Holocaust Denier Gets a Free Pass


Despite the smiling images from Sharm el-Sheikh, the fact is that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has taken no demonstrable steps to dismantle and disarm the vast Palestinian terror networks, end the incitement or arrest terrorists. And although his rhetoric even after his election has been troublesome (calling for a “big jihad,” referring to Israel as the “Zionist enemy,” making it clear he will not use force against terrorists, and endorsing the policies of Yasser Arafat), the administration and Congress are falling over themselves to throw vast sums of money his way. President Bush has promised $350 million to Abbas, more than four times that given to Arafat by the Clinton administration.

Just as Abbas’ troubling words and lack of anti-terror action have been ignored, so has another distinctly dark part of his pedigree: the undeniable fact that he is a blatant and unrepentant Holocaust denier. In 1984, he wrote “The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement.” In this pseudo-historical account, which was based on his 1982 doctoral dissertation, Abbas contended that Zionist leaders gave the green light to the Nazis to do as it pleased with the Jews as long as immigration to Palestine was allowed.

Moreover, he endorsed the outrageous contention that the Jews intentionally inflated the numbers of those slaughtered in order to engender support for the State of Israel. Citing other historical quackery, Abbas suggested that the number of Jewish victims might have been as few as “only a few hundred thousand.” And worse, he embraced the discredited work of Robert Faurisson, who shamelessly insisted that the Nazis did not use gas chambers

It’s bad enough that the mainstream press has not taken Abbas to task. But how in the name of the memory of martyred 6 million can one explain that Jewish leaders, Holocaust scholars and advocates have given him an unprecedented pass on so important an issue? It’s beyond disappointing — it’s downright offensive and sets a dangerous precedent.

During the weeklong series of ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we were admonished never to allow or condone the desecration of memory of the victims through the distortion of the Shoah; we cannot afford to be asleep at the switch.

While we applaud that this message received such broad dissemination, it was hardly a new one for the Jewish world. While we may debate among ourselves every conceivable topic, including life-and-death issues of Israeli security, there always has been at least one issue that cut so deeply into our collective souls that it was not open to debate: Holocaust denial, from whatever source, was a scourge to be swiftly and ruthlessly challenged. When politicians like Jean Marie LePen in France, Jarg Haider in Austria and the late Franjo Tudjman in Croatia spewed their ugly views of Holocaust denial, Jewish organizations immediately sprung into action and spared no mercy in exposing the blasphemes for the anti-Semites they are.

John Roth, a well-known scholar, can certainly attest to how strongly Jews feel on this issue. Roth was not a Holocaust denier. He was, however, deprived of a senior position at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., after he had been exposed as having written offensive articles comparing certain actions of the Israelis with those of the Nazis. This was not only an ugly lie, it also diminished the horror of the Shoah. We were among many who stood up for the victims and survivors, and signed a petition opposing his appointment as someone who had desecrated the memory of those who perished.

It mattered not that an assault on Jewish memory came from the highest of offices. Who of us will ever forget Elie Wiesel’s plea to President Reagan not to visit SS graves at Bitburg because to do so would “begin to rehabilitate” the SS? Do we not, by giving legitimacy and respectability to Abbas the Holocaust denier, begin to rehabilitate Holocaust denial?

The international spotlight is now shining intensely on him as he has been anointed the great hope for peace. One would have thought this to be the most opportune moment to challenge him on his blasphemy. Instead, those who otherwise would be relentless in calling a denier a denier, have become timid; they’ve given him a pass. AIPAC issued a statement proclaiming that his election presents a “historic opportunity” for the prospects of peace. Not a word about Holocaust denial. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published an informative analysis of the Palestinian election, but ignored Abbas’ Holocaust denial. AIPAC and the ADL were not alone. Check the other organizational Web sites: nothing.

Why is there the deafening silence when it comes to Abbas, one of the most powerful and influential Arab leaders?

It is with utmost respect that we must urge Wiesel, whose courageous words to Reagan made us so proud, to forcefully speak out. After all, it is he who has always admonished us to dare not be silent when it comes to evil and lies about the Holocaust. And, why has there been silence from Emory professor Deborah Lipstadt, an expert in Holocaust denial, who also made us proud by her strong court battle against Holocaust denier David Irving? These prominent personalities, and all Jewish leaders, must publicly demand that Abbas give an unequivocal apology, fully retract his ugly lies and clearly acknowledge the horror of the Holocaust endured by the Jews.

Neal M. Sher is the former director the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (the Nazi prosecution unit) and former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Morton A. Klein, a child of Holocaust survivors, is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.


7 Days In Arts


Southwest Chamber Music performs works by musicians on the fringes of society in their latest series, “Exiles and Outcasts: Vienna and Hollywood.” Six concerts at three different venues feature music by Third Reich exiles Eric Zeisl and Hanns Eisler along with pieces by older Viennese musicians — also considered outsiders in their day — Joseph Joachim, Johannes Brahms and Anton Bruckner. Tonight, it’s Mozart, Zeisl and Mendelssohn at the Norton Simon Museum Theater in Pasadena.
7 p.m. (prelude talk), 8 p.m. (concert). $10-$25. 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (800) 726-7147. Future shows also held at Colburn School of Performing Arts and Armory Center for the Arts.


