Getting It Right: Ben Hecht and Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook)
I applaud Rick Richman’s evocative story “Three Jews, Two Links, One Lesson” (Oct. 25) on Norman Podhoretz, Louis Brandeis and Ben Hecht.
However, Peter Bergson wasn’t just “a young Zionist.” He was a Palestinian Jew, an ardent follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of Revisionist Zionism, and the charismatic nephew of the late Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel. He originally came to the United States to raise funds for the illegal activities of the Irgun, a military organization that fought against the British, but after World War II broke out, he changed his mission to raising money to build a Jewish army that would fight the Nazis. He also changed his name from Hillel Kook to Peter Bergson so that he wouldn’t implicate his renowned family in his political activities.
And Ben Hecht wasn’t just “walking down the street when he bumped into history” … and agreed to meet with Bergson at the 21 Club. David S. Wyman, a renowned scholar of the Holocaust and author of the classic work, “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945,” notes, after extensive interviews with Bergson, that it was only through Bergson’s exhaustive lobbying, correspondence and meetings with various Jewish leaders that Bergson was finally able to meet with Hecht. It was Bergson’s determination that led to the meeting.
As Jewish people and as human beings, we need to recognize the unsung heroes who, like Bergson, galvanize history. And we need to get it right.
Mina Friedler, via email
Rick Richman responds:
I thank Mina Friedler for her letter.
Hecht was speaking metaphorically when he said he was “walking down the street” and “bumped into history” in the form of Bergson, but the metaphor actually minimized the credit due for his own role in the historic meeting. At the time, Hecht was 47 and the most famous screenwriter in Hollywood; Bergson was 27 and had arrived in the United States only nine months earlier. The most remarkable fact is not that Hecht received repeated requests for the meeting, but rather that he agreed to it at all — and ended up spending the entire afternoon with the young man, hearing from him about Jabotinsky for the first time.
My story sought to describe the historic midlife changes of Brandeis, Hecht and Podhoretz, and how those changes came from (metaphorically — but perhaps literally) out of the blue. I did not attempt to cover all of Hecht’s efforts, much less Bergson’s. They were both heroes. I refer interested readers to two excellent Hecht biographies published earlier this year by Adina Hoffman and Julien Gorbach, and to my MOSAIC story under the headline “The Hollywood Legend Who Mobilized the English Language on Behalf of the Jews of Europe and Israel.”
Mental Health of Summer Campers
I read with great interest Jeremy Fingerman’s column (“Creating a Culture of Care at Camp,” Nov. 1). As a social worker and Jewish educator, I agree that having support for campers (and staff, many of whom are older adolescents) is crucial for Jewish organizations serving youth.
I served with the Orange County Bureau of Jewish Education for several years as the social worker in residence on weekend retreats. The retreats primarily served ninth graders with older high school students and college students serving as counselors-in-training and staff. The social worker’s role was to offer support to staff and to be available to individuals and groups when social and emotional issues arose. This involved communicating with families and staff. I was incredibly impressed when I joined the staff that the O.C. Builders of Jewish Education recognized that, in addition to having a medical doctor present, there should also be a staff member focusing on the emotional health of the young people. I hope that this becomes the norm for all youth-centered organizations.
Jeff Bernhardt, Valley Glen
David Suissa eloquently defines the word “terrorism” in the Nov. 8 edition (“Fighting Anti-Semitism Without Fear”). So when we fight anti-Semitism or any hate crime because we are terrorized, the terrorist has achieved his or her goal.
Elie Zev, via email
David Suissa’s Nov. 8 edition editorial suggests fearless action to oppose anti-Semitism. In the Sept. 13 issue, you published my letter advocating running ads that recount the accomplishments of American Jews. We shouldn’t be afraid to bring attention to these.
Each ad should end with, “This is what Jews have done to help make America great”
and ask, “What have you done?” With the cooperation of local Jewish communities, these ads should run in the heartland of white supremacy: Montana, Idaho, West Virginia and perhaps in newspapers of national circulation.
Despite my age, I’d be happy to serve on a team to implement this pro-Semitism attack.
Myron Kayton, Santa Monica
Democrats and Israel
The trio of Republican writers who questioned whether the Democratic Party stands by Israel made the answer to that query into an either/or rather than an and/both scenario.
Each writer focused solely on whether the Democratic Party stood by Israel (either/or) rather than if the Democratic Party stood by both Israel and Judaic values (and/both).
Not one of the writers emphasized that the reason most Jewish Americans vote Democratic rather than Republican is that the Democratic Party supports Israel as well as supporting programs that are in sync with the Jewish values of community, racial and fiscal equality, justice, scientific consensus and immigration (to name just a few out of many).
Until the Republican Party embraces Israel and Judaic values, look for the Jewish vote to remain overwhelmingly in the Democratic column.
Marc Rogers, North Hollywood
It seems that Hanukkah is coming early this year. I am happy to learn that the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, a boycott, divestment and sanctions supporter, has changed his tune and now praises Israel. Specifically, he expressed his hopes that South Africa can emulate Israel’s approach to funding research in order to create a high-tech economy similar to the startup nation.
Another early Hanukkah gift is witnessing Brazilian players of Corinthian’s soccer team wearing yellow Stars of David on their uniforms in memory of Kristallnacht.
Moreover, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden along with 50 Jewish organizations have objected to presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who want to stop aid to Israel. These ignoramuses fail to recognize that Israel uses 74% of the military aid the U.S. gives to buy American military equipment and the rest in joint ventures between both countries.
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach is furious with the poor manners of the anti-Semitic group known as Code Pink, which failed to keep its promise to remain quiet while the rabbi was speaking, displaying a clear lack of class. The rabbi used his valuable time to educate the group.
Saeid Mollaei, a judo champion who fled Iran and asked for asylum in Germany, is ready to befriend Israeli world champion Sagi Muki.
Furthermore, I am pleased to hear that the United Arab Emirates is inviting Israelis to participate in Expo 2020 in Dubai with intentions of improving relations between Israel and the Arab States.
On the other hand, I object to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s meeting with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has lowered itself to the point where it refuses e-mails unless you agree with the organization. In fact, Andrew Bostom, an authority on Islamic anti-Semitism, asks, “Has the ADL become a Democratic Party operation?” It appears so in my eyes.
Pablo Nankin, via email
Now it’s your turn. Don’t be shy, submit your letters to the editor. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name and city. The Journal reserves the right to edit all letters. [email protected]