November 18, 2018

Purim Parallels in ‘Black Panther’

Marvel’s latest blockbuster, “Black Panther,” is an epic sermon on multiculturalism and the struggle to tame identity politics. Its grand themes of personal identity and ethnic pride are especially meaningful in today’s polarized socio-political climate, where a new sense of ethnocentric pride is galvanizing the outrage-driven left while also making American white nationalism “great again.”

The film is set in the fictional wealthy African kingdom of Wakanda, a highly sophisticated modern country with ancient traditions, rituals and beliefs. Since ancient times, when their technological advances were further ahead of the rest of the world, Wakanda’s foreign policy has been isolationist. The kingdom shuns outsiders to protect its most important resource, a secret mineral called Vibranium that powers their scientific achievements and would be deadly in evil hands.

The titular Black Panther and king of Wakanda is a man named T’Challa. His militant nemesis is Erik Killmonger. Having experienced and witnessed grave racial injustice, Killmonger believes Wakanda’s isolationist tradition is wrong. A supremacist, Killmonger plots to arm black people all over the world with Wakanda’s super-weapons in an attempt to conquer the world.

T’Challa also agrees that isolationism is wrong but he plans to enrich the lives of black people around the world through generosity, education and kindness.

T’Challa is cut from the same royal cloth as Queen Esther. His ethnic pride also inspires charity and kindness, as well as thriving within the global community.

Similarly, the Purim story is also about multiculturalism and ethnic pride. The entire threat of Haman’s genocidal plot turns on the fact that Queen Esther is a Jew but is hiding her identity because her people are refugees in exile. However, they do not intend on melting into Persian society. Their plan is to retain their Jewish identity and return to the Promised Land, but the memory of Israel and our Temple is beginning to fade at the beginning of the Purim story. We were so broken and downtrodden that King Achashverosh was nonplussed by the idea of exterminating us.

Our salvation came about because Esther owned her Jewish identity. She sparked a renewal of Jewish pride and identity across Persia that was so great, it inspires Purim traditions of charity and rituals of kindness to this day.

T’Challa is cut from the same royal cloth as Queen Esther. His ethnic pride also inspires charity and kindness, as well as thriving within the global community.

On one level, “Black Panther” is a metaphor for the historical struggle between Black nationalist extremism and the civil rights movement. Both are inspired by the same identity politics but yield opposite results.

Esther embraced her identity to save her people, and when her people were safe they celebrated by bringing light into the world. “La’Yehudim hyta ora v’simcha” – “There was light and joy for the Jews.”

Similarly, T’Challa’s ethnic pride inspires him to add light into the world by raising up the oppressed and downtrodden.

“Black Panther” makes the case for embracing identity politics to uplift others and inspire brotherhood. That is the opposite of supremacy. Ethnic pride is not an end in itself. At its best, it’s part of a vibrant and unifying multiculturalism.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

A dream too far: Lessons from Selma

There is something tragic about the civils rights movement—the very fact that it was needed in the first place. Why did it have to be such a big deal to give Blacks the right to vote? By today’s standards, it seems downright absurd to deny Blacks, or anyone else for that matter, this fundamental right.

It was that simple notion of voting that lingered anxiously in my mind this past Shabbat as I walked for hours through the streets of Selma, Alabama. I was on a Martin Luther King weekend solidarity mission organized by my friend Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who runs the modern Orthodox Ohev Shalom synagogue in Washington, D.C. A few months ago, at his Shabbat table, Herzfeld invited me join his community for the three-day journey to honor the civil rights movement. Having a teenage daughter who loves any idea that includes the words “social” and “justice,” I signed up for the adventure.

Among the many things we did—including praying in a 117-year-old synagogue in Selma, visiting the home where Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spent the night before marching with King, and crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge that kicked off that famous five-day march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965—I think what stuck with me the most was that long afternoon walking with my daughter through the decaying town of Selma.

Two ideas clashed during our walk—hope versus despair. In a museum, I would see words of hope from heroic quotes such as this one, from President Lyndon Johnson in 1965:

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”

This is the part of Selma that reminds you of how oppressive things used to be during the days of segregation, when Blacks could not even pull up at an ice cream counter or register to vote.

But as we walked through streets with abandoned buildings and broken down homes, with one storefront after another peddling “pay day loans” and a boarded-up building with an old “Rite-Aid” sign, I couldn’t help thinking about the limits of Johnson’s “most powerful instrument ever devised by man.”

What good is the powerful freedom to vote if you’re living in a place that feels like an enormous prison with a Walmart?

What good is the right to pick your political leaders if those leaders keep betraying you?

President Johnson saw this coming in his 1965 speech, which is why he challenged Black leadership to move beyond the success of the civil rights movement:

“This act is not only a victory for Negro leadership. This act is a great challenge to that leadership. It is a challenge that cannot be met simply by protest and demonstrations.”

When you see the sad state of Selma today, it’s hard not to conclude that this town of 20,000 mostly Black residents is in need of strong leadership– at the local, state and federal levels.

One of the few remaining Jews in Selma shared some candid thoughts with me about how Selma is often used by political leaders at all levels for “photo-opportunities”— to burnish their street cred for fighting for Black rights.

Fighting for “rights,” though, doesn’t seem to be the dream of the day in Selma. They have every right to walk into a movie theater, but the theater burned down years ago and was never replaced. They have every right to vote for the candidate of their choice, but their lives are as miserable as ever.

No, the dream I saw as I walked through Selma on Shabbat was the dream to make a decent living and put those “pay-day loans” hustlers out of business. 

We saw a ray of hope at our Shabbat dinner Friday night. His name is Darrio Melton, the young new Black mayor of Selma. If he takes his job as seriously as he takes his city, there is hope. “Selma is the birthplace of American democracy,” he told us, meaning that until Blacks got their civil rights, America could not claim to be a real democracy. 

In speaking with us, both publicly and in private, it was clear that Melton would love nothing more than to attract more visitors to his little town. Maybe that’s why his key campaign promise was to address the city’s current crime problem. He understands that no city can succeed and attract jobs and businesses until it makes it safe to do so. 

Melton has benefitted from the Black right to vote. If he fails to deliver on his promises, he will diminish the power of this basic right. But if he does deliver, he will honor the “most powerful instrument ever devised by man” and the many who were forced to fight for something they should never have had to fight for.

Today’s peaceniks live with 60s envy

Not all demonstrations are created equal. Protesting for civil rights in the 1960s, for example, is not the same as protesting to “end the occupation” in 2016. The former was, literally, a black-and-white issue; the latter is anything but.

The thing with demonstrations, though, is that it’s often hard to tell which is which. Rebels protesting injustice all have that same look of righteous indignation. They demand immediate change and leave no room for doubt or complexity. When they hit the streets, they unleash their visceral emotions, not their thoughtfulness or intellect.

This past week, to coincide with the Passover holiday, hundreds of mostly young Jewish activists under the banner of #IfNotNow (INN) unleashed their emotions across the country to protest Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. They looked very much like those activists arrested in the civil rights marches in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s.

They proudly held up slogans such as, “No Liberation With Occupation” and “Dayenu — End the Occupation.” By trespassing on private property, some of them got arrested and made the news. I’m sure they were rock stars at their Passover seders. Martyrs for the cause.

But what cause, exactly?

What noble mission has aroused such certainty and passion in these activists?

Not surprisingly, it’s the most media-friendly cause in the world: Demanding that Israel end its disputed occupation of the West Bank. After all, if Blacks in the 1960s deserved their civil rights, don’t Palestinians today deserve to see Israel leave the West Bank?

Well, yes, except for a few inconvenient wrinkles, such as:

As soon as Israel leaves the West Bank, Hamas can swoop in and start slaughtering Palestinians, just as it did in Gaza after Israel left. ISIS can also move in and start chopping off Palestinian heads. In other words, “ending the occupation” can also mean “ending the protection” of Palestinians against Islamic terror. How’s that for a complication?

Here’s another complication you won’t see captured by INN slogans: Palestinian leaders have had several opportunities to end the occupation over the past 20 years, and they said no to Israeli offers each time.

One reason for their serial rejection has been their reluctance to compromise on their demand that Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants return to Israel proper, a move that would effectively end the Jewish state.

Another reason for their rejection is money. As long as they can claim victimhood, Palestinians get billions in international aid. For corrupt Palestinian leaders, this makes the occupation a personal ATM that funds their villas and private jets and keeps the global money flowing. Who’d want to end that?

And let’s not forget that while those leaders are getting rich, the occupation enables them to keep bashing the Zionist state they so despise.

Add it all up, and is it any wonder that irresponsible, corrupt and unaccountable Palestinian leaders have never rushed to see the end of the occupation?

I know, these are all messy complications for protesters who need a clean narrative — the narrative that it’s all up to Israel to make things better. These protesters are simply following the popular mantra that discriminates against the Jewish state: When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, everything is on Israel's shoulders. 

The protesters make no demands whatsoever on the Palestinians, such as ending their culture of Jew-hatred, corruption and chronic rejection. As former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren once put it, Palestinians have become “two-dimensional props in a Jewish morality play.”

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine INN activists demonstrating in front of the Palestinian Consulate with this slogan: “Stop Teaching Hatred and Start Teaching Peace,” or this one, “Say Yes NOW to Negotiations,” or this one, “Stop Stealing Aid from Your People.”

The inconvenient reality is that Israel cannot end this conflict on its own. This is an intractable, two-way conflict with no easy solutions and plenty of blame to go around. It’s a far cry from the black-and-white fight for the civil rights of Blacks in America.

Anti-occupation demonstrators need to know that when they scream for a simple solution to a complex problem, they hide the very complexity of the problem and make a solution that much more unattainable.