Hopefully stopping short of a round of “Kumbaya” is today’s USC Office of Religious Life interfaith panel and screening of “God and Allah Need to Talk.” See Ruth Broyde-Sharone’s film and hear scholars representing four Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity, Baha’i and Judaism. Also planned is a performance of international music by Alula from Ethiopia, Tardu Yegin from Turkey and Stephen Longfellow Fiske from Los Angeles.
6-9 p.m. $15. Mark Taper Hall of Humanities, Room 101, USC Campus. R.S.V.P., (310) 837-2294.


Mrs. Romano and Schneider take on different roles tonight as the leads in Classic and Contemporary American Plays’ staged reading of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” Actress Bonnie Franklin of television’s “One Day At a Time” founded the nonprofit that introduces public school children to theatrical classics. She also performs this time, with ex-co-star Pat Harrington. Proceeds from their public performances tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday make the school performances possible, so do your part.
7:30 p.m. $10-$25. John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673.


More “Kumbaya” good times this afternoon. Los Angeles Jewish Symphony in partnership with the Nimoy Concert Series has created “A Patchwork of Cultures: Exploring the Sephardic-Latino Connection.” The program for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade Jewish Day School and LAUSD public school kids teaches them commonalities between Sephardic Jews and Latinos. It culminates in a free concert today for the kids as well as the general public.
Noon. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (310) 478-6332.


Be schooled by a master today as UCLA Live! presents Art Spiegelman in “Comix 101.” Described as “a visual exploration of the history of comics, from Hogarth to R. Crumb,” the evening also promises a discussion of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book writer’s Sept. 11-inspired work, “In the Shadow of No Towers.”
8 p.m. $25-$35. Royce Hall, UCLA Campus. (310) 825-2101.


And yet more intercultural exploration today, as Cal State L.A. presents the 22nd annual David L. Kubal Memorial Lecture, featuring National Poetry Prize-winner Estela Alicia Lopez Lomas of Mexico. The poet reads from her collection titled “El Fuego Tras el Espejo,” (“The Blaze Behind the Mirror”), about the Holocaust — a surprising choice for someone with no personal ties to the subject matter. English translation will also be provided, and a discussion follows.
6:30-8:30 p.m. California State University, Los Angeles. (323) 343-4289.


The Yiddishe weekend begins tonight. California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language presents performer and founder of Vilnius Yiddish Institute Mendy Cahan and television’s Mayim Bialik (“Blossom”) in a program titled “The New World Welcomes the Old: A Celebration of Yiddish Vilna.” This evening, the “virtual journey to Yiddish Vilna” comes in the form of a Shabbos tish of Chasidic melodies, Yiddish songs and traditional storytelling. Similar stuff tomorrow night, but in a multimedia program.
Friday: free (students), $20 (general). Saturday: $8 (students), $26 (general). $40 (both nights, general). UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard, Westwood. (310) 745-1190.

Israeli History the Dershowitz Way

“The Case For Israel,” by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95).

Alan Dershowitz’s new book describes an Israel no Israeli would recognize, an impossibly virtuous country whose intentions are always pure, whose conduct is forever above reproach, and whose rare misdeeds can be explained away as accidental. Conversely, the Palestinian Arabs (and for that matter, all Arabs) are depicted as malevolent terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction; every one of their deeds is attributed to the basest of motives, every decision a result of unremitting hostility, trickery, foolishness, or a combination of all three. No reader of Israeli historical scholarship or journalism would recognize the simple tale of good and evil, of angels and devils, described in the pages of Dershowitz’s book.

Though equipped with the tools of historical scholarship (footnotes, primary and secondary textual documentation, etc.) and presenting itself as an exploration of the historical roots of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in pre-State Palestine and Israel, his book is not a serious work of scholarship on the enormously complex struggle of two national movements over the same small piece of land. Instead, it is the latest in a long tradition of hasbarah, propaganda, that is not unlike the material produced by the Israeli Office of Hasbarah in years past, or pamphlets issues today by various pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.

In seeking to “make the case for Israel,” Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard and prominent defense attorney, has abandoned any pretense of balance, nuance or objectivity, all of which are guiding values for professional historians. That he is more interested in a one-sided polemic than a sober historical exploration is evident in the title of the book (would anyone interested in the political history of the United States rely on a book titled “The Case for America?”). It is also evident in its structure — each chapter title is framed as a question (Did Israel Start the Six-Day War? Were the Jews Unwilling to Share Palestine?) whose answer is predetermined from the outset, and then divided into sections on “the accusation,” “the accusers,” “the reality” and “the proof.”

Dershowitz is not to be criticized for writing a polemic, for that is what he set out to do, and he presents his case with passion. But the question is: Is such an approach helpful at this critical time?

Most important, it is evident in the book’s many factual errors, misinterpretations of evidence and selective quotations. To take but one example: Dershowitz resurrects the old, discredited canard that the Arabs themselves are primarily responsible for the departure of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during and immediately after the 1947-1948 war, and therefore bear most of the blame for the creation of the refugee problem. To bolster his case, he quotes the prominent Israeli historian and author Benny Morris: “In some areas, Arab commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate, to clear the ground for military purposes or to prevent military surrender.”

Dershowitz also uses evidence from Morris to argue that the Arab leaders of Haifa encouraged their community to leave. What emerges from Dershowitz’s selective use of Morris’ book is an account of the refugee problem that places responsibility for the problem squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians themselves.

