our change in the business model several months ago, the response from current subscribers has been heartening. Far more Federation subscribers than we expected to took out new subscriptions. Of course, if you haven’t already done so, I hope you will, too.

But in any case, I hope you keep reading. We are heading into uncharted waters here, but we are doing so with a terrific group of journalists, sales personnel, office staff and board of directors. We also do so with a community we are so proud to be a part of, and so excited to continue serving.

 

Yeladim


 

At the Jewish Children’s Bookfest at Mount Sinai on Nov. 14, children were given a journal and asked the following question:

“What does being Jewish in America mean to me?”

Here is our first response, by Caleigh Gumbiner, a fourth-grader at Balboa Magnet in Northridge: “To me, being Jewish in America means I can be free to study Torah when I like and how I would like to study it. It also means I don’t have to be treated differently or badly because of my religion.”

The pilgrims came to America so they could practice their religion in freedom, just like Caleigh practices her Judaism. We must all work together to make sure that America remains a country of freedom.

Here are some of the things the kindergartners at the Westside JCC are thankful for:

“I am thankful for my parents even though they’re kinda silly. Sometimes, if they’re mad, I’ll come to see what I did wrong and sometimes when they’re sad, I can make them feel better!”

– Sydney

“I am thankful for my strawberry plant because my Mommy gave it to me and it’s very special.”

– Emma

Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to kids@jewishjournal.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!

 

Ethnic Cleansing in Sudan Is Still Genocide


As early as March of this year, humanitarian organizations were issuing warnings of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan. For a long time these warnings continued to be ignored by most of the mainstream and Jewish media, and Americans remain virtually unaware of the atrocities occurring there. Are we Jews to do nothing when we know better?

While most of the media and our elected officials have been ignoring the world’s largest humanitarian crisis today, African tribal farmers in Darfur, Sudan, have been displaced, murdered, raped, tortured, starved and kidnapped by Sudanese government-backed militias known as Janjaweed whose sole purpose is to rid the region of its black population.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity, race or religion of the people being victimized. Such lessons we learned only too well from the Holocaust. Furthermore, Leviticus teaches, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbors.” Jerry Fowler, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience recently returned from the region and described its horrors, and the Committee has issued its second ever genocide warning (www.ushmm.org/conscience).

Currently, the United States government is pondering whether or not to label the Darfur atrocities as genocide. While our government contemplates the political ramifications of the accusation of genocide, villages are being razed; women and girls are systematically raped and branded; men and children are brutally slaughtered. Murdered children and livestock have been thrown in wells to deliberately poison water supplies. Damns have been blown-up, water pumps destroyed, schools, houses, clinics and even mosques burned, though the perpetrators, like their victims, are Muslim.

The purpose is to drive the ethnic Africans from the region. The brutal violence has resulted in over 30,000 deaths and the displacement of as many as two million Darfurians. An estimated 200,000 refugees have crossed the border into Chad, and only in the past few weeks have humanitarian agencies had access to limited portions of the affected region.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that a minimum of 350,000 people will die even if humanitarian aid reaches the affected populations. As many as a million people could die if aid is withheld or unavailable.

The world avoided using the word “genocide” when 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Our government avoided using the term in Rwanda 10 years ago when 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority were slaughtered in 100 days by their government. Are we to repeat history or make it?

American Jews responded in Bosnia; we must respond in Sudan. We can prevent these atrocities from occurring and we can prevent a million people from dying.

The Jewish response is growing. Since April, American Jewish World Service has been providing essential humanitarian services to many of the affected populations in Darfur and Chad. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, an umbrella coalition comprised of 45 national Jewish organizations, has asked each member organization to urge their constituents to act (www.jcdr.org). The Reform Movement, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Anti- Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Jewish Council on Public Affairs have all issued statements.

And there is renewed hope this week in increased action as members of Congress begin to respond as a result of these pleas, and Secretary of State Colin Powell and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region.

As Jews who know firsthand the consequences of silence from the international community, we must do all that we can to prevent or stop deliberate attempts to annihilate any people. We must respond with aid and advocacy, both of which can be addressed quickly and efficiently through the American Jewish World Service Web site: www.ajws.org.

So call it what you want — genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity — but do respond while there is still time to save as many lives as we can.


Ruth W. Messinger is the president of American Jewish World Service, an international development and emergency relief organization.