All eager peaceniks would be wise to listen to the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who had this to say to the INN protesters arrested in the lobby of the New York City building where the ADL rents space:

“It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

Will they take him up on it? I doubt it.

Greenblatt’s offer can never compete with the drama of getting arrested and making the evening news. There’s no adrenaline rush in engaging in honest dialogue and grappling with complex issues. For wannabe rebels who can't tolerate complications, it is only their smugness and certainty that are black and white.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

How do we regain black-Jewish love?

Of all the complicated issues running through American Jewish life, one of the most complicated is surely the relationship between Jews and African-Americans, which has frayed in recent years. A key question for both communities as we go forward is: How can we inject more love into the relationship?

There were times when the two communities were a lot closer. As Michelle Boorstein wrote in 2013 in the Washington Post, “Jews were extremely active in the civil rights movement, and they played a role that was especially remarkable in light of their making up such a small part of the nation’s population.”

Unfortunately, the good vibes of the ’60s didn’t last. By the 1980s and 1990s, the relationship was “strained by such points of contention as the opposition of some Jewish leaders to affirmative action and anti-Jewish comments made by black leaders Jesse L. Jackson and Louis Farrakhan.” More recently, the division over controversial Israeli policies has frayed the relationship even further.

There are also elephants in the room no one likes to talk about, like vestiges of racism and anti-Semitism. And let’s face it, as Jews became more and more successful, it became harder and harder to identify with oppressed minorities.

Like I said, complicated.

But I found a ray of hope last Saturday night at a movie screening dedicated to Black History Month. Hosted by the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, which houses the Malibu Film Society, an ethnically mixed audience of about 300 watched a 40-minute excerpt of an unfinished documentary produced by Spill the Honey, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the ties between the two groups, titled “Shared Legacies: Honoring the Jewish/Black Civil Rights Alliance.”

The film chronicles the intense bond between Jewish and Black activists during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But the heart of the film is the deep affection between two giants, Martin Luther King Jr and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who famously marched together in 1963 during a civil rights march in Selma, Ala.

As much as I value complexity, what moved me most about the film was that it honored morality and holiness. King and Heschel were brothers bonding over a common cause. There was no agonizing. There was no doubt. There was no hesitation in their compulsion to fight for justice.

This sense of moral clarity and brotherly love came through in a panel after the screening that featured actor Louis Gossett Jr., Boston University professor Hillel Levine, King confidant Clarence B. Jones and Dartmouth professor Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Heschel.

Maybe it was the moonlight drive along the coast that put me in a wistful mood, but as I drove home, I couldn’t help but wonder: “How can we get this Black-Jewish love back?”

It was something Susannah Heschel said to me over the phone a few days later that got me thinking.

“Martin Luther King made the Hebrew Bible central to his civil rights activism,” she told me. “This brought tremendous pride to Jews. Here was the most important moral movement of the century, and King put our holy book at the very center.”

Her subtle point was that the relationship was a two-way street. As much as Jews honored Blacks by fighting for their rights, King honored Jews by elevating their holy story.

I found in her answer a sign of how Jews can bring more love to our relationship with the African-American community: We can show them we need them as much as they need us.

It was Rabbi Heschel himself who said that one of the greatest human needs is to feel needed. His great insight is that making people feel needed is an expression of the deepest love.

As much as Jews must do more soul-searching and increase our fight for economic justice for Blacks, we must also embrace areas where Blacks can help us– such as, for example, in the area of prayer.

“My father once said that hope for the future of Judaism in America lies with Black churches,” Heschel told me. “Their prayers reminded him of Chassidic shtibls. There is a passion of praying to God, of wanting to be heard by God.”

What a powerful thought: Blacks teaching Jews how to pray with more love and more passion. Maybe someone should start a Black-Jewish Prayer Alliance, where Jews of all denominations would regularly visit Black churches to feel the passion that so inspired Rabbi Heschel.

None of this will eradicate the dark impulses of racism and anti-Semitism. But if there’s one thing Jews need, it is for God to hear our prayers. If our Black brothers and sisters can show us the way, well, that’s a dream worth having.

Echoes of Selma: Angeleno recalls Alabama summer of ‘65

How big of a “We” were the Jews in “We shall overcome”?

Since the nationwide release of “Selma” a week before the national holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I have wondered about the extent of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement. Was it just the Selma marches? Was our support also financial, in the voting booth? Or something more?

Albert Vorspan and David Saperstein concluded in their 1998 book “Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice: Tough Moral Choices of Our Time” that “Jews served in the forefront of the fight to end racial segregation in education, public accommodations and voting.” But wanting to hear it from someone who was actually in the “forefront,” I spoke with a Jewish recruit in the fight.

David Sookne may not sound like someone who served on the front lines of our nation’s battle for civil rights. The semi-retired mathematician and computer programmer — a resident of suburban Los Angeles with whom I pray a couple of times a month — is exacting in speech and even tempered.

David Sookne in 2013. (Edmon J. Rodman)

He’s also blessed with an excellent memory: Sookne can name the people in the Roosevelt administration down to the level of the undersecretary.

So he vividly recalls his seven weeks spent in Alabama’s rural Crenshaw County as a foot soldier in the voter registration campaign for blacks organized by King through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It was the summer of 1965 — after the Selma marches but before the passage of the Voting Rights Act that would be one of their outcomes.

Sookne, then 22 and enrolled in a doctoral program in in theoretical mathematics at the University of Chicago, signed up after following the news stories about the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer — a campaign to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964 in which several supporters and volunteers were murdered, including two young Jewish men.

After first driving home to Springfield, Md. — his parents didn’t want him to go — he headed for Atlanta.

Sookne had already had his first taste of the risks involved with working for civil rights.

During spring break in ’65, he was among three dozen University of Chicago student volunteers in Somerville, Tenn., helping to build a structure to be used as a meeting place for voting rights activities.

In the local home of the organizer, John McFerren, who was black and a World War II veteran, Sookne heard a car pull up outside, a “pop-pop-pop” and the car pulling away.

“McFerren went to the living room wall and pulled something out,” Sookne recalled. It was a bullet from “a .22,” he recalled McFerren saying.

“‘They are just trying to scare us,'” McFerren said, according to Sookne. “If they were trying to kill us, they would use something bigger.’”

“That was my introduction to the danger of voter registration,” Sookne said.

As part of the training in Atlanta, Sookne and hundreds of volunteers heard King speak, as well as Bayard Rustin, a pacifist and civil rights leader. He also went through about a weeklong training session that would help prepare him for the domestic battle ahead.

“We practiced various things like not reacting to insults,” said Sookne, who had a student deferment from service in the Vietnam War. “We also practiced curling up on the ground, protecting vital organs in case we got beaten up.”

At the end of the week, the volunteers were given their assignments, and Sookne drove his pale green Volkswagen Beetle in a caravan that stopped first in Montgomery, Ala. From there he drove to the small town of Luverne, where he met up with six others, including organizer Bruce Hartford, also Jewish, who had found the group housing in a local residence.

Sookne recalled that about five minutes after they reached town, they were met by the local police chief, Harry Raupach.

“He told us to write down name, address and next of kin,” Sookne said, “just in case something happened to us.”

He also recalled that Raupach, who was originally from the North — “and not a Klansman,” Sookne said — saved the group more than once from being beaten up.

Knocking on people’s doors at a time when the passage of the Voting Rights Act seemed imminent — the law would make registration easier — made signing up voters a hard sell. So the group members turned their efforts toward another goal: integrating local restaurants.

In the town of Brantley, they ran into trouble.

“They didn’t want their all-white restaurants integrated,” Sookne said.

At a nonviolence training session on a ball field there, he recalled “three carloads of young men in their late teens and 20s” pulling up, with perhaps five of them getting out.

“They told us we better get out of Brantley or they would beat us up,” Sookne said.

Hartford, who was also present, has written that the locals — he refers to them as “All Klan” — had “ax handles and chains and clubs.”

Sookne said the volunteers made a dash for his VW.

On the highway trying to make it back to Luverne, he could see that two cars were in close pursuit, with perhaps others farther behind. When the highway widened a few miles before the relative safety of Luverne, Sookne recalled one of the cars passing, pulling in front and boxing him in.

“We slowed to about 25 miles per hour,” Sookne said.

He took a turnoff and veered left “onto a winding gravel road where the VW had an advantage.” His car pulled ahead, but turning onto a second highway to Luverne, the Klansmen were still in pursuit.

Suddenly, Hartford recalled, a couple of cars “filled with black men armed with shotguns” got between the VW and its pursuers. Hartford, who was in the car, believes some people in Brantley had called them about the situation.

“They escorted us back into Luverne. The Klan didn’t want to mess with them,” Hartford wrote.

In the fall, back at college, Sookne received a letter from King sent to all the SCLC volunteers — 20 to 30 percent of whom were Jewish, both Sookne and Hartford estimate.

“It is a rare privilege in life to participate in the fulfillment of an idea whose time has come,” the letter began.

For Sookne it was also a way, he said, of expressing “Tzedek, tzedek tirdoff” — “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Even if, as it turned out, he was also being pursued.

Equality in the United States? Progress in principle, but not in practice

The cases of black men being killed by police officers throughout the country and police officers being killed last week in New York have shined a powerful light on the racial tensions still existent in American society.

These cases have only widened the already large divide between law enforcement officers and black residents across the United States, but they have also sparked momentum among many communities to pursue justice and policy change.

Since we have a black president and a justice system with laws protecting minorities and their civil rights, it appears as though racism has decreased in the United States since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Unfortunately, having laws in the books and a black president are not enough. The institutions set up to execute those laws are often times increasing the lack of trust between the different racial and ethnic groups in our country. Some of the leaders of our police department, it seems, are not engaging in a conversation about these issues with their local community members–they are instead choosing to look away while some of their police officers resort to brutal force, hasty actions, and judgment-calls based on stereotypes.

