December 13, 2018

Fire Coverage, Jews and Intermarriage and Gun Violence

Fire Coverage
Thank you for your coverage of the recent fires in Northern and Southern California. I am struck by how good we humans are at helping one another during times of emergency. It is heartwarming to hear about friends and neighbors reaching out.

In the past few years, we have experienced unprecedented fires and mudslides along the entire West Coast of the U.S. and Canada. Scientists have been predicting hotter, drier, windier times for years. Now is the time to face this long-term risk with the same zeal and gusto we muster for immediate danger.  The cost of burning fossil fuels, it turns out, is higher than we pay at the pump. With a carbon tax, a policy supported by conservative and liberal economists, we can begin to pay the accurate price while shifting to a healthier, renewable economy.

Israel has done exactly this with water by charging the true price from the outset; this has fostered technological innovation, efficiency and economic growth. Just as Jewish leaders stepped forward during the civil rights movement, I invite you to join me in supporting a carbon tax to ultimately preserve our homes, our camps, our natural spaces and our families.
Judy Berlfein, Encinitas

Jews and Intermarriage
My friend, Israel scholar Gil Troy, shouldn’t go unchallenged when he makes gratuitously false comments about American Jewry (“Jews and Intermarriage: A Love-Fate Relationship,” Nov. 30). In last week’s story, he quoted an unnamed Israeli friend as saying that all that Israelis require of American Jews is that they “stay Jewish.” Clearly, Israelis want political and philanthropic support and access to American culture and society.

Furthermore, in his critique of American Jews, Troy correctly contends that communities can define boundaries yet he fails to note that the issue of boundaries is a major debate in Israeli society where more than 9 in 10 Israelis are not Charedim, and 1 in 5 are not Jews. Boundaries are challenged whenever an Israeli soldier killed in battle cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery, or when Israelis cannot marry at home. Defining Israel as a Jewish state without mentioning minority rights and thereby alienating its Druze and Arab citizens as well as many Jews is also a boundary issue.

In the same issue of the Journal, Rabbi Seth Farber in a column pressed the Israeli government to expand its boundaries of approved rabbis for conversion (“Chief Rabbinate’s List Has Glaring Omissions,” Nov. 30). The Chief Rabbinate has dissed not only Conservative and Reform rabbis but most of our revered Orthodox rabbis with their current list. Divorce and marriage will soon follow.

We have the right to expect more insight from Troy and more from the Journal.
Michael Berenbaum, via email

Gil Troy responds:

My friend and role model, scholar Michael Berenbaum, in seeking to correct me, proved my point.

First, some context: I have written extensively about the need for American Jews and all Israelis to have a robust, multidimensional partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest — and am in the minority that believes it still exists.  I have also written about — and campaign for — full equality in Israel among all our citizens. So Berenbaum and I are in complete agreement on both points ideologically. 

I would, however, respectfully caution that his letter reflects “whataboutism.”  I write about intermarriage and boundaries within American Jewry. He responds: What about Israel’s boundary issues? Hmm. What kind of mutual relationship and shared learning does that approach foster?

Yes, Israel has its own boundary issues — although phenomena like citizenship, taxation and military service impose a definitional clarity that Jews not living in a sovereign Jewish state obviously lack.

But speaking, as I was, about intermarriage, it’s true — not “gratuitously false”: Given that 98 percent of Israeli Jews marry Jews, most, religious or not, cannot fathom the stratospheric intermarriage rates among their American Jewish brothers and sisters. That’s why I quoted my Israeli friend, to illustrate the point that “Most Israelis can’t understand this modern Masada, this mass act of communal suicide.”

Berenbaum’s outrage illustrates my broader point: that “intermarriage has become the third rail of Jewish politics” — and that “this hair-trigger issue requires more conversation, not less.”

I look forward to continuing that conversation in person and in print with Berenbaum, who has long been one of our community’s most courageous, creative and cherished thinkers on so many issues, and has taught me so much.

Common Sense About Gun Violence
Ben Shapiro asks, “Can anything stop the madness of gun violence?” (“We All Care About Gun Violence, but There’s No Easy Solution,” Nov. 16).

The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” International comparisons of gun violence show that civilians shooting other civilians is not an inevitable part of life.

How? Restrict magazine size, semiautomatic weapons, the number of guns a person can own, ammunition sales; ban military-style assault weapons; and require mandatory trigger locks.

There should be more aggressive laws regarding temporary removal of guns from the hands of those who are angry or mentally ill.

This must be done by Jews, as part of our God given role of tikkun olam.
Daniel FinkBeverly Hills

Who Is the Real Threat Against Liberties?
Although I usually agree with the sentiments expressed by columnist Karen Lehrman Bloch, she missed the mark when she targeted “leftists who are obsessed with taking away our liberties” (“My Day With Conservative Ideas,” Nov. 30).

Hard to know what she’s referring to when, from my perspective, it’s the “rightists” who are the ones whose aim it is to impose their ideologies on the rest us: for example, to prevent women from making decisions about their own bodies, to require my child to sit while a Christian prayer is recited in school, to prevent loving, gay couples from marrying each other or adopting a child, to strive to restrict voting access to minorities whose voting habits they don’t like, and to restrict my “liberty” to attend a concert, movie, shopping mall or synagogue without the realistic fear of  a mass shooting because they refuse to budge one iota toward effective background checks, restrictions on access to guns for those who have demonstrated violent behavior (such as domestic abusers), and limit the scourge of military-type assault weapons from our streets.

What we need is understanding that there needs to be a balance between maintaining an orderly and ethical society with minimal infringement on individual liberties.
John F. Beckmann, Sherman Oaks

Rabbi Wolpe at CUFI Celebration
On Nov. 29, two friends and I attended “A Night to Honor Israel,” presented by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) at a charming mission-style church in Echo Park.

Many young, Latino families, waving Israeli and American flags, filled the sanctuary, and after a pastor sang our national anthem, Hatikvah” was movingly performed by a female cantor, joined by the congregation singing from a big-screen displayed transliteration. This was followed by a “prayer fiesta.” 

When featured speaker Rabbi David Wolpe told stories about his beloved father and the Holocaust, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Wolpe exuded wisdom and warmth, and when he told the congregation how much Israel needs their support, there was a passionate standing ovation.

Some Jews are still suspicious of Christian Zionists, but I’ve never met one who talks much about Armageddon, and CUFI has a rule against proselytizing. They sincerely believe the re-establishment of the Jewish State is a miracle, a gift from God to his chosen people, and in my experience, they just want to feel close to Jews.
Rueben Gordon, via email


Your turnDon’t be shy. Send your letters to letters@jewishjournal.com. 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.