September 23, 2019

Letters to the Editor: Cornel West, Transgender Community and Pamela Geller

A Million Ways to Think About West 

As someone privileged to study with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the 1960s, and hear Cornel West’s presentation on Heschel through the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, I take strong exception to the criticizing letters to the editor about the program written by my distinguished colleagues at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California (“On Western Dogma,” May 8). Their personal opinions about West’s presentation, to which they are most entitled, do not reflect the philosophy, mission or practices upon which the academy was founded, and under which it operates today.

West’s presentation of Heschel’s “life, thought and legacy” was extremely knowledgeable, brilliant, inspirational, moving and filled with wisdom. In short, it was sensational. West’s presentation showed his deep love of and admiration and respect for Heschel. And most important, he showed how Heschel’s personal and religious life, beliefs and actions were integrated, congruent and “of one piece.” He left a lasting legacy of living for respect, truth, justice and peace, a legacy we need to revitalize today. Heschel was indeed a prophet.

I am proud of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and the other Jewish organizations and departments for inviting West to speak on Heschel and for standing by him in the face of calls by some in the Jewish community to disinvite him.

Rabbi Stan Levy, The Academy for Jewish Religion, California


Transgender Community: Out of the Closet and Over the Rainbow

I want to thank the Journal for “Beyond the Rainbow” (May 1). I saw it online and read every word, watched every video and read every connected story. I truly feel that not only did it raise awareness about the transgender community, but the sensitive stories also widened the tent for all Jews. The fact that it showcased people living their truth really encourages all of us to live our authentic selves, which I believe is what God intended. I am proud to be a member of the Los Angeles Jewish community, which is working to create a loving and accepting place for all. I actually was moved to tears.

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, The Jewish Mindfulness Network


Congratulations to the Journal for taking on, with all due dimensionality, transgender acceptance in the Jewish community. Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s story touched me directly, as dean of Hebrew Union College (HUC) and a parent at Weizmann Day School, both featured in “Beyond the Rainbow.”

The story attributes both “lingering blind spots” and admirable leadership to HUC in terms of LGBT acceptance. In fact, we see the challenge of the former as an expression of the latter. That is, we willingly confront our blind spots and choose to expose them to the light of day, because our leadership in pursuit of transgender equality is a pioneering one, hence open to new and difficult lessons.

Joshua Holo, Dean of Hebew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles


Thank you for the well-researched, balanced, important article about being transgendered in the Jewish community. From my standpoint here in Texas, the progress in the L.A. Jewish community regarding transgendered members blew me away. 

I have long felt that, although the group label LGBT has been useful as a tool to heighten awareness, the transgendered experience is so distinct from the others, it doesn’t seem fair to throw them into the same basket. Gay people, like most people, are happy when they can celebrate their bodies as essential to who they are, while the utterly surreal sense of waking every day trapped in the wrong body is absolutely distinct to the transgendered experience. How brave and beautiful your interview subjects! I think it desperately important to let our transgendered brethren step into the limelight so that we can, through understanding, better love them and embrace them into the Jewish fold. 

Leah Lax via email


Patronizing Pamela

As publisher and editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman should defend Pamela Geller’s right to sponsor and promote a Muhammad drawing exhibition as protected free speech (“Pamela Geller, You’re No Charlie Hebdo,” May 8). Instead, he engages in ad hominem sexist attacks on Geller, describing her as “bigotry’s pinup girl,” while injecting that Geller is a “housewife” and “middle-aged Jewish woman from Long Island.” Eshman’s acknowledgement that the support for his opinion is chauvinistic but “pre-feminist” does not make it kosher. Furthermore, his effort to distinguish Geller’s thought process from that of late religion-hater Charlie Hebdo mischaracterizes each of their motives. More importantly, he ignores the purpose of free speech, which is protected irrespective of intelligence or intellect. We will “pay the price” if we fail to defend free speech, regardless of whether it involves unpopular or loathsome forms of expressive activity.

Mark Herskovitz, Los Angeles