What we call can agree on is that law enforcement agencies need to change from the inside out. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in August about how people view law enforcement in this country–70% of blacks and 63% of whites say police departments do a poor job holding officers accountable for misconduct. These numbers show that white and black people are on the same page when it comes to having no assurance in the system that was created to protect them. If our most important right as individuals is to feel safe and secure and we cannot trust our own law enforcement, then it is no wonder that things are the way they are today. The Pew survey also found that only 38% of both whites and blacks say the police departments treat racial and ethnic groups equally.

It is not enough to say that there has been progress and change if it is not represented in practice. Just because it is written in law, does not mean it has been fixed or solved. Policy makers and law enforcement leaders have failed to actively engage in dialogue on these issues beyond what is written on paper.

One of the main pillars of democracy is participation from and by the people. For this system to remain viable, the people must be asked to engage in dialogue and have their experiences heard and taken seriously. In order to restore faith in our governmental institutions and between different racial and ethnic groups, we must cultivate a culture amongst our citizens to challenge the institutions that have allowed for centuries of subjugation.

There are two related lessons in Judaism: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof, which translates to “justice, justice, pursue it” and Gemilut Chasadim, which means “bestow loving kindness.” The first lesson actually forces us as Jews to be responsible for actively pursuing righteousness and undoing wrongs and the second lesson comes from a broader concept of showing compassion and love to those who are rich or poor, sick or healthy. It is an expression of goodwill to all. Jewish wisdom and text urges us to choose moral and ethical behavior that supports the community through mutual responsibility. As a Jewish woman aiming for progress in practice, I hope that the residents of this country can come together with the leaders of our institutions and find a way to turn the principles of equality, respect, goodwill, and justice into practice.

Alixandra Liiv is the Fall Policy Intern at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA and is currently obtaining a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

Where the olives grow

For Jews who came of age any time between the 1950’s and the 1980’s, there were plenty of reasons to take to the streets and demonstrate.  In addition to close-to-the-heart causes such as Israel’s very existence in two wars (1967 and 1973) and the effort to free our brothers and sisters in the Soviet Union, Jews were also at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights for African Americans, as well as the anti-Vietnam War movement.

And American Jews didn’t just march.  Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were murdered in Mississippi while trying to register blacks to vote;  three of the four unarmed students killed at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard during an anti-war protest were Jewish.

So what stirs the passions of young Jews today?  In the case of one 23-year-old USC med student, those same unresolved, intractable issues of racism, anti-Semitism and war and peace sparked a remarkable video that is starting to go viral on Youtube.

Roee Astor has been writing poetry and rapping since the age of 12, which is also when he and his family moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Woodland Hills.  He attended the Valley Beth Shalom day school in Encino, public middle school, and New Community Jewish High School in West Hills before his undergraduate studies at USC.

In recent months, Astor became increasingly agitated over the killings of unarmed black men by police, growing global anti-Semitism, and the bloody conflict in Israel and Gaza.  He decided to voice his frustration and outrage in a poem called “Where The Olives Grow”.

“I call it a poem”, Astor told the Jewish Journal, “but it’s really a hybrid of Slam Poetry and Rap.  I’ve jokingly been calling it ‘SLAP Poetry’, but that’s a good way to describe it, since I’m using this art form as a wake-up call, a kind of slap in the face”.

Astor’s longtime friend Aviv Gilboa urged him to record the poem;  they enlisted another friend, writer and filmmaker Oren Paley, to shoot the video.

The result is a riveting seven-minute discourse that references everything from Ferguson to Auschwitz, and everyone from Natalie Portman to Astor’s legendary ancestor, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.

Astor had never before publicly shared any of his poetry.  Why now? “I felt a moral responsibility as a Jew to be outspoken on these issues.  I am against all forms of discrimination, and I wanted it to be clear that I am against discrimination especially because I’m Jewish.  I was hoping that others would see this and take their own stand in some way.”

Astor, who has done volunteer work at HIV clinics and with homeless youth in the inner city, doesn’t feel he’s suffered much from prejudice in his own life.  “The worst anti-Semitism I witnessed was when a groups of boys in my middle school etched swastikas into their arms and ran around the field yelling ‘Heil Hitler’.  And once, my Jewish fraternity was in a basketball game and our opponents chanted ‘big-nosed Jews’”.

He calls those kinds of events few and far between.  What really stunned Astor over the summer was what he saw happening in Europe.  “The fact that the streets so quickly and easily filled with anti-Semitic riots and signs saying “Death to the Jews”, within the lifetime of Holocaust survivors, made me feel almost hopeless”.

That sensitized him even more to the national outrage over the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.  The details of the shooting of Brown and the choke-hold death of Garner, he believes, are largely irrelevant.  “When blacks or Jews feel a gut sense that they’re being discriminated against, trust them.  We’ve suffered from it generation after generation.  It’s not about technicalities at this point.  If a community speaks to you, listen”.

Astor finds common ground in the diversity of discrimination.  In “Where The Olives Grow”, he says “We share the same fear and share the same bravery, both persecuted and both were in slavery”.

His poem speaks of ethnic identity, and how Jews “can be perceived as white, but we really don’t feel that way.  I want to be recognized as Jewish, and I want you to associate my Judaism with positive things, not with age-old stereotypes”. 

In the wake of hatred and killings, in the aftermath of Gaza and Garner, Astor has issued a fervent plea for change.  “All people should take part in this, regardless of your perspective on the individual cases.  It’s not only about that anymore.  It’s much bigger”, he insists.

In 1964, a 23-year-old Jewish guy named Robert Zimmerman… better known as Bob Dylan… wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.  Exactly 50 years later, 23-year-old poet Roee Astor hopes that dream can still come true.

Chloe Valdary: Christian, black and a rising star of pro-Israel activism

Growing up in New Orleans, Chloe Valdary kept kosher, studied the Jewish Bible and celebrated Jewish holidays with festive meals. In recent years she has become an outspoken pro-Israel campus activist, contributing regularly to the Jewish press, and speaking and posting widely about the merits of the Jewish state on social media.

But the senior at the University of New Orleans is not Jewish. She is Christian — a member of the “>piece in which she accused pro-Palestinian activists of misappropriating the rhetoric of the black civil rights movement. In the piece, titled “To the “>letter by the Black Americans to Support Israel Committee, backing Israel’s right to exist.)

Her outspoken support for Israel in the name of civil rights not only cuts against the arguments of Students for Justice in Palestine and other critics of Israel, but also against the drift of much black civil rights rhetoric over the past few decades.

While a number of early civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were supportive of Israel, subsequent black leaders — particularly starting with the black power movement in the late 1960s — often have been sharply critical of the Jewish state. Black power leader Stokely Carmichael “>endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and “>recorded “>spoke at an event organized by The Alumni Community, a New York-area alumni group for Birthright Israel, which is less ideologically oriented. And not all of her fans consider themselves conservative.

“She’s a champion on campus of a Zionism that doesn’t apologize and also comes from a deep place of humanism,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., who describes himself as a “progressive Zionist.” “Her rejection of the demonization of Israel is not based on being a talking head on the right or the left. It’s based on being a very articulate and thoughtful leader on campus.”

Although her views on Israel tend to be aligned with more right-leaning pro-Israel groups, Valdary maintains that her opinions are based on liberal ideals. She argues that Israel’s sovereignty over Arab citizens “speaks to the concept of indigenous people” — the Jewish people, according to Valdary — thus is a liberal value. This places her at odds with a number of Israel critics, as well as black leaders such as Carmichael and Angela Davis, who have argued that the Palestinians are indigenous while Jewish-Israelis are colonizing interlopers.

Valdary says that “Israeli society, like any other society, has issues with discrimination, but in terms of systematic discrimination, like apartheid in Africa or Jim Crow, that does not exist in Israeli society.” She says that she opposes a two-state solution, favoring a “Jewish one-state solution” in which all citizens in Israel and its territories can vote, but “the culture, the personality” of Israel is Jewish.

Valdary’s political views, and her invocation of civil rights history and rhetoric in the cause of Zionism, has made her a controversial figure and a lightning rod for criticism. Some of the criticism has been racially derogatory, as when blogger Richard Silverstein posted an article of Valdary’s on Facebook with the “>Valdary “>said, “This is a perfect example of where the Israel lobby is heading, of where Zionism itself is heading, is that a right-wing evangelical has been recruited to attack Jewish intellectuals and to tell them that they are bad Jews.” (Valdary does not consider herself an evangelical or right wing.)

Blumenethal added, “I find it peculiar that someone with no credentials is so outspoken, so heavily promoted on this issue.”

In a 


What Ferguson can learn from Los Angeles

For students of Los Angeles history, the tragic saga of Ferguson, Mo., rings bells. A brutal police department, accountable to no one and backed by a hostile white mayor and police chief, faces off with a black community that seemingly has little recourse. A largely white City Hall has very little minority representation. It could be Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, Police Chief William Parker, and a largely white city council all over again.

But the difference is that political change in L.A. long ago upset the applecart of racial injustice. For Ferguson, sadly, that political change has yet to come. Los Angeles, a city with an 18 percent black population in 1970, made changes that would have been unthinkable a decade before, when not a single African-American held public office. By 1973, the city had elected a black mayor, Tom Bradley, to the first of his five terms. Bradley appointed a police commission that regularly confronted the Los Angeles Police Department. Since 1963, when three African-Americans were elected to the council, 20 percent of the city council has been African-American, even as the city’s black population has declined to 10 percent. Near the end of Bradley’s tenure, he led a successful charge to reform the governance of the police department, through a ballot measure that stripped the chief of civil service protection and set term limits on the position.