However, Dershowitz neglects to mention Morris’ conclusion, based on detailed research and stated quite clearly in several of his books (including those cited by Dershowitz), that the majority of Palestinian refugees were in some cases expelled by Jewish forces and in others fled out of fear of expulsion or massacre by those forces. On the very same pages Dershowitz cites to make his argument for Palestinian culpability, Morris writes the following:

“During the second stage, while there was clearly no policy of expulsion, the Haganah’s Plan D clearly resulted in mass flight. Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of villages and certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up with a Jewish State with as small an Arab minority as possible. Some generals, such as [Yigal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such a goal…. Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain in the Jewish State. But there was still no systematic expulsion policy…. Yet Israeli troops … were far more inclined to expel Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In Operation Yoav, Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities along his lines of advance.”

Clearly, Morris’ argument is considerably more complicated and morally ambiguous than the simplistic version Dershowitz presents. The latter has violated a cardinal rule of historical scholarship: an author is responsible for weighing all evidence at his or her disposal before making a conclusion, even if some of that evidence contradicts one’s own argument or bias.

I suspect that Dershowitz will not be troubled by objections raised by scholars. His account of Israeli saints and Palestinian villains is not aimed at historians or academic specialists. It is also not intended for Israelis, for whom firsthand experience of their country provides a degree of skepticism and nuanced understanding utterly lacking in the book. Rather, it is aimed at American Jews who are deeply attached to Israel and seek intellectual ammunition and moral reassurance at a time of crisis. Given the brutal terrorist attacks on buses, in restaurants and cafes, an economy on the brink of collapse, fierce and unrelenting criticism of the country and an unmistakable increase in anti-Semitism throughout much of the world, it is perfectly understandable to seek solace and solidarity in Dershowitz’s impassioned plea on behalf of the Jewish State. And yet, despite the many problems confronting Israel, the author’s embrace of simplistic, black-and-white explanations should be resisted. It may be noble to raise a stirring defense of Israel, but not under the guise of serious scholarship. Like a long marriage in which each partner comes to know and love the other for who they really are, warts and all, concern for Israel should be based on an honest, balanced assessment of the country’s strengths and weaknesses, achievements as well as shortcomings. To their great credit, Israeli scholars, journalists and intellectuals have been providing such assessments to their fellow citizens for at least two decades. It is unfortunate that professor Dershowitz has sought refuge in the soothing pieties of a previous era.

Alan Dershowitz will speak on Oct. 22 at the Nessah Educational Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. $15-50. 5:30 p.m. (reception), 7 p.m. (discussion). For tickets, call (310) 246-7200.

Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Keys to the ‘Kingdom’

"The ideals that form the moral compass of Western civilization, the belief that every human being has value, the belief that no one is above the law, the belief that how each of us treats our fellow human beings matters — these were all the gifts of the Jews."

So declares Carl Byker, producer-director of "Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites," who has devoted four film hours to trace how a tiny, insignificant tribe exerted such an enormous impact on the history and moral outlook of the rest of the world.

"Kingdom of David" is an ambitious undertaking. It combines a history of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. to the Roman conquest of the first century C.E., together with a parallel track on the evolution of the Jewish religion and of its written and oral law.

The film balances drama with instruction by using actors to recreate the daily life and bloody battles of half a millennium, alternating with the commentary of noted scholars.

And bloody battles they were — by and against a succession of conquerors, from the Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians to the Greeks and Romans. The slaughter, often triggered by desperate Jewish revolts, left the Jews again and again at the edge of extinction, only to recreate themselves and rise again.

To its credit, the miniseries presents both the traditional biblical version of Jewish history, counterpointed by the findings of archaeologists and modern scholarship.

The latter proposes, for instance, that instead of the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were natives of the land of Canaan, and lower-class natives at that. One scholar observes that by conceiving stories to define their identity, "It is as if the stories created the people, rather than the other way around."

Local scholars are prominent among the commentators, including Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Perry Netter and David Wolpe, author Jonathan Kirsch and professor Ziony Zevit.

Among the narrators are Keith David and actors Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Rene Auberjonois and F. Murray Abraham.

"Kingdom of David" may not represent the very deepest interpretation and analysis, but it is an accessible and lively survey of the genesis of our heritage.

The two-part miniseries will air at 9 p.m. on May 14 and 21 on KCET.

Jewish Studies Popular With Non-Jews Around the World

Contrary to widespread fears of a rising global wave of anti-Semitism, "we, as Jews, have many more friends than we think we have," said professor Lawrence H. Schiffman, president of the Association of Jewish Studies, which recently held its 34th annual meeting in Los Angeles.

The Dec. 15-17 conference attested to the growth of Jewish studies on university campuses in the United States and around the world, with an increasing number of non-Jews joining the ranks of scholars and students.

In Europe, as in China, there is "the phenomenon of Jewish studies without Jews," said Schiffman, a man of rabbinical mien with a kippah and full black beard, who chairs the Skirball department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. Newly discovered Jewish archives are energizing research in the former Soviet Union, and some excellent scholarly work is coming out of German universities, he said.

Jewish studies in the United States really took off after the Six-Day War in 1967, a time that also brought a new awareness "of the centrality of Jews in the general culture," Schiffman said.