A Concert of Conscience


In choreographer Roni Kosmal-Wernik’s piece about the aftermath of a suicide bombing, a dancer prowls the stage as if searching for a lost loved one. Her movements become heavy, brooding, as if she is burdened by an invisible weight.

Inspired by a family friend’s death in a 2001 attack, Kosmal-Wernik’s work will help kick off a June 20 event at Temple Emanuel to support other victims of terror. Performers such as pianist Sha-Rone Kushnir will appear to benefit ATZUM, a Jerusalem-based charity that provides necessities for families not covered by Israel’s overburdened welfare system.

“Artists for ATZUM,” is the latest Los Angeles response to Israel-based violence. While synagogues have supported programs such as Adopt-a-Family, and musicians have played for Rock for Israel concerts, Kosmal-Wernik contemplated what she could do to help several months ago. Although she had previously donated funds to ATZUM, founded by her friend, Rabbi Levi Lauer, “It always bothered me that I couldn’t give more,” the 27-year-old choreographer said. “So I began thinking, ‘What can I do,’ and I decided, ‘I can give my art, and I can get others to do the same.'”

As Kosmal-Wernik enlisted performers such as choreographer Ben Levy, she kept costs minimal to match ATZUM’s practice of rigorously limiting overhead.

“Every cent raised will go toward families in need,” said Lauer, who will speak at the event.

The concert will include two works Kosmal-Wernik choreographed in response to her own experience of living in Jerusalem from 2001 to 2003. The alternately agitated and hopeful movements of “Two Years in a Land” reflect the conflicting emotions she felt about remaining in Israel after a car bomb exploded near her apartment.

When a 19-year-old family friend was blown up at the Naharia train station, she interviewed his mother to create a dance memorial; the piece features seven performers, symbolizing the seven days of shiva, who protectively surround the mourner.

Kosmal-Wernik hopes the upcoming concert will convey similar sentiments. “Especially now, when people are afraid to visit Israel, it’s crucial to let [Israelis] know there are Jews in another part of the world who care,” she said.

For information about the June 20, 7 p.m. performancecall (310) 274-6388, ext. 560 or contact rwernik@earthlink.net. For informationabout ATZUM, visit www.atzum.org .

Do Party Invites Right


Invitations? Eliminate the possible problems way ahead of time. Have you asked your parents and your in-laws to give you a list? When you do, give them a number. When you ask for a list of 30 from each side, it is so much better than receiving 50 from one set of parents and 100 from the other. Add to that total another 30 of your friends and maybe 30 from your child. So 30 from each side turns out to be 120 — or more depending on who’s doing the counting.

What other problems, you ask? Remember when someone mistakenly forgot to include Aunt Saydie? Remember how one side of the family did not speak to the other side for a long time? While that may sound like a good thing, it really isn’t.

After you make the master list of 30 from each side plus your 30, it is a very good idea to give each set of grandparents a master list to proofread for errors. The errors being, of course, that you are inviting or not inviting someone that may cause a big problem. Let’s have no surprises here. It is amazing how someone may remember, "Look, we forgot so-and-so."

While so-and-so might not have minded, there could also have been another world war in your family if you don’t invite him/her. Purposefully, we do not include the child’s list to the grandparent proofing. We do not need a grandma saying "I never liked that boy!" There is no discussion involving the child’s friends.

Although you will not mail invitations for six to eight weeks, it’s good to begin looking long before that time. At least six month in advance is good to begin your search. With all the choices available, it’s not easy to pick invitations. It’s good to have a notebook, journal or an index card box with everyone’s name and address on a separate card. When the invitations go out, each name is checked. When the response arrives, it is so noted. Also note when a gift arrives and when the thank-you note is sent.

The index-card box is one of the most important items in your home and is referred to each time an affair is coming up — as well as when you need a gift for that person’s party.

Must you have a very formal invite? Will it need the extra color in the envelope? Many forget the reason for your affair. First of all, it’s not your affair. What will be suitable for your almost 13-year-old? Will he or she have a say in this selection? And will it be his or her favorite color?

It was one thing when you chose that adorable little "It’s a Girl" announcement in azalea pink, and it’s quite another for your little girl — almost grown up — to choose her invitation in that hot orange/spring green combination. While the tablecloths and place cards will probably be white, the napkins and accessories will follow through in the orange and green.