Ferguson, a city with a two-thirds black population, shows few signs of similar political mobilization despite years of minority alienation. Writing in the Washington Post, urban and public policy experts Peter Dreier and Todd Swanstrom argue that “suburban ghettos” like Ferguson suffer from a combination of bad social conditions and few resources comparable to those that help organize minority populations in big cities. While black voters in Ferguson turn out for presidential elections, they barely participate in city elections. Many of these suburban minority communities are built on relatively new arrivals, who are less likely to vote than longtime residents.

By contrast, a recent study by the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles found that Los Angeles’ black voters are quite active in the city’s elections, compared to other groups in the city. (All groups, however, turn out at much lower levels for municipal elections than for presidential ones.)  Because the black community continues to be active and attentive to what happens at Los Angeles City Hall — a legacy of the historic struggles to advance civil rights and elect Bradley and support his policies — it has retained a powerful voice there.

There is a lesson in all this for the midterm elections of 2014 nationally, as well as for the future of Ferguson, Mo.

The American political system is nearly unique in the world. While most democracies use some version of a parliamentary system that vests most power in a representative body chosen in a national election, with the majority party or parties selecting the prime minister, the American system sets up a blisteringly exciting presidential election that allocates only part of the power to the winner. (Some democracies have a combined presidential and parliamentary model.) Separate votes are held for both the Senate and the House of Representatives, for governors, for state legislatures, and, if you want to get technical about it, for local offices, school boards, water boards, mosquito abatement districts, and so on. For a nation that doesn’t much like to vote, we sure do schedule a lot of elections. And we set them at all sorts of odd times sure to perplex voters. 

American voters pay close attention to the presidential election. The majority of eligible voters, and a much larger majority of those registered to vote, show up to vote for presidents. Naturally, expectations are always very high for the newly elected president, who then gets a wonderful “honeymoon” period, followed rather quickly by disappointment and disillusionment. Midterm elections, which don’t have the president on the ballot, are a great chance for the opposing party to increase gridlock, as happened in 2010.

Pundits tell the president to “get along” with Congress, or if that doesn’t work, to “boss them around like Lyndon Johnson did.” But the president faces a Congress whose election he or she may not control, or even be able to influence much. Each of the 50 states pursues its own policies under the direction of governors and legislators who have won their own elections. Counties, cities and towns have their own election schedules, with their supervisors, mayors and councils often elected in odd-numbered years when fewer working-class and minority voters come to the polls. This is the case in both Ferguson and the City of Los Angeles.

As we go down the ladder of government, voter turnout tends to decrease and skew further away from minorities, from youth, from the working class and other struggling Americans. And as these governments not under the president’s control pursue policies that frustrate or contradict those of the popularly elected president, people become frustrated and alienated: “I told you it was a waste of time to vote for that guy.”

The truth is that the people who are the most likely to become discouraged and not vote are those who most need the help of government to make things right. Like the disenfranchised African-Americans in Ferguson, or the young people who are telling pollsters that they are extremely unlikely to vote in November’s midterm elections, they drift away. The 2010 midterm elections added a new wrinkle, as state legislatures newly under Republican control began efforts to systematically disenfranchise minority and younger voters through new voting laws. This assault may be unprecedented in modern America, but it certainly underlines that when it comes to voting in non-presidential elections, the best advice is “use it or lose it.”

The particular coalition that brought Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012 is precisely the most likely to both avoid non-presidential voting and to feel disappointed that Obama has not done everything they had hoped for. 

It doesn’t much pay to berate people for not voting. They already feel pretty crummy about things and believe they don’t have an impact on what happens to (not by) them in the public arena. They are often overwhelmed financially and in other ways, and may consider the time and effort it takes to vote a luxury they don’t have. To rebuild the kind of civic participation we need in order to have a fairer and more inclusive society, we need to go to the root of the problem, which is the deeply held belief that nothing can be done collectively to solve our problems. An increased level of voting is probably the result of fixing that problem.

So let’s go back to the Ferguson and Los Angeles comparison. Los Angeles, like other big cities, had a strong and assertive civil rights movement that emphasized political action to change policy at the local level. It had the attention of such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., who came to the city in the 1960s to bolster the progressive side. And Bradley forged a durable and historic biracial coalition with Jews and other liberal whites, which helped make up for the smaller black population share. Changing police practices and opening up City Hall to diversity became driving forces for change, and but it was only the election of new people to office that could make change happen.

Ferguson, like many suburban communities with large minority populations (think Bell and other southeastern Los Angeles cities), until now has not had the kind of media attention and broad mobilization that could help connect its suffering neighborhoods to wider political action. It does not appear to have a large white liberal population with which to form coalitions. But there will be city elections in April 2015, and if ever there were a time to develop a sense of political efficacy — to identify candidates, to unify disparate local forces, to build whatever coalitions are possible, to draw on any outside resources that will support and not interfere with local organizing, to mobilize and inform the community — this is it.

When it comes to voting, showing people its value is much more powerful than talking about it. Let people see that their votes can change who leads them, and can influence the practices of police and other public servants. If that happens, there will be no going back to the days of hopelessness and alienation. 


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State Univerisity, Los Angeles.

Fifty years after Freedom Summer, civil rights volunteers reflect on activist lives

At the Freedom Summer anniversary conference in Jackson, Miss., the activists who registered black voters and taught in Freedom Schools under the threat of violence 50 years ago stood up to introduce themselves.

It took three hours to hear what they did in the Magnolia State back in 1964 and have gone on to do in the half-century since.

“Almost everyone had a social justice connection,” said Heather Booth, who went to Mississippi as a college freshman from New York before moving on to a career as a nationally prominent liberal activist. “The former volunteers went on to work as teachers, environmental activists and in the field of health care.”

Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, Freedom Summer sent mostly white college students to Mississippi to confront the violent racism in the state.

In the summer of 1964, some 1,500 volunteers worked registering blacks to vote, teaching in Freedom Schools and organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which aimed to challenge the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention that year.

Jews were represented among the young civil rights volunteers in numbers far exceeding their share of the population.

Debra Schultz, the author of “Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement,” said that like other SNCC activists, Jewish Freedom Summer volunteers were motivated by a desire to hold the country to its full promise of democracy. Many were inspired as well by their Jewish and often left-leaning backgrounds.

“Among particularly ‘Jewish’ motivations, we can cite: an identification with another racialized people and a passion for racial justice, born of the recent experience with the Holocaust,” Schultz told JTA via email.

Booth said that she came to Mississippi a year after visiting Israel, where she made a commitment at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to struggle for justice. Schultz noted that her synagogue had funded the $500 bail money required to participate in Freedom Summer in the case of an arrest.

The first days of Freedom Summer saw the murder of three civil rights workers — Jewish New Yorkers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and black Mississippian James Chaney, who had been investigating the burning of a black church. During the weeks-long search for the workers, the bodies of eight murdered black men were found in the Mississippi countryside before the discovery of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner’s remains.

Tension and danger lurked throughout the summer.

There were another four people critically wounded, 80 activists beaten, 1,000 arrests, 37 churches and 30 black homes or businesses bombed or burned.

Booth recalls feeling frightened all the time that summer.

“But it was also very exhilarating,” Booth said. “There were nightly meetings at black churches, with a lot of singing.”

In Shaw, Miss., where blacks were neglected, Booth said she felt honored that her hosts generously gave up their beds for her and three other volunteers.

“In the black part of town, there were no toilets, no sewers and no street lights,” Booth said.

Booth continued her activism after Freedom Summer. She became involved in the women’s movement, founding Jane, an underground abortion counseling and referral service in Chicago. She went on to serve as the founding director of the NAACP National Voter Fund and Americans for Financial Reform. She also coordinated grassroots efforts to win passage of President Obama’s first budget.

Based in Washington, D.C., she currently consults for and advises a variety of liberal advocacy groups.

At the anniversary conference in late June, Booth was one of more than 200 former Freedom Summer volunteers in attendance. They met with nearly 2,000 younger activists.

Larry Rubin, a veteran labor movement activist who came to the reunion from Takoma Park, Md., worked on the SNCC staff as a young man from 1961 to 1965, first in southwest Georgia. In early 1964, he went to Mississippi to set up the infrastructure for Freedom Summer.

Rubin said that when he trucked donated books to the Freedom Schools, he was pulled over, roughed up and arrested by police who expressed anti-Semitic sentiments. (But when he came back to Mississippi later as a labor organizer, he recalled, a policeman who had once threatened to kill him if he ever again showed his face in his town praised his efforts to unionize a local business.)

When local blacks faced harassment, he said, all the civil rights workers could do was offer to report it to the federal government.

Rubin left the SNCC in 1965 as it was turning toward Black Power and whites were being pushed out of the organization. Rubin recalls feeling a sense of relief, like he was dismissed and could go home.

He returned to university studies to learn more about his Eastern European Jewish roots, just as the Black Power movement was encouraging African-Americans to embrace their heritage.

Rubin, who grew up in Philadelphia, said his civil rights work was influenced by his parents, who taught him to fight for social justice because of what his grandparents went through fleeing Europe.

But while many volunteers were Jewish, their backgrounds were not necessarily at the forefront within the movement.

“In the 1960s we didn’t discuss being Jewish, and we didn’t bring up our motivation for getting involved in the movement,” Rubin said. “There was no space to discuss Jewishness.”

Bob Moses, the well-known black civil rights leader and Freedom Summer organizer, told JTA that he was not aware at the time of participants’ Jewish identities.

“I didn’t know if Freedom Summer people were Jewish,” he said.

At the anniversary gathering, however, it was a topic of discussion, with a breakout session focused on Jewish participation. Also, concurrent with the reunion, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life organized events on Jewish involvement in civil rights and social justice activism.