"Jewish studies are no longer a sideshow, but are now a respected part of the academic mainstream," said the NYU professor, whose own specialty is the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Current anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian agitation at U.S. colleges has not affected the popularity of Jewish studies but does indicate a need for more emphasis on Israel in the curriculum, Schiffman said.

One practical yardstick of an academic program’s viability is the number of jobs open to rising young doctoral graduates. At the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS) meeting, which also serves as a job fair, 50 openings at various universities were advertised.

"There is neither a glut nor a drought" in the supply line, Schiffman observed.

The AJS membership stands at 2,000 professors, librarians, archivists and graduate students, with Israelis representing about 20 percent of the number. There is also a scattering of European and Latin American members. The Los Angeles meeting drew nearly 800 participants.

Early Jewish studies centers — the one at NYU started in the 1930s — tended to concentrate on classical biblical and religious studies. For a while, in the second part of the last century, it appeared that preoccupation with the Holocaust might preempt the whole field, but a balance has now been achieved, according to Schiffman.

A recent trend points to the popularity of cultural and gender studies, and papers presented at the AJS meeting analyzed Jewish Hollywood and included such topics as "Food, Gender, Sex in Jewish Identity."

There is a growing interest in historical and political issues at Israeli institutions. Israel also hosts the triennial meeting of the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Another trend at U.S. universities is to cross the traditional boundaries of academic disciplines in so-called area studies. For instance, in Middle East studies, historians, economists, linguists, political scientists and sociologists will integrate their special perspectives in analyzing the geographic region.

Schiffman believes that the early Jewish studies centers not only proved that intellectual objectivity is possible in ethnic studies, but served as models for Black, Chicano and Asian centers. On the other hand, he credits the civil rights movement of the 1960s with providing "a greater comfort level with ethnicity" for all minorities, including Jews.

In addition, all such centers help disprove the concept of the American melting pot. "There are some things you can’t melt down," he said.

Schiffman has written eight books and has edited many others, but lately, has found himself much in demand as a television expert and commentator on Jewish topics.

It’s an awesome feeling, he said, "to know that some 18 million people are listening to your remarks on the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Second Temple period."

Much Moola for New Look at YULA

For Rabbi Marvin Hier, the new $12.6 million YULA (Yeshiva University of Los Angeles) boys’ school building gives him both a feeling of pride and a twinge of envy.

"This is a dream come true, but I am also absolutely envious that they can have a building like this," said the dean of both YULA and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "When I went to yeshiva high school and elementary school, we never had first-class science labs like this, or a building like this. This is really a dream."

Hier founded YULA in 1977 as a modern Orthodox yeshiva high school that had the dual goals of producing Torah scholars and college-prepared high school students. The school has two separate divisions — boys and girls — and today, there are about 170 students in each. The boys’ school is famous in the yeshiva world for its athletics. "The basketball team is notoriously good," said Michah Danziger, 15, a YULA 11th-grader. "And the track team is not bad either."

"We win all the championships," Hier said.

Although most YULA students come from modern Orthodox homes — in fact, religious observance is a condition of acceptance into YULA — the school’s Jewish studies staff tends to come from the ultra-Orthodox sector of the community. "Most of the teachers are more to the right than the students are, but I assume that in any school the teachers are more religious," said Rabbi Osher Klein, a rebbe at YULA. "In every school the staff has got to be on a higher [religious] standard than the students."

Klein also noted that YULA students graduate with a strong communal identity. "The overwhelming majority go on to Israel to learn in yeshiva," he said. "Even in the high school, all the leaders in the NCSY [National Council of Synagogue Youth] are from YULA, and the students play an important [role] in Etta Israel and B’nai Akiva."

The new boys’ school building comes at the end of an erratic campus history. The school started in two wings of the then-Simon Wiesenthal Center building, but quickly outgrew the space and took over the Rambam school building, which was located on the current YULA property. "It was a horrible facility for a high school," Hier said. "It was never meant to be a high school, and the kids were studying in trailers."

Last year, the students moved to a building across the street from the Wiesenthal Center, while the new building was being built. Three weeks ago, YULA students returned from their summer vacations to go to school in the new building.

"People would always say the Wiesenthal Center looks so nice, but look at the old yeshiva building — they are in trailers," Hier said. "Finally, we are able to say that the yeshiva doesn’t have to be embarrassed in front of the Wiesenthal Center."

The building is a state-of-the-art, 44,000-square-foot, three-story structure, with two science labs, lecture halls and classrooms equipped with televisions that are hooked up to computers so teachers can broadcast their notes.

A key feature of the building is the beit midrash (house of study), furnished with imported chairs and tables from Kibbutz Lavi in Israel. The beit midrash has 24-hour security and is open to people who want to learn Torah after hours. It has a library stocked with 4,500 new sefarim (Jewish books), and on Shabbat, the room is used as a synagogue.

In addition, there is another beit midrash in the school, which was built so that Sephardic students would be able to express their culture. On Shabbat, that beit midrash will be used for a beginners’ synagogue service.

But providing this level of facilities does not come cheap. YULA’s school fees are in excess of $15,000 a year.

"The fees are expensive, but it is only because there is no choice today," Hier said. "I am not blaming anyone, but we don’t receive outside [governmental] support. But we also give out a lot of scholarships — we give over $1 million of scholarships a year."

