November 15, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Rabbi’s History Lesson, Privilege, College Students and Thanksgiving Haggadah

Rabbi’s History Lesson Misses the Mark

Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem comes to a living room in Bel Air to make sure we know how to judge the Israelis in their fight for … survival? (“Hartman Examines How the Six-Day War Forever Changed Jews and Judaism,” Nov. 3.)

No, not so! He is helping us judge an Israel which arrogantly and accidentally won yet another war with a people who seem not to tire of the attempt to make the area “Judenrein,” helping finish Hitler’s work.

According to Hartman, Israel’s sin was in winning the ’67 war and inheriting a bunch of people no one else seems to want, in an area which no one seemed to have wanted.

The 800,000 Jews kicked out of their Arab countries were absorbed into Israel. The 800,000 Arabs who fled the area have not been able to do the same, unfortunately, and Hartman blithely blames the Jews and hangs their well-being on Israel — somehow forgetting he is now talking about hanging the welfare on the almost 5 million enemy combatants they have become. Yes, we have been forced to occupy an unwanted people, even if naysayers think we are somehow occupying our land.

Rightly so, he contends that Israel could be “an inspiration” to the world. How? By giving up the power to defend against the enemy, saying that power, to be able to defend one’s self, “undermines one’s civility.”

I have worked in the wards of many mental institutions, and there have been many conversations that made little sense in the rational world. Hartman’s convoluted logic stands up there with the best.

To Hartman, in his own words, Israel’s survival, in the face of the Arab onslaughts, has been a major contributor to worldwide anti-Semitism.

So good for you, Rabbi Hartman, and to your hosts, Debbie and Naty Saidoff — and to the Journal for giving any and every crazy idea a forum to spread narrishkayt. Those of us who are genuinely inspired by what Israel has accomplished in the face of such huge adversity will try to hope that people like you will never make sense to those “shomrei Yisrael,” the brave guardians of Israel and the Jewish people.

Steve Klein via email

‘Privilege’ and What It Means at UCLA

Gabriella Kamran learned how to spell “privilege” at UCLA; would that she had learned what it means to be a Jew at my alma mater (“Are Jewish College Students Privileged?” Nov. 17). She approvingly quotes current UCLA student leader Rafael Sands and his reasons for not attending this year’s AIPAC conference, to wit: “Inviting Donald Trump and Mike Pence to speak at AIPAC represented American Jewish complicity in the administration’s ban on Muslim immigration, animosity toward undocumented people and hostility to reproductive choice.” Sands condemns American Jews with one broad swipe and at the same time rejects the idea of listening to a speaker with views different than his own. One wonders if he was on the UCLA student council when it voted to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel.

Louis H. Nevell, Los Angeles, UCLA ’56

Being a baby boomer, I’m puzzled at the millennial obsession with ethnic or racial privilege, since we’re all products of our past. The civil rights movement has succeeded remarkably in leveling the playing field, but we’ll never be totally equal. People with two caring parents generally do better than those without, as do those who bathe regularly. Of course, as a group, whites are privileged, but many individual whites are not, and increasing numbers of Blacks and other ethnicities are.

Jews descend from a people who led the world in eliminating superstition, idol worship and human sacrifice. Our ancestors were the first to assert that all humans are meant to be free, and realized that this required morality, which they fostered in the Ten Commandments. Thus, our Israelite ancestors were the first to possess a conscience, and passed on this cherished gift by instituting Torah education.

Because they were attacked by one empire after another, and had to live among often hostile gentiles, only the most daring and resourceful survived. So is it any wonder many of us reflect these qualities today? Should we be ashamed of this? Of course not.

Young Jews should support others, but not at the price of abandoning Israel, which is the covenant basis for the belief system that makes us who we are.  They must insist that Israel has every right to exist; her rebirth is indeed a miracle. The reason there isn’t peace is because Palestinian leadership rejected statehood and peace in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008, and it is they who must change.

Young Jews must decry condemnation of Zionism and reclaim its glory. If Students for Justice in Palestine, Black Lives Matter, liberal professors and other “progressives” reject this, Jews must reject them. Jews will never gain respect by abandoning Israel or betraying our heritage. We command respect when we take pride in who we are and stand tall knowing where we come from. If that’s “privilege,” so be it.

Rueben Gordon via email

College Students Are Too Coddled

It was refreshing to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column (“The Privilege of Gratitude,” Nov. 24) about the victimization culture toward which U.S. society has been evolving. A notable example is so-called “safe spaces” on college campuses. U.S. college students rank among the most mollycoddled and fortunate people on Earth, yet now they need safe spaces to hide in? The billions of less fortunate people who must deal with real-life problems don’t have such spaces and neither will college students once they enter the real world.

Ben Zuckerman, Los Angeles

What’s the Matter With Our Public Discourse?

Reading Philippe Assouline’s analysis (“My Rant Against Conformity,” Nov. 24), I wonder what Teddy Roosevelt might think of our public discourse: “Radical Republicans posturing as conservatives and sniveling Democrats cowering behind political correctness!”

Denouncing those expressing opposing opinions are the new fascists in our land and anti-social media inflames their half-wit intolerance. As Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

David Taylor Johannesen, Boston


‘A Thanksgiving Meal Haggadah’

We are Catholic with many roots and family that are Jewish. This is beautiful!! Thank you! It is indeed good to give thanks to the Lord!