Freedom Summer volunteer Annie Popkin said her family was very aware of discrimination because her father was shut out of Harvard Medical School due to quotas that limited the numbers of Jewish students. At times her family embraced their Jewishness. Other times they turned away from it, seeing it as a painful liability, she said.

She said she was “so ready to go” south when organizers recruited students like her at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass.

Popkin started early in her activism. When she was 12 or 13, Popkin said, her mother took her to a picket line to demand fair housing in her hometown on New York’s Long Island after a black family who moved into the white section had their house burned.

Later, in ninth grade, she and a friend organized pickets of Woolworth’s in New York City in support of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the South. Once when she was picketing, Popkin said, a woman shouted at her, “You’ll make my husband lose his job, and that’s not nice of you!”

“I realized I was not going to be a nice 1950s girl,” Popkin said in a telephone interview from her home in Portland, Ore., where she works as a counselor.

By the time of her Freedom Summer orientation in Oxford, Ohio, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner had already disappeared. Freedom Summer organizers feared the worst.

But Popkin remembers feeling optimistic as hundreds of black and white SNCC volunteers locked arms, held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

“Just imagine if everyone in the country could feel this spirit and see this vision. Wouldn’t people want to end segregation?” she recalled thinking.

Popkin calls her optimism naive.

“It was so moving to be part of the embodied vision of beloved community we were creating in working together, singing together, risking our lives together, believing together,” she said. “We knew what was right, and we spent our days and nights organizing for it.”

She went to Vicksburg, Miss., where she gathered signatures for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She witnessed the threats and reprisals — economic and physical — that kept blacks from attempting to register to vote.

“We got to see the strong consequences of what we were doing,” Popkin said.

Popkin, who went on to become involved in the women’s movement and teach women’s studies at various universities, pointed to the value of recalling the experiences of rank-and-file civil rights activists like her.

“There’s been a media emphasis on leaders in the civil rights movement and not the individuals who participated,” Popkin said. “All of our stories can be inspiration. If we could make change at 18, 19, 20, so can others today.”

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Defense Of Marriage Act in win for gays

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a central portion of a federal law that restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

The ruling, on a 5-4 vote, means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.

The court was due to decide within minutes a second case concerning a California law that bans same-sex marriage in the state.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy, often the court's swing vote in close decisions, also said the law imposes “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia both wrote dissenting opinions.

By striking down Section 3 of the law, the court clears the way to more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.

As a result of Wednesday's ruling, Edith Windsor of New York, who was married to a woman and sued the government to get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses die, will be able to claim a $363,000 tax refund. 

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham

Ruling on campus hate

Over the past decade, as anti-Israel demonstrations have become a regular occurrence on many U.S. college campuses, Jewish nonprofits and individuals have turned to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for relief, and with some success. They convinced the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), for one, to investigate anti-Israel speech and actions at three University of California campuses, arguing that such speech is tantamount to anti-Semitism and violates the civil rights of Jewish students. 

Yet some of those investigations have remained open for years; none have found evidence of wrongdoing by the universities, and last week a coalition of civil rights groups led by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged the DOE to dismiss the still-open investigations. 

In a letter sent to two DOE staff members on May 14, CAIR and seven other groups argued that the OCR investigations into anti-Israel speech and actions at UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have dragged on for too long, far longer than the office’s internal benchmark of 180 days. The letter also faults the OCR for not allowing Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students to have input into the investigations, which, these civil rights groups allege, has effectively quashed the students’ ability to express their political opinions about actions taken by Israel against the Palestinians. 

A DOE spokesman acknowledged that some complex cases take the OCR longer than its internal goal of 180 days to resolve, and reaffirmed its position that rules for campus speech must be in line with the First Amendment. He declined to comment on any of the open investigations.

The coalition’s letter represents the latest salvo in a war over campus speech between the organizations purporting to represent Jewish and pro-Israel students and the groups claiming to speak on behalf of Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students. The result has so far been a perpetual stalemate, with advocates on each side claiming that the students on the other side are intimidating, marginalizing and silencing the students they represent. 

Over the years, representatives on both sides have turned to lawmakers in Sacramento and UC leaders in an effort to bolster their claims. But the matter before OCR is of particular importance, in part because, as a federal agency, its decision could have the most far-reaching impact. 

At its core, the question facing OCR investigators is whether anti-Israel speech can be anti-Semitic and, as such, violate the civil rights of Jewish students. 

Since 2004, when OCR first affirmed its policy of investigating allegations of discrimination against students who shared both ethnic and religious characteristics — including Jewish, Muslim and Sikh students — Jewish individuals and groups have filed complaints against a handful of universities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

By and large, the complaints focus on the way anti-Israel demonstrations and speeches on campus make Jewish students feel, and when OCR agreed to open investigations into a number of those complaints, advocates including the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which initiated two separate complaints against UC Irvine, heralded the decision as a partial acknowledgement of their claims’ validity. 

But in 2007, DOE dismissed the ZOA’s first UC Irvine claim, and has not released decisions about either ZOA’s second claim against UC Irvine (which OCR has been investigating since 2008) or the two other open investigations. 

CAIR and its allies argued in their recent letter that by not resolving the complaints, OCR is “causing a profound chilling of student speech,” and they dispute the basic charge that anti-Israel speech could be anti-Semitic. 

“While the DOE should thoroughly look into civil rights complaints, these allegations cross the line between protecting civil rights and targeting certain political views,” CAIR lead staff attorney Ameena Qazi said in a statement accompanying a text of the May 14 letter. 

But Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who teaches Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz and who filed a Title VI complaint against her employer in 2009, argues that certain forms of anti-Israel speech do qualify as anti-Semitic under definitions adopted by the U.S. State Department and other official bodies. As such, -Rossman-Benjamin said the speech practiced by pro-Palestinian and Muslim students and student groups aren’t deserving of protection and wouldn’t be defended if they maligned another ethnic group. 

“What happened to freedom of speech with the ‘Compton Cookout’?” Rossman-Benjamin asked, referring to a 2010 incident of anti-black racism by white fraternity brothers at UC San Diego that provoked investigations by both the DOE and the Department of Justice. “Who argued for their freedom of speech? 

“I’m not trying to say anything about the response of the university to that,” Rossman-Benjamin continued. “I am trying to say that there is an egregious double standard that is discriminatory against Jewish students.”

Even as Rossman-Benjamin complains about certain forms of anti-Israel speech and demonstrations — including the “Apartheid Wall” that pro-Palestinian groups use to outline alleged human rights abuses by Israel — she herself has come under fire for comments. In a video posted on YouTube, Rossman-Benjamin appeared to suggest to an audience at a synagogue near Boston in June 2012 that students involved in pro-Palestinian activism on campuses have ties to terrorist groups. 

“These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats,” Rossman-Benjamin said of groups like the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations.”

The UC Santa Cruz chapter of SJP took offense and posted more than a dozen videos of its members responding to Rossman-Benjamin’s comments. The group also initiated an online petition urging outgoing UC President Mark Yudof to condemn Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks, which has garnered more than 1,800 signatures.
Rossman-Benjamin has stood by her comments, which she said were taken out of context. In a manner typical of the way each side’s claims in this debate often mirrors those of the other, Rossman-Benjamin said the SJP’s “campaign of defamation” is an attack on her own freedom of speech.

The debate has mobilized some more extreme groups on both sides — first and foremost, CAIR, which according to the Anti-Defamation League has offered “a platform to conspiratorial Israel-bashers and outright anti-Semites.” A local chapter of the anti-Islam organization ACT! for America — the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a hate group — recently urged its members to send letters supporting Rossman-Benjamin to UC President Yudof. 

More moderate voices have remained silent. In 2011, when Kenneth Stern, a longtime staff member with the American Jewish Committeen (AJC), co-wrote a letter warning about the perils of restricting speech, Rossman-Benjamin and others protested, and the AJC backed off. 

Stern declined to comment for this article, but his co-author, Cary Nelson, an English professor at University of Illinois and former president of the American Association of University Professors, described the argument that anti-Israel remarks are anti-Semitic in some as a “third rail” in academic discourse. 

And even though Nelson, who is Jewish, has at times made that argument, provoking howls of protest from his peers, he cautioned against taking Rossman-Benjamin’s approach, calling the Title VI complaints a “a portmanteau of very different kinds of impulses with very different origins.” 

“The solution to loathsome speech is more speech,” he said. “Trying to restrict hate speech on campus is certainly a mistake.” 

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Jan 19–25, 2013



Oscar-winning composer Yuval Ron leads “Mystical Music and Dance of the Middle East.” Uniting Arabic, Jewish and Christian performers, the concert, part of the World City series at downtown’s Music Center, features songs of Sufi origin from Turkey, Jewish prayers from Morocco, Yemen and Israel, and chants from the Christian Armenian Church accompanied by Middle Eastern stringed instruments, a whirling dervish and a belly dancer. Sat. 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. Free. The Music Center, W.M. Keck Children’s Amphitheatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown. (213) 972-4396.



Featuring artwork by Iranian-Jewish artists David Abir, Krista Nassi, Tal Shochat and Marjan Vayghan, the Shulamit Gallery’s second inaugural exhibition, a satellite show of the Fowler Museum’s “Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews,” explores what it means to be forced into exile while remaining connected to the sights, sounds and scents of a remembered landscape. Sat. 6-9 p.m. Exhibition runs through March 9. Free. Shulamit Gallery, 17 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. RSVP required: (310) 281-0961.




The unlikely friendship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is the focus of this new play by American Jewish University Whizin Center instructor Jane Marla Robbins. Asner stars in this staged reading as the Polish-born Heschel, who walked arm-in-arm with King during the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Sun. 4 p.m. $45. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1246.