You will need a flower arrangement for the table that houses the place cards and another [smaller] arrangement for the ladies room to place next to the basket containing tissues, some pretty guest soaps, perfume and hand lotion.

Imagine the trim on the cake icing matching those two beautiful colors. Imagine her joy at being able to make the decision. The good news is that you will not have to wear a matching dress in those colors. They are just her colors.

Remember you do not have to like it. It is just amazing that, together, you two found something she loves. And your daughter will remember this affair — forever. We can only hope and pray the orange-and-green flowers in the lady’s room do not clash with the chartreuse wall tile!

Conservative Death Prophecy Draws Fire


A top Reform rabbi is predicting the death of Conservative Judaism, drawing protests from the Conservative movement’s leadership.

The objections surfaced this week in response to an essay by Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis. The essay argued that within several decades, Conservative Jews likely will move either to the more liberal Reform movement or to the more traditional Orthodox world.

Major wedges between the modernist movements will force this exodus, Menitoff argued, including the Conservative movement’s opposition to intermarriage, its ban on ordaining homosexual rabbis and same-sex marriages and its opposition to patrilineal descent, all of which the Reform movement supports.

The Conservative movement may continue to attract those for whom Orthodoxy remains "too restrictive" and Reform "too acculturated," but a more likely outcome will be "the demise of the Conservative movement," Menitoff wrote.

"If the Conservative movement capitulates regarding these core differences between Reform and Conservative Judaism, it will be essentially obliterating the need for its existence," he wrote. "If, alternatively, it stands firm, its congregants will vote with their feet."

Conservative leaders called the argument "delusional" and the product of "immature" analysis.

"His description of the future is rather silly," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. The essay "is an immature look" at the currents shaping American Jewry, "or maybe it’s wishful thinking."

Unusual in its bluntly pessimistic predictions, Menitoff’s essay comes as Conservative Jewry, which once dominated the American Jewish landscape, is facing major challenges. In the past few years, the movement has been split over major issues, including its stance on homosexuality, and some rabbis have accused the movement’s leadership of lacking vision.

Menitoff’s predictions came in a January missive to the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ 1,800 members. He later outlined the premise at a joint meeting of the western chapters of the rabbinical group and its Conservative counterpart, the Rabbinical Assembly, in Palm Springs in January.

Within a few decades, "you’ll basically have Orthodox and Reform," he said. "This is in no way an attack, it’s just a reasonable analysis of how things could work out. I hope I’m wrong. I’m just looking at the landscape and providing a perspective."

Some signs lend weight to Menitoff’s theory. Last September, the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey found that of the nation’s 4.3 million Jews with some religious or communal connections, the largest group — 39 percent — identified as Reform, while 33 percent called themselves Conservative.

That represented a major decline from the 43 percent that the Conservative movement polled in the 1990 survey. By contrast, the Reform movement rose during that period from 35 percent, and Orthodoxy grew to 21 percent from 16 percent. The Reconstructionist movement rose from 2 percent to 3 percent.

Though Menitoff lamented the blurring of denominational lines as the result of "extreme assimilation" — 44 percent of Jews do not align with any movement, according to the survey — his Conservative counterparts believed they were being attacked.

"The Talmud says prophecy has been taken away from the prophets and given to children and fools," said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean and vice president of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, one of the Conservative movement’s two main seminaries. "No one can predict the future."

Artson and others pointed out that a century ago, many predicted the death of the Orthodox movement and were proven wrong.

Conservative leaders also maintain that their movement’s communal organizations are thriving.

Of the approximately 120,000 students in Jewish day schools, more than 50,000 are in the Conservative movement’s 70 Solomon Schechter Day Schools, while 8,000 youngsters attend the movement’s Camp Ramah system each summer. Another 20,000 youngsters participate in the movement’s United Synagogue Youth organization, and many adults are "engaged in lifelong Jewish study," Schorsch said.

Rela Mintz Geffen, president of the nondenominational Baltimore Hebrew University and a Conservative scholar, also rejected Menitoff’s argument.

If "there are clear lines of demarcation" between all of the movements and they maintain theological differences, "I don’t think they will merge," she said. More likely, she added, is that traditionalists in the Conservative movement might merge with the modern Orthodox movement.

However, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, agreed with Menitoff. In 2001, Shafran wrote in Moment magazine that the Conservative movement was a "failure."

