September 23, 2019

Letters to the Editor: Kotel Clash, Sprituality, Anti-Semitism and Rohingya


‘The Dazzling Idea of Hanukkah’ (Dec. 8)

If parents want children to believe in the Jewish religion, it must be made fun. The games, treats and gifts are all part of the holiday. They see Santa everywhere and fun and gifts for all the Christian children, so if they don’t get a celebration, they will end up leaving the religion.

Dani Lester

Happy Hanukkah to all. Light up the darkness and rejoice.

Lauri Garber

‘Stronger Together’ (Dec. 8)

I am not Jewish but I wish so strongly that I had been in that hotel lobby that night celebrating Hanukkah. I am moved by the sense of community shared. Thank you for making this story available to me. It lifts my spirit.

Anne Kelly

‘The Light We Create’ (Dec. 8)

I loved this piece. It costs us nothing to be kind. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

Deidre Duke

Kindness as an everyday reminder of holy light. Beautiful essay, Karen Lehrman Bloch. Your best yet for the Journal.

Harold Henkel

Clash at Kotel Was Misrepresented

I was disappointed to read Jay Geller’s account of the Nov. 16 protest at the Kotel, which we attended together as governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (“Are the Kotel Clashes Worth It?” Dec. 1).

Geller mischaracterized the event by alleging students were subjected to “physical violence” and that the protesters “risked bodily harm.” Yes, it was physical, and there was pushing, shoving, grabbing and an attempted theft (of a Torah scroll), but no one was hurt, no punches were thrown, and not once did I feel in any serious danger.

That’s in part because police arrived to protect us after a confrontation with ultra-Orthodox civilians. Thus the conflict was not, as alleged, between “our group and the police.” Geller is confusing the “police” with security guards employed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

I do not recall the guards confronting students. Physical contact was limited to individuals holding Torah scrolls, and those were Reform movement leaders in Israel and the United States. (This is confirmed by video I recorded during this event.) While the planning of the protest may have been “unbeknownst to [Geller],” the rest of the board was advised  in advance and that morning of the risks, and that it was entirely optional.

Matthew Louchheim via email

When Faced With Anti-Semitism, Take Action

Kylie Ora Lobell wrote a hair-raising description of an Uber ride with an anti-Semitic driver (“That Time My Uber Driver Was Anti-Semitic,” Dec. 8). She and her husband didn’t object to his hate-filled diatribe or reveal that they were Jewish. Lobell concluded: “Some part of me wishes I were fearless, that I would have spoken up from that backseat.” But she said she was “shocked” and scared that the driver would harm them.

My first encounter with anti-Semitism was shocking, too: I was one of only three Jewish children in an elementary school on the outskirts of Seattle in the ’50s. One afternoon as I was walking home with my best friend, Bonnie, she suddenly shoved me down to the ground and yelled, “My grandmother said you killed Christ!” When later I told my father, he explained the whole, “It was the Romans, not the Jews who killed Christ” thing, and said if anyone ever said something anti-Semitic around me, I should point out that I was Jewish and a good person, and that people shouldn’t say hateful and false things about Jews — or anyone.

If I had been in that Uber with Lobell, I would have said just that from the back seat — softly, not with any anger in my voice. Then I would have opened my Uber app and given that driver a “no-stars” rating, and checked the “the driver was unprofessional” box and explained why.

Sharon Boorstin via email

Reporter Too Quick to Judge Spiritual Seekers

Danielle Berrin’s column (“Spiritual, Not Religious,” Dec. 1) is rife with judgment — judgment about people and judgment about practice.

More than 20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet Rabbi Jonathan Omer-man, and to study with him. Of British descent, Rabbi Omer-man was brought to Los Angeles by Hillel to work with Jews who had joined cults — which was a serious issue at the time.

A brilliant scholar, mystic, teacher and pastoral guide, Rabbi Omer-man gained a following of hundreds of Jews. Many had been in cults, or practiced Hinduism or Buddhism or, like me, were drawn to his particular spiritual teaching. Bottom line: He illuminated Jewish theology, text and practice to help so many rediscover and enhance their Judaism and Jewish practice.

One of the core principles that I observed in his leadership was his nonjudgment. He gave everyone the space to explore and evolve as Jews, and as human beings searching for God.

Unfortunately, judgment is woven into our psyches, pretty much from birth. Judgment is born of fear, with the singular purpose of creating separation. The last thing we Jews need right now is more separation.

Evelyn Baran via email

Portrait of the Holy Land

I am a 15-year-old freshman at YULA Boys High School. I totally agree with “Israel Loved the Sinai That Is Now a Killing Field” (Dec. 1) because this is the same way I feel. When tourists visit the Holy Land, they don’t want to see a killing field. The author writes: “For some time, and especially now, the view from the Israeli side has been somber and painful.”  This hurts me to know that all the Jews — especially the people who live in Israel — have to live in a time surrounded by such darkness.

Adam Kirschenbaum via email

Why a Couple Made Aliyah

It’s been four months since Lida and I made aliyah to Jerusalem from Los Angeles. People ask either, “How is your aliyah going?” or “Why did you move to Israel?” I now have a new answer.

While riding the crowded No. 78 Jerusalem bus this morning, a partially sighted woman with a white and red cane exited the bus. She waited to cross the street. The bus driver asked a 12-year-old boy to help her. The boy got off the bus and helped the woman to cross the street. The bus driver waited for the boy to return to the bus.

Hanukkah sameach.

Pesach Nisenbaum and Lida Baker, Jerusalem

Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya

I have been and am a regular and faithful reader of the Jewish Journal for more than a decade.

In the Dec. 8 issue, a Richard Friedman from Culver City wrote a letter commenting on Stephen D. Smith’s story, and then goes on talking about how Muslims have killed “80 million non-Muslims” in the past millennium, etc. (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets.”) He then lumps Nazis and Muslims in the same breath and, to top it off, he then cites a scholar named Andrew Bostom from Brown University as a history scholar and his subsequent writing as the historical truth.

I, Usman Madha, a native of Burma/Myanmar, present resident of 40-plus years in Culver City, a practicing non-Jihadist, pluralistic Muslim, would like to extend Mr. Friedman an open invitation to share (my treat) a kosher-halal meal where we can discuss and dispel the wrong information he has about the Rohingya situation (historical and present) in my old country, in particular, and Muslims, in general.

Furthermore, Mr. Friedman also can read “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness Between Islam and Judaism” by Rabbi Allen Maller. He can order it from Amazon and MoreBooks. If he would like, I will gladly purchase this book for Mr. Friedman as a Hanukkah gift.


Usman Madha, Culver City