Schloss, the childhood friend and stepsister of Anne Frank, appears in person to give a firsthand account of the discovery and printing of Frank’s diary as well as provide insights into Frank’s life. Much like Frank, Schloss survived the Holocaust hidden in a Dutch home before being discovered by the Nazis. A Holocaust educator based in London, Schloss is a trustee with the Anne Frank Educational Trust, U.K., and has shared her experience in the books “Eva’s Story” and “The Promise.” Tue. 6:30 p.m. Free. USC University Park Campus, Bovard Auditorium, Los Angeles. (213) 748-5884.



Drawing comparisons to sophisti-pop chanteuse Sade, this soulful British-Jewish singer-songwriter is on the rise with a Mercury Music Prize nomination for her debut album, “Devotion.” Ware performs a free show at Amoeba Music and signs copies of her latest EP, “If You’re Never Gonna Move.” The South Londoner’s Wednesday show at the El Rey Theatre is already sold out, so don’t miss your chance to see her gratis. Tue. 6 p.m. Free. Amoeba Music, 6400 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 245-6400.




Kaplan, a Journal columnist and the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, discusses choices made, difficulties encountered and commitments solidified as part of USC’s “What Matters to Me and Why” series, which features speakers who helped shape the university. Kaplan draws on his broad career, which has spanned academia, government, politics, the entertainment industry and journalism. Wed. Noon-12:50 p.m. Free. USC University Park Campus, Ground Zero Performance Café main hall, Los Angeles. (213) 740-6110.




The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Bet Tzedek Legal Services gather top-notch legal experts to take on challenging topics. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, discusses “The Federal Courts and Civil Rights Today.” ADL legal affairs director Steven Freeman moderates a panel discussion on “Civil Rights Topics Facing Minority Communities” with civil rights attorneys Jon Davidson (Lambda Legal), Constance Rice (Advancement Project), Thomas Saenz (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Karin Wang (Asian Pacific American Legal Center). Grant Specht, directing attorney at Bet Tzedek, addresses “Working With Challenging Clients: Ethics & Practical Solutions for Pro Bono Attorneys.” Fri. 8 a.m. (breakfast and registration), 8:30-noon (program). $36. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-4244.



The best-selling author discusses “The Fifth Assassin,” the second entry in his Culper Ring trilogy. On the trail of a killer in Washington, D.C., who is re-creating the crimes of the four men who successfully assassinated U.S. presidents, archivist Beecher White discovers a shocking truth: All four assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, were secretly working together. Fri. 7 p.m. Free. Barnes & Noble, The Grove at Farmers Market, 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0270.

Opinion: Step up for civil rights treaty for people with disabilities

Several important Jewish organizations are standing behind a critical international treaty to support civil rights, dignity and hope for people with disabilities. However, grass-roots help is urgently needed to get it approved by the U.S. Senate before the political season overtakes the ability to get things done in Washington.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is under consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It is already supported by the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Rabbinical Assembly, The Jewish Federations of North America, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Women’s Rabbinic Network. But you can make a difference by calling your senator at (202) 225-3121.

The convention realizes an international effort to achieve global goals of economic self-sufficiency, equality of opportunity, full participation and independent living for people with disabilities. These goals are enshrined in our own Americans with Disabilities Act, a model for the convention. The convention will enable Americans with disabilities working or traveling abroad, such as veterans or members of military families with disabilities, to access the same protections as they enjoy in America.

No new legislation will be required by U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, nor does the convention impose any new costs. In fact, as noted, much of the treaty is grounded in American laws. However, American action is needed for international leadership in this area.

America must move quickly to ratify the treaty, and we need to do our part. The CRPD treaty was launched under President George W. Bush and sent to the Senate by President Obama. Already there is some momentum created by the announcement of bipartisan support of Senators Durbin, McCain, Barrasso, Udall, Coons and Moran.

Ratifying the treaty during this Congress will enable the U.S. to participate in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee, an advisory group that is a forum for idea sharing related to disability policy. The committee represents a valuable opportunity for continued American leadership and influence on this issue. Only those countries that have ratified the convention can serve on the committee, and American leadership in this arena is critical to the ultimate success of the treaty.

The American disability rights community has united behind ratification of the convention. It’s time for us to say “hineni”—here I am—and stand to ensure full participation and access for people with disabilities the world over.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the parent of a child with special needs, is the founder and president of Laszlo Strategies.

Journey to freedom: Reflecting on the King memorial

Time affirms what heroism discerns. The dedication of a statue in memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is a belated yet significant tribute to a man who did so much to redefine the meaning of our democracy.

Make no mistake about it, there was a civil rights movement in the middle years of the 20th century, but King was the face of the movement, the pulse of it—one might even say the heart of it.

The memorial in Washington, D.C., about to be dedicated to his memory is made of solid stone, of granite. It will remain for the ages, solid and unmoving, a reminder of what dedication and courage are able to achieve.

Yet contemplating the statue, something seems to be missing. King was not one to sit transfixed for the ages. He was always in motion, always on the move. His travels led him on a heroic if ultimately fatal arc—Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Memphis.

In Selma, Ala., and later in Chicago, I experienced no great moral revelation as I answered King’s invitation to join him, no great sense that destiny was inviting me to play a supporting role. Quite the contrary; the feeling was rather mundane. What was being done had to be done.

I had the privilege of spending several days in Chicago with King, who was there to protest a housing market that remained segregated. King’s presence shattered the illusion that discrimination was a southern disease, not a northern one.

We marched in the heart of the city, down Michigan Avenue. I was walking beside King when a small stone aimed at him hit me on the forehead. It was a glancing, harmless blow, but the scene was picked up by a television camera and broadcast all over the country. Friends in New York called: “Are you all right? Were you hurt?”

“No damage, I am fine,” I answered. And then, in a moment, I started to tremble.

“No, I am hurt—not by the stone but by the hatred, the bitterness, the rage,” I said.

It is the anger behind that stone that remains with me even now, so many years later. How easy it is to deplore hatred—even the political hatreds that still drive us away from our own humanity. Yet how difficult it is to understand the anguish of the poor and powerless. And how impossible it is to contemplate something that has begun to affect both blacks and whites—the steady evisceration of a struggling middle class.

So there he will sit for the ages, the man who for all too brief a span would never let us relax or sit smugly silent. The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial will become a tourist attraction. Facing as it does the Lincoln Memorial, it will serve as a reminder that our country’s moral force remains alive and potent.

King and Lincoln—neither led a simple life. Both were shot down by demented fanatics. Both tell us that the journey to freedom still requires wisdom, dedication and courage.

(Rabbi Robert J. Marx, the founder and a past president of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago and Alabama and fought for civil rights in Chicago and beyond.)

The Ninth Circuit Court issues a rare smack-down to a civil rights group

Have the courts that have often been tolerant of questionable claims of racial discrimination finally begun to run out of patience?

This may be the case.  Recently the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals raised eyebrows by issuing a stinging rebuke to civil rights lawyers who brought a lawsuit that claimed their plaintiffs – poor and largely minority public bus riders in the San Francisco Bay Area – had been the victims of discrimination.

The smack-down of the advocate’s lawsuit is significant because the Ninth Circuit is widely seen as one of the more liberal federal courts in the nation.

One of the primary civil rights groups who brought the case is the Equal Justice Society, a group based in San Francisco with a long history of radical activism and “social justice” legal work.  Undeterred by the loss in court, they issued a statement on their website that asked the question, “Can the Poor Get Justice?” 

It’s clear that in the minds of the civil rights groups that sued the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transit Commission the answer to that question is … no.  But even though a normally friendly federal court had just told them their case was bogus, the Equal Justice Society claimed the court had virtually turned its back on poor, minority bus riders.

The primary plaintiff in the case of Darensburg v. Metropolitan Transit Commission was Sylvia Darensburg, identified as an African-American mother of three who lives in East Oakland.  She’s someone the Equal Justice Society says “experiences the reality of transit inequality.” 

That inequality, according to them, was her having to rely on public buses as her primary source of transportation to get her to work and the college classes she attended at night.  She “endured” long waits for the two buses she rode and had to walk 12 blocks to get to and from the closest bus stop.

According to the evidence presented by the plaintiff’s lawyers, nearly 80 percent of Bay Area bus riders are people of color, and over 70 percent have incomes that are below $30,000.  They argued that almost 60 percent of the bus riders are entirely dependent on public buses for transportation.

The Ninth Circuit examined the facts, heard the evidence and concluded that no discrimination was taking place.  The evidence presented by the plaintiff’s counsel was that a regional transit expansion plan would have a disparate impact on minorities; the Bay Area’s rail service predominantly benefits white riders; and the Metropolitan Transit Commission has an intentionally inconsistent application of criteria to bus and rail projects that displayed a bias in favor of rail riders over bus riders.

But the Court discovered that, in fact, over 51 percent of rail riders were members of racial minority groups.  The Court also said, “The statistical measure upon which Plaintiffs relied to establish a prima facie case is unsound, and their claim rests upon a logical fallacy.”  Addressing the claim that a rail expansion plan would harm minorities, the Court stated “… the evidence shows that Bay Area minorities already benefit substantially from rail service” and that “no court could possibly determine whether MTC’s long-term expansion plan will help or harm the region’s minority transit riders.” 

Sounding a bit perturbed, the Court’s ruling was that, “The Plaintiffs failure to provide an appropriate measure of disparate impact also fatally undermines their claim of intentional discrimination.”  It went on to state “Not only does Plaintiff’s statistical evidence fail to prove discrimination, but their circumstantial evidence does not support any inference” that the transit company was motivated by racial bias.

But mirroring the worst example contained in so-called Critical Race Theory, something that has infected liberal law schools around the nation and argues that whites will always and forever be inherently racist, the Equal Justice Society’s president, Eva Patterson, along with that organization’s director of law and policy, Reggie Shuford, wrote an article for New America media that attempts to tie a neat bow of victimhood around their clients.