The next stage in YULA’s expansion plans is to build a $2.2 million, 10,000-square-foot gymnasium, and then in February, construction begins on the new girls’ school building. "We want kids to be able to learn in an atmosphere they find pleasing," Hier said.

Community Scholar

Driven by a personal desire for intellectual growth, Arie Katz set out last year to attract to Orange County the sort of eminent Jewish scholars that few synagogues can afford to woo on their own.

With little more than his own chutzpah and considerable networking skills, the Newport Beach attorney won support and financial backing from the area’s most influential Jewish agencies to establish a community scholar-in-residence program. Its first event, at 7 p.m. Jan. 28, will kick off at the Jewish Federation Campus in Costa Mesa with the arrival of Avigdor Shinan, an Israeli professor and author.

During a monthlong U.S. stay, Shinan, 55, agreed to a jam-packed schedule of lectures, Shabbat events and study series at a range of interdenominational synagogues, four campuses, an educators retreat and a working weekend in Seattle. An engaging speaker and author of six books, Shinan is a specialist in rabbinical literature and has served as a guest lecturer at Yale University and New York’s Yeshiva University. He is currently a professor of Hebrew literature at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and is the immediate past chair of the department.

In an e-mail interview, Shinan told The Journal he agreed to the demanding schedule, although he conceded the visit will contribute little to his own career. "What is being a teacher if not standing before anyone who is ready to listen and try and bring into their life something new?"

Most of the lectures, with titles such as "Folk Stories in the Talmud and Midrash," are from material Shinan developed for previous presentations at established community scholar programs in Washington, D.C., and Houston, Tex.

If the pilot program’s intent is giving adults affordable access to high-level learning, it also reveals that the county’s Jewry is capable of organizing across denominations and institutional boundaries. "The Federation felt it was very important to create a communitywide education concept," said Bunnie Mauldin, executive director of the agency, which contributed $10,000 toward the program’s $25,000 cost.

"It’s one of the few co-sponsored events that builds community," added Julie Rubin, assistant executive director of the county’s Jewish Community Center (JCC). "It’s a model for Jewish programs in our community."

Only one major synagogue is not participating in the community-scholar program. Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm has its "university," a five-part lecture series that on its own can afford to attract celebrated speakers. "I have speakers from Hebrew University all the time," explained Rabbi Mark S. Miller. "We ask our people to come to so much; we risk overload. I would wonder where to fit it in."

Though most local synagogues offer their members cultural and theological enrichment by scheduling visits by guest lecturers, a community scholar program’s duration can create a different opportunity. "My hope is it will whet people’s appetite for more, teaching adults that Jewish learning is a lifelong endeavor," said Rabbi Elie Spitz of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue of 480 families that is sponsoring Shinan’s talk on "Moses and His Two Wives." "The depth of learning that creates personal transformation only comes through consistency," Spitz said.

While the region’s Jewish population of about 60,000 is successfully supporting the physical expansion of new schools and new shuls and providing learning opportunities for youth, the area lacks resources for adults that are available in larger cities. In fact, the void here is reflected in most American Jewish communities, which place less cultural emphasis on adult learning than communities in Europe and Israel, Spitz says.

Some residents resort to unusual steps to fill that vacuum. Take Linda S. Seidman. Before returning to full-time work, the Irvine aerospace engineer would schlep to Los Angeles to satisfy her interest in serious scholarship from a nontraditional, feminist perspective. That luxury ended when she resumed design work on a global positioning satellite for Boeing in Huntington Beach. Seidman’s solution was to hire her own professor, underwriting for a year weekly classes studying how Judaism perceives women. It is attended by a dozen other students and offered through the county’s Bureau of Jewish Education. "We’ve gotten stuck in the first two chapters of Genesis and haven’t come up yet," Seidman said. "I’d rather dig deeper than go broader."

Seidman, though, is an exception. Most Jewish adults effectively end their Jewish education after their confirmation. "What I think is missing is not big-name speakers but sustained education," explained Joan Kaye, director of the county’s Bureau of Jewish Education, which is sponsoring two multipart Shinan courses. "The problem with adult Jews, is they leave Hebrew school after the seventh grade; they have a 12-year-old’s vision of the world."

Demand for adult education has increased over the last 15 years, Kaye says, growing out of family-oriented programs in day schools and synagogues. "What family education has started to do is give people a taste of Jewish learning," she said.

Many communities offer nondegreed, adult education courses based on curriculum developed by the rabbinical training schools. These include the Melton curriculum, developed by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, training ground for rabbis of the Conservative movement, and the Me’ah Program, developed jointly in 1994 by the Committee of Jewish Continuity and Hebrew College, the Reform movement’s rabbinical school.

Avoiding denominational barriers and potentially drawing people out of hidebound routines is a clear benefit of a secular community scholar program. "Synagogues have their own agenda and bring a scholar that’s consistent with their religious orientation," pointed out Marilyn Hassid, program director for Houston’s JCC, which has hosted scholars in residence since 1985.

"People live for this," said Hassid, estimating that the Houston program cumulatively reaches about 4,000 people annually. That includes a cadre of 40 scholar groupies, who often attend every lecture by following the scholar’s itinerary. One consequence, she said, "is there’s a desire to continue learning after the scholar leaves."

