January 16, 2019

Letters to the editor: Leonard Fein, Dr. Jose Nessim and ISIS

ISIS Atrocities 

Rob Eshman is to be commended for discussing one of the most disturbing and savage events currently on the planet — the barbaric slaughter of Christians Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq by Islamic Nazis: ISIS (“When Christians Die,” Aug. 15). Several points, though, should be made. As Eshman points out, the silence from Christian communities around the world is deafening. Groups like the Presbyterian Church USA are much more concerned with the plight of the Palestinians who, based on Middle Eastern history, would be first to eradicate Arab Christians as they have in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the Muslim world.  

The frustrating element here, though, is that Hamas, al-Qaida and ISIS are individual teams within the larger league of Sunni Muslim jihadists, as Eshman pointed out. The biased media worldwide treats Hamas as if it is a Hindu pacifist group rather than connecting the dots: If Israel didn’t have the capabilities to defend herself, her fate would have been similar to the Christians of Iraq.

Richard Friedman, Los Angeles

Liberal Deliberations

I was raised, and have raised my children, with liberal values: the rights of all people to be equal, to live a life free from injustice and persecution, to pursue peace and happiness. Inherent to my beliefs of how my fellow man should be treated is the assumption that my fellow man will not try to kill me or deny my right to exist. A liberal who stands by while his house is being bombed isn’t a good liberal; he’s a dead man. I applaud David Suissa’s article, “How Liberal Critics Failed Israel” (Aug. 22), as a thoughtful, and necessary, gut-check for all those who care about preserving and spreading liberal values.  

Stephen Kessler, via email 

David Suissa’s article is just an updated version of the old canard that Jews “shouldn’t wash Israel’s dirty laundry in public.” Progressive, pro-Israel American Jews, like those who support Americans for Peace Now, reject this transparent effort to shut down debate and give cover for policies that are anathema to everything we believe — as Jews, as Americans and as supporters of Israel. Today in Israel, our friends and colleagues are likewise under attack, both rhetorical and physical, from extremists who similarly want to shut down debate. They will not be cowed, and neither will we. We do not apologize for focusing on the imperative of achieving a two-state solution to end the occupation, because the occupation — which for nearly five decades Israel has expanded and deepened with its indefensible settlement policies — is destroying Israel. While Suissa seems mainly concerned about defending Israel’s reputation, we are far more concerned with defending Israel’s survival as a pluralistic, democratic, Jewish state.

Sanford Weiner and Steven Kaplan, Los Angeles area regional co-chairs, David Pine, regional director–Americans for Peace Now

David Suissa responds:

My friends at Americans for Peace Now believe in the value of criticism, except, apparently, when they are the recipients. Then, it becomes an attempt to “shut down debate.” No one is trying to shut down debate. On the contrary, this is a healthy debate about priorities. For those of us in the Diaspora who love Israel, what is the priority? To pressure Israelis to make peace — as if we know something that they don’t? Or is it to defend Israel against unfair attacks from a world that all too often judges Israel based on a double standard? If all we focus on is Israel’s failure to make peace, we cover up Israel’s extraordinary record of tikkun olam and social activism, and reinforce the global lie that Israel is an illiberal demon. Whether or not that’s good for Israel is a healthy debate. 

May Their Memories Be a Blessing

The sad news of Dr. Jose Nessim’s death brought me back to Paramount Studios, where I had the pleasure of presenting him with the 2008 Cohon Award for his work in the field of education and information, which brought benefit to klal Yisra’el — the total Jewish People — by bringing so many young Sephardim closer to us all. His spirit as embodied in the Sephardic Education Center in Jerusalem will surely continue to inspire a new generation to honor his memory.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon via email

It really is so good to have Rob Eshman’s voice back in the Jewish Journal.

His column this week really brings Leibel (Leonard Fein) to all of us (What Would Leonard Say?” Aug. 22). He was a dear friend — we worked together and shared a suite of offices at the then-Union of American Hebrew Congregations in New York (now Union for Reform Judaism). We often sat over coffee and just talked about life. I had him out to Mount Sinai some years ago to spend time with my senior staff and “just talk.” They fell in love with him and did not want him to leave — he brought a unique thinking ability and a graciousness that will never be replaced.

Thank you for remembering him in such a meaningful way.

Len Lawrence, general manager, Mount Sinai Parks