Ignoring the fact that the Ninth Circuit judges had said the lawyers representing the Plaintiffs had flat failed to make their case, Patterson and Shuford reached deep into the Critical Race Theory bag to argue that the liberal-leaning Ninth Circuit was somehow hostile to poor, black folk.

While admitting that today’s America has virtually eliminated the segregationists and vile white supremacists like George Wallace, they nonetheless conclude that “the majority of racial bias is structural or implicit … defining who has access to goods, services and opportunities.” In other words, because Sylvia Darensburg has to rely on a bus to get around the city, has to walk blocks to a bus stop, and has to wait awhile for a bus, the shadow of George Wallace still lurks in Oakland.

But the world we exist in is not always a fair place, and what the original architects of the civil movement struggled for was the equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.  It would be preferable that people who have to ride buses could find them to be safe, affordable, easily accessible and always arrived on time.

But because that may not always be the case in cities all over America, it doesn’t mean that race or class-based discrimination is at work, or a cabal of racists is busy inside a major American city’s transit authority to make life miserable for racial minorities who have to ride buses.

In his concurring opinion, Judge John T. Noonan stated “In the Bay Area … social change has been fostered by liberal political attitudes, and a culture of tolerance.  An individual bigot may be found, perhaps even a pocket of racists.  The notion of a bay Area board bent on racist goals is a specter that only desperate litigation could entertain.”

Ouch … desperate litigation?  But what are today’s civil rights advocates desperate about?  Could it be that shrinking bigotry and increasingly liberal racial attitudes has caused a “desperate” need to insist they are still relevant – even if racism may today be something that’s only occasionally implicit?

Joe Hicks is the vice president of Community Advocates and host of’s the “Hicks File.”  David Lehrer is president of Community Advocates.     

Jewish student suing UC Berkeley for civil rights infringement

A student has brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of California, Berkeley, saying the university did not protect her from being attacked because she is Jewish.

Lawyers for Jessica Felber, 20, say the case, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., on March 4 against the university, the regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, is the first of its kind.

Her suit alleges that Husam Zakharia, a fellow student and the head of Students for Justice in Palestine, rammed into her with a metal cart because of the pro-Israel sign she was holding during a pro-Israel demonstration on the Berkeley campus on March 5, 2010.

The rally, organized by the student Zionist groupTikvah, was a counter to anti-Israel events being held that same week as part of Israel Apartheid Week.

Felber was treated for her injuries, and Zakharia was arrested for battery but later released.

The complaint alleges that the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, another pro-Palestinian group on campus, harass and attack Jewish students, and that the university knows about it and has not taken sufficient steps to protect its Jewish students.

The complaint further charges that university officials have tolerated “the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” that violates the rights of Jewish and other students “to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.”

The suit calls for damages and a jury trial.

Pro-Israel and anti-Israel students have clashed before on the Berkeley campus. In November 2008, Zakharia was one of three student cited for battery in a physical altercation over displaying the Palestinian flag at a pro-Israel event.

Proposition 8 and ‘the will of the people’ — an historical perspective

Californians are acutely aware that to many political observers, our initiative and referendum process remains a mystery at best and a menace to democracy at worst.

Take the hard-fought battle over a proposed discriminatory amendment to our state Constitution. It has been called the most bitterly fought issue in the nation’s most populous state, generating more intense public interest than the presidential election on the same ballot.

It posed the question, “Can the people override a previous action intended to end unequal treatment between citizens and amend the state Constitution expressly to permit such discrimination to continue?”

Even some minority communities, despite their own bitter experience, split on the issue. After intense internal debate, the Mexican Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles ultimately endorsed the amendment as a matter of individual rights and personal choice.

Further complicating matters, the amendment itself was confusing, with a counterintuitive “yes is no/no is yes” construction that led some people to vote against their intentions, codifying discrimination instead of eradicating it.

A costly advertising campaign helped ensure the measure’s approval, touching off a new round of anger and recriminations when it was immediately challenged in court. After all, the people had spoken. Time for us all to move on.

Astute readers may have guessed that I refer not to Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage prohibition that voters narrowly approved on Nov. 4. I’m recalling instead a similar controversy from another era, one of the seminal anti-discrimination battles waged in California 44 years before.

In November 1964 — the same presidential election when liberal Lyndon Johnson handily defeated conservative Barry Goldwater — California voters reversed field and passed Proposition 14, a constitutional amendment intended to counter the Rumford Fair Housing Act enacted the year before. Strongly supported by then-Gov. Pat Brown and carried by Assemblyman W. Byron Rumford, Northern California’s first black legislator, Rumford prohibited most racial discrimination in housing.

A well-funded coalition of realtors and landlords, intent on protecting white neighborhoods and their attendant property values from feared black incursions, immediately mounted a campaign to amend the state Constitution and guarantee property owners’ continued ability to deny minorities equal access to housing.

After a heated battle, and editorial support from some leading newspapers, the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote. As the head of the archconservative California Republican Assembly explained, in that Cold War era, “the essence of freedom is the right to discriminate…. In socialist countries, they always take away this right in order to complete their takeover.”

But Proposition 14’s passage was only the beginning, not the end. The measure’s opponents were bloodied but unbowed, and quickly filed suit. As the issue ground through the courts into 1965, the Watts Riots soon engulfed South Central Los Angeles, further shaking the city’s racial complacency to its very core. By the spring of 1966, the California Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision rejected Proposition 14 as a violation of the state Constitution’s equal protection and due process provisions.

The Rumford Act and Proposition 14 became a central issue in Gov. Brown’s re-election campaign that year. One would-be Republican challenger, William Penn Patrick, thundered that Brown’s “hand-picked Supreme Court” had overturned the will of 4.5 million Californians, declaring that the real issue was not race relations, but the abolition of property rights, “the cornerstone of freedom.” Patrick’s opponent in the Republican primary, Ronald Reagan, ultimately prevailed and went on to victory in the fall by dodging the issue, taking no stand on the fate of Proposition 14 but supporting modification or repeal of the original Rumford legislation.

Proposition 14’s days, however, were numbered. In June 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court again struck down the measure, this time as a violation of federal equal protection and due process guarantees, among the most fundamental of our constitutional rights. Its most fervent supporters vowed to fight on, but by then — with urban unrest sweeping the nation’s major cities — the more pragmatic conservative politicians increasingly realized it was a lost cause.

Gov. Reagan himself plainly recognized that the times were a-changing. In a spring 1968 press conference, he vowed to veto any legislative attempt to repeal Rumford, and would also oppose any fresh ballot initiatives to eliminate it. The law had taken on symbolic importance with minorities in California, he explained, conceding that “they have got some just grievances.”

For all the white-hot political heat generated at the time by the Rumford Fair Housing Act, the efforts to override it and the epic court battles that followed, the matter now seems little more than a curious relic of a bygone age. And so it will be, I believe, with Proposition 8’s attempt to similarly deny equal protection and due process to another persecuted minority in California today.

It is barely 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the kind of state anti-miscegenation laws that once barred the type of union that produced our current president-elect. Long after the courts have similarly struck down Proposition 8, and same-sex marriage prohibitions have rightly joined Jim Crow laws on the ash heap of history, our children will look back with wonder at how it could ever have been otherwise. May that day come soon.

Zev Yaroslavsky is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and represents the western portion of the county. He was an opponent of Proposition 8.

Where’s the struggle?

I feel cheated. I’ve always been told that Judaism is all about the struggle — the struggle with God, with ourselves, with ideas.

I’ve been told that Judaism embraces the tension between opposing views; that a key part of being Jewish is the ability to hold onto, even nurture, this tension as a way of refining our character.

So, what happened?

When I see the coarse arguments currently raging over the issue of same-sex marriage, I don’t see any thoughtful or fascinating debates or any embracing of tension. I see two armies shooting at each other.

These two armies have one thing in common: They’re both absolutely sure they have the truth on their side.

Many proponents of same-sex marriage are so sure of themselves that they’ll accuse the other side of “hatred, discrimination and bigotry.” When I saw a neighbor a few weeks ago put up a sign that said, “No to Hate, No to 8,” the first thing that crossed my mind was: If these people can go so far as to accuse the neighbors who disagree with them of hatred, well, they must be incredibly sure of themselves. No inner turmoil there.

I can’t say I’ve reached that state of blissful certitude. That’s because for every heartfelt, passionate argument I hear in favor of same-sex marriage, I’ll hear something that complicates the argument, such as this from Carol A. Corrigan:

“If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”

Corrigan is not a Mormon missionary. She’s a justice of the California Supreme Court. She was one of three dissenters in the decision last May to overturn the result of Proposition 22 from March 2000, when 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots voted that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Corrigan also happens to be a lesbian, who would personally like to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land. But as she wrote in her dissent:

“We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some, the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work.

“Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered.”

Does that sound like someone who’s full of hatred, discrimination and bigotry?

Similarly, I came across a scholarly and respectful essay from professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University titled, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The Bible is never mentioned. Instead, strictly from a secular and ethical viewpoint, Somerville delves into the many layers of the issue, always recognizing the opposing viewpoint. And without a trace of self-righteousness, she advances, slowly and carefully, her belief that “society needs an institution that represents, symbolizes and protects the inherently reproductive relationship.”

I would love to see all proponents of Proposition 8 show the same appreciation for the complexity of this issue.

As I see it, the key point is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Corrigan and Somerville, but rather, recognizing that there’s a lot more thoughtful debate on this issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, when I see the increasingly vitriolic attacks being launched against people who exercised their democratic right to vote on a proposition, all I’m thinking is: They’re losing me.