The inspiration for Orange County’s community scholar program came from a weekend retreat that Katz attended last February through his synagogue, B’nai Israel. Noam Zion, a visiting scholar and master teacher infused the study of the familiar biblical story about Cain and Abel with relevancy about contemporary family relationships. "We did an intense text study that made people excited to learn," recalled Katz, 34, a corporate attorney who relocated with his family from Boston four years ago. "It was interesting and motivating."

After learning of the Houston and Washington scholar-in-residence programs from Zion, Katz set out to replicate their success by first seeking advice from two other synagogue members. "To me, it’s a very significant event in the development and growth of the community," said Mike Lefkowitz, who suggested Katz rely on the JCC for organizational strength.

"If it’s successful, it will perpetuate itself," added Dr. Harold Kravitz, a retired Costa Mesa family practitioner, who made federation introductions for Katz.

"No other institution offered this," Katz said. "We didn’t find it, so we created it." For seed money, he and 19 friends chipped in. Synagogues are paying fees beginning at $500 per session, which will help underwrite succeeding year’s events.

Even before getting underway, the scholar program is generating unexpected benefits, such as a co-presentation planned with the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation of celebrated Israeli author A.B. Yehoshova next month.

Clearly an optimist, Katz is already securing bookings for February 2003.

Is There Truth in Archaeology?

Pack up your Passover dishes for good. The Exodus, according to some modern university scholars and liberal rabbis, never really happened. That’s what the Los Angeles Times told us in great detail last week in a long article published at the end of the holiday. But the piece, while raising some important questions, skirts some of the most fundamental issues.

Archaeology is like no other science. It is far from exact. It is nothing more than a viewfinder to the past, and one of very limited scope.

Just a few years ago, the same archaeologists that doubt the Exodus told us that King David never lived. This theory was deflated when an inscription about King David was discovered in Israel. Israel’s famed archaeologist Yigal Yadin writes that before the discovery of the letters of Bar Kokva, King David was no more than a myth. He became undeniable to modern scholars after that great discovery. Nor will many of these archaeologists come up with a good answer about the massive stone structure near Nablus that some scholars feel is the altar that Joshua built after entering the Land of Israel.

Most modern archaeologists are products of a secular education. They have little appreciation for the spiritual roots of Jewish life. Their lifestyle and education produce a mindset that creates a perspective predisposed against any proof of the Exodus. Only when they have absolutely no alternative will they acquiesce that something in the Torah may be true.

Part of the ancient Ipuwer Papyrus, discovered in Egypt and stored in Leiden, Holland, seems to validate the Torah’s account in describing the plagues that descended on Egypt. The style was poetic, but the events, such as the river being full of blood, the pestilence, and the death of the firstborn, are explained in detail. The Turin Royal Canon Papyrus tells us about the Egyptian pharaoh who ruled some 94 years, from the age of 6 to 100. What the archaeologists do not know is that there is a midrash, the "Sefer Hayashar," and ancient rabbinic texts that tell about a pharaoh who enslaved the Jews and lived 94 years. Most archaeologists are little-schooled in classic Jewish learning and have no broad understanding of Torah.

Confronted with this evidence, most archaeologists claim that these accounts do not really mean the Exodus. Exactly what they mean, they don’t know.

The story of the Exodus is the foundation of Judaism. The birth of a nation in a miraculous way is the basis of our identity. And if we were nothing but a few tribes wandering in the desert who were a bit more sophisticated than the next group and developed a set of principles, we have emasculated Judaism of its spiritual core. Beyond archaeology, we have another proof that has stood the test of time.

The Khazars, a nation in Southern Russia, decided to find a monotheistic religion 1,300 years ago. They invited representatives of Jews, Christians and Moslems to present their beliefs. In the end, they converted en masse to Judaism and had an independent Jewish state for some two centuries.

The great Spanish sage Rabbi Yehuda Halevi documents the conversation between himself and the King of the Khazars. When asked about the truth of the Torah and the Exodus, the rabbi answered, "We know it because our parents told us."

This simple statement underlines the principle of historic transmission from one generation to another. Each family enshrines that transmission of its history at the Passover Seder table.

Rabbi Wolpe’s quest is riddled with land mines. His acceptance of the theories of archaeologists without questioning their secular agenda is dangerous. This undermines the most important principle of Jewish nationhood and belief and creates a more important question. If the Exodus is a lie, then the rest of Torah must also be. And if the Jews did not leave Egypt in a miraculous fashion, then why observe the holiday at all?

Here lies the dilemma for liberal Jewish leaders. They fail to understand that many young people find little interest in a brand of Judaism that rejects the core beliefs of Jewish tradition. They ask themselves, "If the Torah was not divinely given, why keep it?" And as Wolpe, however well-intentioned his quest, pushes this agenda, inspired by a vague science taught by so-called "scholars" with little appreciation for Torah, he sends a message to the next generation that Torah was a nice group of man-made ideas. If we were nothing but a group of people who formed a human value system, maybe the time has come to find a better one. For if the Torah has no special spiritual significance, then why be Jewish?

Simply put, if the event was not miraculous, why give up bagels for a week?

Torah Makes Dangerous Trek

A group of female Jewish scholars recently danced joyously with a 200-year-old Iraqi tradition — a Torah once held prisoner by Saddam Hussein.

“Here ye! Here ye! Here comes the Sefer Torah!” the women of the Drisha Institute exclaimed at the arrival of the Torah, which had made a difficult journey from Iraq to the United States by way of Jordan and Israel.