"It does seem the Jewish community is heading for a crystallization between those who affirm the full truth of the Jewish religious tradition and those who, to one degree or another, don’t accept that," Shafran said.

Learning Reshaped at Europe’s Limmud


Two Jews, three opinions. That old adage may explain a lot about communal strife, but for a precious few days in the English Midlands, a multitude of Jewish opinions were welcomed at an educational conference that is a paragon of communal harmony.

Now in its 23rd year, the Limmud Conference is Europe’s largest and perhaps the Jewish world’s most influential educational event, attracting over 2,300 participants and 370 speakers from across the globe.

Remarkably, for an international residential conference of such scale and depth, all but one of its organizers are volunteers.

Limmud, which means learning in Hebrew, is a name that for many in the Jewish and non-Jewish educational world has become synonymous with an inclusive, bottom-up approach to education.

"It’s all about the grass roots. Hierarchies just don’t exist," explained Clive Lawton, Limmud’s executive director and co-founder.

A highly respected educator and occasionally controversial community spokesman, Lawton volunteers for Limmud both at the conference and throughout the year, when the group organizes smaller educational and social events.

Lawton says Jewish educators in North America can learn from Limmud as a model for a "Festival of Learning."

"For once, I think Europe is taking the lead in Jewish education, and North America has a lot of catching up to do to adapt from a top-heavy structure of learning," Lawton said. "We let the participants decide what they want to do. We have no ideological or political position, apart from ‘It’s good for Jews to learn.’"

Over four days in late December at Nottingham University’s campus — which Limmudniks take over, dormitories, classrooms and all — singles, couples and families were given the opportunity to explore diverse facets of Jewish life.

The approach of "learning for the people by the people" results in a dizzying array of sessions and speakers, ranging from bull sessions about passages from the Zohar to the rabbinical response to the Internet.

Agenda appears to be a dirty word at Limmud.

With more than 900 sessions — on topics ranging from Jewish law’s perspective on organ donation to Israeli politics — the conference caters even to the most esoteric interests.

Listening to the excited chatter at the kibbutz-style meals, where participants, speakers and organizers sit, gossip and debate together, many seemed to be getting caught up in the buzz.

"Just went to a fascinating shiur [lecture] on God’s covenant with Abraham — but have got to rush, want to get a good seat for the Sephardi cooking workshop," one participant said hurriedly to another in a typical mealtime exchange.

Such is the range of age, nationality and denomination at the conference that it’s nearly impossible to define the typical Limmudnik.

"That’s the key to Limmud’s success: It’s determinedly pluralistic," said Daniel Silverstein, a conference participant, performer and volunteer.

Silverstein, director of Culanu Center, a cultural and social center at Cambridge University, sings the praises of the conference’s philosophy — literally.

After spending much of the day helping to look after the many young children at to the conference, Silverstein rapped about Jewish pride with Emunah, a group that plays hip-hop and drum-and-bass music for Limmud’s late-night audiences.

"What’s really amazing is that friends of mine who are not religious came to the conference, and they got as much out of it as my Orthodox friends," Silverstein said. "I challenge anybody not to find some Jewish inspiration here."

So confident are Limmud’s volunteers that participants will gain from the conference that the organization promises in its mission statement, "Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey."

More than half of those who attend the conference or other Limmud events — held in the United Kingdom, Holland and Israel, and soon in Toronto and New York — end up returning.

The speakers range from thinkers such as Rabbi Norman Lamm, the Torah scholar and chancellor of New York’s Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo, to Nimrod Barkan, the senior policy adviser of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Jennifer Bleyer, founder of the alternative Jewish magazine Heeb.

The conference also offered an entire day focused on the Jewish community’s relations with the Islamic world.

Prominent European Muslim figures came to debate and share jokes with Jewish members of panel discussions and seminars. Even controversial views — such as the Muslim perception of Israel — were treated with respect.

For the Muslim speakers, many of whom brought young families, the opportunity to meet and eat together left a lasting impression.

"We feel welcomed and know we are among good friends," said Fuad Nahdi, editor of Q-News, an influential London-based Muslim magazine.

Bused from one campus building to another, conference participants said they felt as if they were in a high-energy cocoon.

"You know, I have no idea what’s happening in the outside world," an Israeli professor told an American colleague on the way to one session. "And frankly, I don’t want to."

No one seemed to mind that there was not a television or a newspaper — apart from the London Jewish Chronicle — to be found on campus.