Mariely Madero de Gessler

Thanks so much for this! I love Thanksgiving but I’ve always wondered how it fits into Jewish life. I might just print this for reading at our Thanksgiving gathering this year!”

Josie Mintz

Fabulous commentary. I shall read at our Thanksgiving table.

Norman Wexler

Perfect for this Thanksgiving Day ’17: Thank you and be blessed.

Paul Magnuson

Things I didn’t know. Thank you.

Leslie Hunt

A Thanksgiving Meal Haggadah

Call it the November dilemma.

Every autumn, as we sit down to Thanksgiving meals, a lot of us find ourselves silently pondering the same question: What are we supposed to do?

As Jews, we have our holiday routines: Shabbat dinners with candles, Kiddush wine and ha-Motzi over the challah. On Rosh Hashanah, we have apples and honey. Pesach? There’s a whole manual to tell us when to dip, when to drink, even how we’re supposed to sit.

Then there’s Thanksgiving. We gather to eat — the same people, at the same table, with the same enticing aromas wafting in the kitchen. But we don’t have a script.

Sure, we feast on turkey, argue politics and watch football. But what about the ritual? What about the meaning?

That’s where this Thanksgiving Haggadah comes in. It’s our attempt to help you focus, at least for a few moments, on gratitude, a theme that’s both deeply American and deeply Jewish.

The Passover Haggadah has its four questions. To enhance your Thanksgiving, consider these four, each designed to inspire conversation, storytelling and reflection. Then ponder these four blessings, included to help you carry these ideas into your life.

We hope you’ll find a few minutes between the appetizers and the pumpkin pie to ask, answer, learn and share. And then, after dishes are cleared and the guests scattered again, carry the gratitude into the days and months ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Embodying Gratitude

When the Biblical Leah gave birth to her first child, she proclaimed, “This time I shall thank the Lord.” (Genesis 29:35) She named him Yehuda — Judah — Hebrew for “thankful.” To be Jewish means to be thankful. The Talmud teaches that a person should find reasons to say 100 blessings each day. When we exercise our hearts to appreciate, and train our eyes to take notice of the goodness all around, we invite in the blessings of wonderment, vitality and joy.

Discuss: How can you embody gratitude?

BLESSING: Giving Thanks

Some of Judasim’s oldest texts emphasize the centrality of gratitude: “Give thanks to God for God is good! God’s lovingkindness is eternal.” (Psalm 107:1)  “It is good to thank God and make music to Your name!” (Psalm 92:1). And traditionally, the first prayer we say every morning, Modeh Ani, expresses gratitude for the very act of waking up: “I gratefully thank You God, for You have restored my soul within me with compassion, abundant is Your faithfulness.”

Mending Divisions

It’s hard to imagine a time more divisive than the one we’re living in now. But President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, smack in the middle of the Civil War. Besides encouraging Americans to give thanks even amid difficult times, Lincoln also urged them to offer “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” In other words, he meant for Thanksgiving to be a day of both gratitude and repentance.

Discuss: What’s one thing you can do to mend our divided world?

BLESSING: Bringing Light

The idea that Jews are to be a “Light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6) shines through the words of Emma Lazurus: “I lift my torch beside the golden door,” and the lyrics of Irving Berlin: “God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with the light from above.” May we act in virtue and goodness to bring light to our homes, our communities and our nation. May God’s love ignite our resolve to bring the light of peace to the world.

In the words of the Torah’s priestly blessing:

“May God bless you and protect you.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God reach out to you in tenderness and grant you peace.”
(Numbers 6:23-27)


Welcoming Strangers

Thanksgiving and Sukkot are both autumn festivals that celebrate the bounty of the harvest. Both celebrate the courage of pilgrims escaping religious persecution and heading for a new land. Both are holidays of hospitality. On Sukkot, we welcome the ushpizin (“exalted guests”). On Thanksgiving, we recall the way the Wampanoag Native Americans welcomed the Puritans, feeding them and teaching them the skills they needed to survive.

Discuss: When have you welcomed a stranger — or been a welcomed stranger?

BLESSING: Opening the Door

Bruchim ha-baim, Blessed are you who have come here, exalted guests! Just as Abraham and Sarah welcomed angelic guests by preparing a meal with the choicest ingredients, we welcome one another with an abundance of food, warmth and love. As our sages teach, “Welcoming guests is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence.” (Talmud Shabbat 127a) and “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Genesis 33:10)

Mindful Awareness

“When you have eaten and are satisfied, give thanks to God.” (Deuteronomy 8:10) The word order in this verse is significant: We should eat, be satisfied and then offer blessing. We are often less inclined to pray — or acknowledge the source of what we have — when we are content, when our bellies and our lives are full. It is when we find ourselves hungry and in need that we more readily think to reach out in prayer.

Discuss: How can we be mindful even when we feel satisfied?

BLESSING: Marking the Moment

The Lakota people have a prayer thanking the mineral, plant, animal, human and spirit nations for sharing the sacred wheel of life. This day we are aware of the intricate weave of our lives and our connection to the changing seasons.

We Jews express gratitude to the God of Life who enables us to reach this beautiful day:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyemanu v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed be God, the Eternal Source of all life, for keeping us alive, for sustaining us, and for bringing us to this joyous season!