“Without a doubt, I am sure that the people who started with this Torah could not imagine that its home would be a women’s study group,” said Nina Bruder, executive director of Drisha, a Jewish women’s study program.

Drisha’s Torah, with its combination of flat mulberry juice ink and raised lettering indicates that it is 200 years old and was abandoned in a Baghdad synagogue with many other Torah scrolls during the exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel in 1948.

There the Torahs remained, collecting desert dust until Hussein stockpiled and hid them not long before the start of the Persian Gulf War.

But in 1991, the Torah was rescued, along with 34 others. After stealing the Torahs from Hussein’s stockpile, an Iraqi Muslim stuffed them into the tires of Jordan-bound trucks and from there the sacred texts were transferred into Israeli hands.

Iraqi authorities caught the man and severely beat him.

“It’s a remarkable story,” said Blu Greenberg, whose son helped repair one of the smuggled Torahs a year ago.

It was during this time that Greenberg was chosen as Drisha’s guest of honor at its 20th dinner anniversary. Greenberg, an Orthodox feminist author and activist, is a “great admirer” of Drisha.

Feeling shy about being in the spotlight, she half-jokingly told Drisha, “If you get me off the hook” as a dinner speaker, “I’ll try to get a Sefer Torah for you.”

Greenberg wasn’t relieved from her speaking engagement, but after several discussions with her son and family, they decided to present the Torah to Drisha as a gift.

They dedicated the scroll to Greenberg’s father, Rabbi Sam Genauer, who is remembered for his hour-long Torah study before work each day. His granddaughter, Lisa Scholtz, currently studies at Drisha in part because of his influence.

“It’s a full-size Torah. Everyone was worried that it would be too heavy to lift,” said Bruder, who explained that the women were instructed in how to handle the unusually large Torah prior to its arrival.

Drisha is the first women’s study group in America to have its own Torah. Only two such groups in Israel have their own Torahs.

An unknown number of Torahs still remain in Hussein’s possession.

Sinai Temple Opens Center for Judaic Studies

With a faculty of noted scholars, Sinai Temple has adapted an “adult education” program with an eclectic curriculum that is carefully designed to satisfy a wide range of interests, from serious courses in Jewish spirituality, and discussions of the Jew’s role in Society to special classes in Jewish rituals, and interactive sessions for improving synagogue skills, Hebrew reading and lessons in cantillation. Two seminars are scheduled: from October through January andFebruary through May.

Monday evening and Sunday morning classes are planned. The faculty includes: Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, vice president and dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinics at the University of Judaism, Rabbi Ron Shulman of Congregation Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, Rabbi Mordecai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah in West Los Angeles, and Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, Associate Professor of Social Work at USC.

“Lunch and Learn” series and other classes are scheduled for those who prefer daytime attendance.

All classes, and lectures require pre-registration and advance payment of fees for each semester. Space is limited. A course outline is available in the Sinai Temple office at 10400 Wilshire Blvd.

For complete details on topics, times and fees, please call The Program Center at (310) 474-1518.

Reform Synagogue Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Temple Beth David, the San Gabriel Valley’s oldest Reform Jewish congregation, begins Golden Anniversary celebrations on Friday, October 17, at a Sabbath service in its sanctuary at 9677 E. Longden Ave., Temple City, at 7:30 p.m.

Speakers include Rabbi Edward Zerin of Westlake Village, the congregation’s first spiritual leader, some of the temple’s original founders and other distinguished members.

Attending dignitaries include Mayor Chuck Souder of Temple City; Phil Liff-Grieff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys; and Rabbi Alice Dubinsky of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), who will make a presentation.

Following the service, hundreds of members, past and present, will attend a reception, where historical photos and artifacts will be displayed. Weekend events include a Saturday night dinner dance at the Brookside Country Club in Pasadena, and a commemorative planting by religious school children on Sunday.

Temple Beth David was founded in 1947, joined the UAHC in 1948, and moved to its current site in 1952. After arson destroyed the temple’s sanctuary in 1980, the San Gabriel Valley community helped congregants rebuild.

“Our community affirmed the positive values that so many people share,” said Temple Beth David’s Rabbi Alan Lachtman. “The outpouring of love helped us recover from the hateful crime.”

The Temple has launched a new long-term strategic planning initiative that includes a $275,000 facility refurbishment campaign between now and September 1998.

“Our founders demonstrated strength and vision in creating the spiritual home we cherish today,” said President Linda Speil. “Now, we are reaffirming our own commitment and creating the foundations for the next 50 years.”

Temple Beth David is a congregation of more than 200 Reform Jewish families. It has an active Sisterhood and Men’s Club, a number of “havurah” (friendship clubs), and one of the San Gabriel Valley’s fastest-growing religious schools. It has been recognized by the Union Station Foundation and the Friends In Deed Food Bank of Pasadena for its community outreach programs.

For information about the temple or anniversary events, call (626) 287-9994.

Cover Story: Grandparenting

Left, Flora and Vernon Stroud with two of their fivegrandchildren, Laura and Jonathan, in 1991.

The Family Melting Pot

By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer

Three generations of Grahams.


Is there such a thing as a “typical” Jewishgrandparent in America? When I thought about this impossibly broadquestion, I turned to my own extended family for examples. Were theytypical? Stereotypical?