By the end of the conference, which fell on New Year’s Day, participants exuded a sense of achievement, both as individuals and a community.

"I’ve never been so excited to be Jewish," said Wendy Bergman, a grandmother from the tiny Jewish community of Newcastle in northern England. "I’m somewhere between the higher ground and the clouds."

Reckless


This week, while fires raged, strikes festered and three or four wars smoldered, most of the urgent phone calls I received were about Chaim Seidler-Feller. There were calls from his friends, calls from his enemies and calls — of course — from lawyers.

Seidler-Feller is the Hillel rabbi at UCLA who allegedly kicked and grabbed the wrist of political activist Rachel Neuwirth following a verbal confrontation with her (see story p. 13).

The incident took place Oct. 21 just outside Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, after a presentation inside the hall by attorney and author Alan Dershowitz. Neuwirth claims Seidler-Feller kicked and grabbed at her in the course of an argument related to Israel and the Palestinians. Seidler-Feller claims that Neuwirth first provoked him by calling him a “kapo.” Kapos were Jews who collaborated with Nazis in exterminating their fellow Jews.

Many of those who called asked me if I thought this was a big story. If it weren’t, I answered, you probably wouldn’t have called me.

Some callers suggested The Journal downplay the story as a simple and unfortunate matter of a hot-tempered little set-to. Others insisted we go after the rabbi, who has been openly critical of the kind of campus outreach many pro-Israel activists conduct.

So is this a big story? It’s not a war, fire or strike, but it is not a sidewalk skirmish, either. There are people who see the rabbi’s alleged actions as a reason for Seidler-Feller to resign, or be forced to resign, his position, one he has held for three decades. Seidler-Feller, said a wealthy and influential activist, has turned three generations of Jewish UCLA students off to Israel.

There are others, Seidler-Feller’s supporters, who see this incident as one more example of the reckless and provocative rhetoric of a hard-core band of pro-Israel activists. They believe such rhetoric goes unpunished by communal institutions and donors whose checks support the otherwise responsible lectures and seminars these groups offer.

What do I think?

Next week, on Nov. 5, we will mark the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a fellow Jew. It would be ludicrous to bring up the assassination in the context of a tussle between a couple of middle-aged Jews in Westwood, except that the timing is too tempting to ignore.

The week of the murder, Dennis Prager wrote in The Jewish Journal, “There is almost no group or country for whom the greatest threats do not come from within.” Arabs certainly fall into this category, as do Jews, both biblically and to a great extent politically. Prager’s other lesson: “Rhetoric kills. Rhetoric has consequences.”

Thirty days after the murder, Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote an essay in The Journal asking what possible response we can have to that tragedy as caring, responsible Jews.

“An intelligent laity must not allow the language of violence to be used by rabbis or lay people, recognizing that the rhetoric of violence … results in the shedding of innocent blood,” he wrote

These are lessons we simply refuse to learn. The last time I wrote on this subject was in May 2002, just after another Jewish activist sent out an e-mail newsletter that contained an angry, ad hominem attack against — yes — Chaim Seidler-Feller.

Then, dozens of people signed a letter in support of the rabbi, including many who disagreed with him politically. The activist apologized to Seidler-Feller, as did the organization, StandWithUs, which carried the letter on its Web site.

Now, to be honest, the shoe is on the other foot. As lunatic as it is for someone to call Seidler-Feller a kapo, it was wrong for him to, as is alleged, strike out.

Seidler-Feller has apologized to several people for the incident, and both sides are weighing the possible resolutions: more apologies, settlement, civil proceedings, reprimand, dismissal, anger management.

Considering Seidler-Feller’s role in this community, a combination of any of these possible scenarios instantly raises this story out of the “small” category.

Seidler Feller is a man of passion and intellect, and his critics should take a deep breath before compounding the foolishness of an instant.

There are many ironies at play here: A peacenik facing accusations of assault. A pro-Israel activist using the same Nazi rhetoric against a fellow Jew that the Arab extremists use against Israelis. Attorney Donald Etra, one of George W. Bush’s best friends, defending a rabbi often associated with the left. And the fact that Dershowitz’s lecture only came about as a result of cooperation between Seidler-Feller and his sometime political opponents at StandWithUs. But the one irony even Seidler-Feller’s most eager opponents dare not lose sight of is that even though ending Seidler-Feller’s career at UCLA Hillel might be, in their minds, a win for Israel, it will be a net loss for the Jews of Los Angeles. As a teacher, thinker, leader and innovator he has few peers in this city. As much as he has tried to wrest the darker threads of messianism from the Zionist ideal, he has also sought, in the tradition of Rabbis David Hartman and Shlomo Riskin, to infuse secular Zionism with a deeper understanding of Judaism itself.

It’s true Seidler-Feller has something to learn from what happened on Oct. 21, but it is also true that he has much more left to teach.

Hitler’s Conductor: Man or Monster?


On opening night of Ronald Harwood’s "Taking Sides," revolving around Hitler’s favorite conductor, viewers accosted the playwright. A woman said, ‘How could you do this to such a great artist?’" Harwood recalled. "Then a man grabbed me and said, ‘Wilhelm Furtwängler was an absolute s—.’ So I thought I’d done my job rather well."

His 1996 play, now an Istvan Szabo film, pits Furtwängler against a brash fictional American interrogator out to nail "Hitler’s bandleader" in denazification proceedings.

In the film, Furtwängler (Stellan Skarsgård) insists he remained in Germany rather than cede his culture to the Nazis and that he used his clout to save Jews.

Maj. Steve Arnold (Harvey Keitel) counters that Furtwängler made only token efforts at resistance while supporting the murderers, including performing at Hitler’s birthday. In return, the maestro enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and numerous mistresses.

Speaking from his London home, the droll, precise Harwood — who won a screenwriting Oscar for "The Pianist" — said he tried not to take sides while writing the play and the film.

"I attempted to make both arguments compelling because I want viewers to ask themselves what they would have done in Furtwängler’s place," he said. "’Was protesting from the inside a legitimate moral response to Hitler? Can art remain separate from politics?’ These are some of the questions I want people to explore."

The film is the latest in a body of work on the moral ambiguities of the period, including Michael Frayn’s play, "Copenhagen" and Tim Blake Nelson’s Auschwitz-themed drama, "The Grey Zone."

Harwood’s analysis of an artist’s responsibility under a dictatorship personally resonated for the Hungarian Szabo ("Sunshine"), who survived the communists and won a 1981 Oscar for "Mephisto," about a Nazi-era actor.

"The audience must be able to pick up on the contemporary dilemma in the conflict," he said of "Taking Sides." "Is it right and justifiable to survive a dictatorship by compromises?"

Harwood continued to field criticism as the film opened in New York earlier this month.

"I still get angry letters from people saying I’ve got it all wrong," he said. "Many Americans in particular can’t bear Maj. Arnold, whom they regard as a caricature, a bully, a Philistine. But I always point out that he’s the only character in the entire piece who talks about the dead. Everyone else talks about art and music and culture, but Arnold has seen the carnage at Belsen and it haunts him."

Harwood (né Horwitz), 68, was similarly haunted by concentration camp footage he saw in his native South Africa at age 12.

"The Reform synagogue took all the Jewish children to see these awful newsreels, and it had a terrible effect on me," he said. "I had nightmares, and it’s scarred me all my life."

Meanwhile, Harwood’s father, who had fled Lithuanian pogroms, regarded apartheid as someone else’s problem.

"He’d say, ‘Just thank God it isn’t us,’" the author said. "It was a prevalent sentiment among Jewish refugees in Cape Town after the war. But it seemed to me that oppressed people should care about the fate of other oppressed people."

Harwood, for his part, wrote several anti-apartheid novels after moving to England to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1951. After his 1980 play, "The Dresser," was made into an Oscar-nominated film, he served as president of the human rights organization International PEN.

But eventually, he began to feel uneasy about taking sides from a distance.

"It was quite fashionable and risk free to criticize South Africa from London," he said wryly. "I was extremely brave, from 6,000 miles away."

Harwood wondered how outspoken he would have been had he lived in a totalitarian society — which is why he was riveted by a 1994 book on Furtwängler’s dilemma.

"I loved the ambiguity of his case," said the author, who views Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl as an "unabashed Nazi."

He went on to comb archives for denazification transcripts and to interview officials who had supervised such proceedings.

"They were morally brutal," he said. "They bullied people, and they did behave in an extreme way. But they had just seen the camps, and no one in the world had seen that before."

After director Roman Polanski saw "Taking Sides" in Paris, he asked the author to write another film involving music and the Holocaust, 2003’s "The Pianist." But even Polanski doesn’t know which side Harwood personally takes regarding Furtwängler.