To me, they seemed different from all others in certain respects,but also universal. They included “types” that we all think we know:Eastern European and German immigrants; Holocaust refugees; those whogrew up in poverty and pulled themselves up; those who grew up withwealth and privilege and left much of it behind; fiery Zionists;Jewish scholars, skeptics and seekers; those for whom Jewishtraditions and rituals are important; and those for whom tradition isirrelevant and uncomfortable.

Like all families, mine has its share of meshugas, anddisagreements, as well as celebration. And, like all families, wehave our secrets. But there are many stories that can be told aboutthe Graham (Granowsky) and Stroud (Straus) households. The cast ofcharacters includes Oma, Grandpa Jerry, Grandpa Vernon, Grandma Judyand my 11-year-old son, Sam.


I have an idealized memory of my father’s mother, Edith Straus,who we called Oma. A large German-speaking woman, she worecustom-made, flowered-print dresses, often in blue to match her eyes.The kitchen of her Berkeley home was filled with smells of cookingmeats and potatoes. Food, to Oma, was the solution to almost everyproblem. According to one often-told tale, her response upon learningthat one of her grandchildren had plowed into a police vehicle withher car was, “Poor boy! You must be hungry.”

Oma was the only grandparent I really ever knew, since Opa diedwhen I was 1, and my mother’s mother, a Lithuanian immigrant inGlasgow, Scotland, was too far away. My mother’s father died before Iwas born.

Oma and her husband, Frederich “Fritz” Straus, had fled NaziGermany in late 1938, leaving behind many possessions and mygrandfather’s banking business in Karlsruhe, a southern German citynear the Black Forest. The family — Oma and Opa and five children –settled in Berkeley because they had some contacts there.

The Granowsky Disposition

My husband’s grandfather, Dave Granowsky, came to the UnitedStates from Russia in the early 1900s and became a successfulscrap-metal dealer in Indianapolis, first with his father and thenwith his brother. We have a videotape of Grandpa Dave in his mid-80s,shortly before he died, ambling slowly about a grocery store,squeezing lettuce and searching for bargains, and advising hisgreat-grandson Sam not to eat as much candy as the boy’s dad did lesthis teeth would rot. Dave was a joker, a testament to the “GranowskyDisposition” — a term coined by his sister Sophie.

Example: Whenever his grandchildren would get out of the pool,he’d say, like clockwork, “You didn’t get the water wet, did you?”

Dave and his wife, Lillian, had three sons; the youngest, JerryGraham, my husband’s father, became a television and radiobroadcaster and author. Now 63, he has two grown sons, threegrandchildren and a 6-year-old daughter, Lillian, from his secondmarriage, to Catherine, a writer and aerobics instructor.

Semi-retired and living in Northern California, he is making upfor his devotion to his career the first time around by volunteeringin his daughter’s classroom, watching Nickelodeon with her and being”hands-on” with his grandchildren. But because of geographicalseparation, he sees them only a few times a year.

“Grandparenting is an occasional thing, stress-free,” said GrandpaJerry recently. “It’s like playtime, while being a parent isfull-time and something overwhelming. Being a grandparent at adistance can be difficult, but it is a fact of modern life.

“It’s very hard to find situations like the movies and TV imagesof old Gramps taking the kids fishing or, as in the “BerensteinBears” (children’s books), where the kids always run over to Gramp’sand Gran’s house. I don’t think that happens very much any more.”

Grandpa Vernon

With five grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 27, my father,who changed his name from Werner Straus to Vernon Stroud during WorldWar II, and mother, Flora, have a relationship to Sam that’s quitedifferent from the other grandparents. The Grahams are looser andmore relaxed, while the Strouds, foreign-born and almost a generationolder, are more traditional and formal.

Jonathan, the 26-year-old son of my oldest brother, David,remembers that he had difficulty relating to his paternalgrandparents when he was younger. But, now, he thinks he understandsthem better.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t identify with them, but I’velearned to respect what they went through. I want to know all aboutthem,” he said. Especially Vernon’s deep knowledge of Judaism andtheir celebration of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. “I feel moststrongly Jewish when I visit my grandparents. It’s the ceremonies. Ithink they kind of epitomize what it means to be Jewish.”

Grandma Judy

Jaws drop when my son introduces his Grandma Judy. Slender, prettyand stylish at age 60, the Hollywood-based knitwear designer forfilms, television and retail looks about the age of her bearded49-year-old companion of 20 years — artist and photographer MichaelAnsell.

Judy Rammelsberg had married her Indianapolis high schoolsweetheart, Jerry Graham, when she was 18, had two children by thetime she was 21, and became a grandmother for the first time at age49. She and Jerry divorced in the 1970s.

Judy makes a point of not letting a week go by without seeing Sam,her first grandchild. He has been visiting her rustic hilltop homesince birth, winding yarn, doing crafts projects with his grandma, orhelping Mike build a darkroom and develop photos. Lately, they’vebeen haunting flea markets, driving hard bargains for old cameras.

“Being a grandma was real easy for me, and I love it,” said Judy.”I feel like Sam is my best friend. I would rather be with him thanmost of the adults I know.”

As for her other grandchildren, Janna and Jared Graham, who livein Atlanta, Judy visits them once or twice a year and talks to themweekly on the phone and via e-mail.

“I feel sad that I can’t be more a part of their lives, but theminute I see them, I feel as if no time has passed,” she said.