"Look, I won’t even tell my wife," Harwood said.

"Of course, I might leave a little note to be opened after my death," he added, coyly. "But I want audience members to make up their own minds. I don’t want them to think I’m plugging a line."

The film opens today in Los Angeles.

Where You Stand


We are standing before God and God is standing before us — especially during this particular time, when certain fundamental liberties are being denied individuals and when justice is being withheld from specific groups — all in the name of "homeland security." This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, comes to teach us — all of us without exception — that we are obligated to build a just society not only for ourselves but for all people.

Thus, our reading, studying and thinking about the essential lessons found in Shoftim are of great importance right now.

Meanwhile, this parsha reminds me of a very strange personal experience that occurred many years ago. It’s one that I’ll never forget.

While I was away from University Synagogue one afternoon, visiting a hospitalized congregant, a very well-known Catholic priest called me. When he realized that I wasn’t there, he left a message on my voice mail asking that I contact him as soon as possible, because a situation required an immediate collaborative interfaith response.

For reasons that I can’t technologically explain — but it may have been God’s handiwork — something extraordinary happened: Although my caller terminated his call, my message device recorded what happened next.

Once he hung up, he telephoned a prominent rabbinic colleague of mine. During their ensuing conversation, the non-Jewish leader indicated that he had tried to reach me, found that I was away from my desk, left a message asking that I contact him without delay and he said that he was certain that he’d hear from me as soon as I learned that he had reached out to me.

In turn, the rabbi expressed his doubts about my dependability and without hesitation he conveyed his feelings of disdain toward me by using that occasion to utter some very derogatory comments.

These unflattering remarks were instantly rebuffed by the priest, but they lingered in the air nevertheless.

Naturally, when I listened to their recorded discussion, I was deeply hurt and terribly confused because I couldn’t recall any incident that would have inflamed the rabbi’s emotions and cemented his negative opinions about me. And throughout the years we have worked together in the community, he had never led me to believe that we were anything but the best of friends.

A few days later, he and I happened to see one another at a public gathering where he greeted me with a bright smile, open arms and some affectionate remark.

"Oh," I thought to myself, "if he only knew that I was aware of his genuine feelings about me, which make this display of supposed fondness reek of hypocrisy."

As a result of a mechanical error — or did God provide me with an opportunity to hear words that would never have been uttered in my presence by someone who posed as a friend? — I had a chance to encounter the authentic nature of a relationship instead depending on some false pretense.

Now, what has all of this to do with our reading five particular chapters found in the Book of Deuteronomy this Shabbat?

Within Shoftim, we are instructed: "Zedek, zedek tirdof" ("justice, justice shall you pursue").

When we dig deeply into the parsha, we come to realize that not only are sacred and secular laws to be faultlessly carried out by government officials and interpreted by appointed and elected judges — all of them are expected to be unrelentingly fair and impartial — but you and I are instructed to treat everyone we encounter in our own lives in a similar fashion.

You see, it is not only justice that keeps chaos away and society afloat, but it is steadfast righteousness that should be ever-present in every interpersonal relationship we have — be it a casual contact or one which is intimate and enduring .

This is why Rashi taught: "Consider what you do and conduct yourself in every judgment as if the Holy One, Blessed be He, were standing before you."

Had the rabbi known that I would hear his candid opinion of me, or had he imagined that God was standing in front of him when he spoke in such a hateful way about me in one instance, and then so lovingly in my presence very soon thereafter, to what extent would he had been anxious to render harsh judgment?

And, that prompts me to ask: Do any of us have the right to be judgmental? Maimonides didn’t think so, because he observed that all of us are obligated (actually, he wrote: "commanded") to give each person the benefit of the doubt.

So, as we demand that ours must always be a "just society," and when we attempt to individually "pursue justice," it is necessary that we also rely upon that same concept to temper our own words and actions.

Much will be accomplished individually and collectively when we remember this lesson at all times, because we do stand before God and God stands before us. Under these circumstances, there simply is no room for injustice in any of its many forms — be it in our society at large or in the way we relate to one another.


Allen I. Freehling served as University Synagogue’s senior rabbi for 30 years before becoming that congregation’s first rabbi emeritus a year ago. He is now serving as the executive director of the Human Relations Commission of the City of Los Angeles.