One person who certainly didn’t lose me was Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the IKAR community. Over coffee at Delice Bakery the other day, she made arguments in favor of same-sex marriage that were compelling and genuinely moving.

What moved me the most was the way she made her arguments — without any hint of anger or condescension, but with kindness, reason and heartfelt anecdotes. She didn’t feel the need to use scare tactics. She was against using words like “hate” to characterize the opposition, because, as she said, that kind of language doesn’t “open the heart.”

My conversation with Brous made me reflect on my own approach. Because I’m driven by curiosity as much as ideology, I have a tendency to immerse myself in both sides of an issue — even if I usually lean one way or the other.

I admit that I’m often tempted to just go over to my side, pick up a gun and start shooting. And sometimes I do. But then I ask myself, does the community need another partisan shooter, or does it need someone who can encourage all shooters to put down their guns and try to speak with the calmness and sensitivity of a Carole Corrigan, a Margaret Somerville or a Sharon Brous?

Maybe that’s the real struggle. Instead of trying to “convert” other people to our beliefs, we should struggle to convey those beliefs in a way that won’t alienate, demean or patronize the other side.

Even when — especially when — we’re absolutely sure that we are right and they are wrong.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

It can’t happen here

A coalition of black and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 California ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews.

Flush from the passage of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state, the leaders say they want to extend the ban to Jews whose emphasis on in-marriage, they say, contravenes Scripture and promotes intolerance and segregation.

“In-marriage is against Scripture,” said one organizer. “We are all God’s children. It sends a message that one group’s blood is too good to mix with another group’s blood.”

“What are we,” the organizer added, “chopped liver?”

Defending what is bound to be a controversial measure, the organizer said strong support for the passage of Proposition 8 in the black, Latino and Mormon religious communities proved that, in four years, more “so-called civil rights” could be reshaped by popular will.

As evidence, he cited pro-Proposition 8 statements from Dr. Frederick K.C. Price, who leads the 22,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Price on behalf of Proposition 8. “Let us stand with God in saying the definition of marriage must not change.”

At the urging of their church leaders, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, donated an estimated $22 million to promote Proposition 8 and backed Web sites urging voters to support it.

A letter sent to Mormon bishops and signed by church President Thomas S. Monson and his two top counselors called on Mormons to donate “means and time” to the ballot measure.

“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children,” Monson wrote.

The authors of the anti-Jewish marriage initiative say when leaders believe they have Scripture on their side, they can get their followers to fix any flaws in any constitution.

“People choose to remain gay, and people choose to remain Jewish,” said an organizer. “Why should the majority of us be forced to honor that choice?”

The Jewish prohibition against intermarriage is commonly attributed to a biblical passage, Deuteronomy 7:3: “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”

But one church leader said they have an entirely different interpretation of this passage.

“It only applies to Hitties and Amorites,” he said, “and I don’t see a lot of them around.”

By his calculation, the Torah only prohibits intermarriage if the children that result from such a union are turned away from their Jewish faith.

“Moses married Tziporra, who was the daughter of a Midianite priest,” said the preacher. “Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a convert. Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from Haman in the Purim story, was married to the Persian, non-Jewish King Ahashverus.”

“Don’t tell me the Bible doesn’t understand intermarriage.”

Asked whether he wasn’t simply asking voters to impose their interpretation of the Bible on a minority group, one black church leader countered, “Well, what do you think we did with Proposition 8?”

The organizer admitted that the initiative to ban Jewish-Jewish marriage was the first step toward other initiatives to ban kosher slaughter and ritual circumcision, two widespread Jewish practices that the Christian gospel does not follow.

Defending this plan, one organizer cited Pastor Beverly Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International’s defense of her support for Proposition 8: She wasn’t saying no to gays, she told the press, but “yes to God” and doing what “the Lord Jesus Christ” would do.

“We think the same rule should apply to all laws, not just marriage laws,” said one organizer. “We’re not saying no to Jews. We’re saying yes to Jesus.”

Organizers know they will face a tough battle — but just among Jews. Some 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the ban on gay marriage, and just 8 percent supported Proposition 8, according to exit polling by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.

Meanwhile, a relative handful of Mormon, black and Catholic leaders stood against their churches on Proposition 8. Contacted by The Journal, these leaders said their position was rooted in Scripture and the principle of the separation of church and state. They said they hoped their small example would convince more of their church members to oppose future attempts to curtail civil rights.

But Proposition 8’s supporters said they feel the wind at their backs, and they are going forward with their next initiative. Asked how he could possibly succeed in denying the civil rights of a minority based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible, one organizer summed up the feelings of the Jewish-Jewish marriage opponents.

“We did it once,” he said. “We can do it again.”

Yes, this is satire. No such proposition is in the works, or even a gleam in any group’s eye. The Jews have not been singled out for discrimination, just homosexuals. So why worry?

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention: ‘It can’t happen here!’

Turning a page in the history books


Religious “No!” to Proposition 8

“My Christian friends say homosexuality is a sin. Isn’t Judaism based on the same Old Testament bible?  How does our synagogue welcome homosexuals with acceptance and equality?”
I was substituting for our rabbi in our 10th grade confirmation class.  Homosexuality is not a curriculum subject.  The student asking the question, though, obviously struggled with conflicting messages.
On the one hand, Leviticus says when a man lies with another man like a woman, it is an abomination and they shall be put to death.  On the other hand, the Union of Reform Judaism, the denomination in which our synagogue affiliates, officially responded in 1989 to “gay rights’ as a civil rights issue and wrote a policy of inclusion statement.  
Included in the statement was a specific reference to “gay” and “lesbian” Jews, inviting them directly to become future prospective temple members and potential Reform denomination leaders.  The direct invitation indicated Reform Judaism was officially extending acceptance and equality to previously excluded Jews.  How could Union leaders pass a resolution that contradicts the Torah?  The question is easy to answer.
Reform Jews often do not read the bible literally.  In the Torah (the first five biblical books) the death penalty is mentioned as punishment for a number of crimes no one would implement today.   In Deuteronomy, the ‘wayward and defiant son’ (the teen boy disrespecting parents) should receive capitol punishment.  In Numbers, the Sabbath violator should also lose his life. In these two cases, no one argues the punishment fits the crime.  Why disregard or re-interpret the bible in these instances but take literally the sin of two men engaging in homosexual activity?  
The Torah is a holy document. It is not, though, a perfect work.  Reform Jews believe the sacred books in our literary cannon were written not by God but by people.   In other words, biblical and rabbinic authors may have been divinely inspired but they were still fallible human beings.  The written word, therefore, always reflects human imperfection.  The context of time a text was written should always be taken into consideration. 
Child sacrifices, animal cruelty, and inhumane slavery were inherent features of the pagan cult. In biblical times, it’s easy to understand how our Israelite ancestors strived to disassociate themselves from nations that performed horrific cultic practices.  It is easy, in establishing an ethical monotheistic covenant, to understand how our biblical ancestors could over-state their condemnation of particular pagan behaviors.
Rabbi Bradley Artson, a friend and mentor, is Dean of the Rabbinic School at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.  When Bradley Artson was a student studying to become a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he did an interesting academic project. 
He looked up every reference he could find to homosexual activity mentioned in ancient Greek and Latin writers.  Every citation he found described an encounter between males where one party, the master, physically abused another, the slave.  Rabbi Artson could not find a single example where one partner was not subservient to the other.
“Homosexual relationships today,” Rabbi Artson says, “should not be compared to the ancient world.  I know too many homosexual individuals, including close friends and relatives, who are committed to one another in loving long-term monogamous relationships.  I know too many same-sex couples that are loving parents raising good descent ethical children. Who’s to say their family relationships are less sanctified in the eyes of God than mine is with my wife and our children?”
“We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.” Reform Jews frequently look to this popular refrain as guidance when making important ethical decisions.
On the one hand, by standing on our ancestors’ shoulders, Reform Jews know we have roots to the past that help place in proper context our visions of the future. On the other, by standing on past shoulders, we can see further and clearer in their horizon’s future than previous generations could imagine.
Proposition 8 is California ballot initiative that legally restricts marriage to only a relationship between a man and a woman, depriving gays and lesbians a state mandated constitutional civil right.  In opposing this ballot-measure, I know I am optimistically standing on firm religious ground. 

Elliot Fein, a graduate of the American Jewish University and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, is Education Director at Temple Beth David in Westminster, California. 

ANALYSIS: Obama worked hard to gain Jewish trust

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (JTA)—A major Republican tack against Barack Obama has a simple theme: By his friends you shall know him.

For the McCain campaign, in recent weeks this has meant repeatedly linking the Democratic presidential nominee to William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground. But Jewish Republicans had been employing the strategy for many months in the run-up to the Nov. 4 vote, with the goal of portraying Obama as soft and unreliable in his support for Israel.

Jewish GOPers point to Obama’s 20-year membership in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his associations—however limited—with Palestinian activists and his consultations with some foreign policy experts seen as critical of either Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

To buttress this line of attack, they stress Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Hovering in the background—and at times right up in the voters’ faces—have been Internet campaigns and outright pronouncements by some conservative pundits depicting Obama as an Arab or a practicing Muslim.

Obama has responded by explaining how he has dropped troubling relationships, touting his ties to some Jewish communal leaders in Chicago and pro-Israel lights, casting himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel and presenting himself as a leader who would work to revitalize black-Jewish relations.

He has insisted repeatedly that Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” cited his defense of Israel’s military tactics during the 2006 war in Lebanon and pressed for tighter U.S. sanctions against Iran as part of his pledge to do everything in his power to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious traditions, as well as the early influence of Jewish and Zionist writers on his worldview. And last Martin Luther King Day, Obama used the pulpit of the slain civil rights leader to condemn anti-Semitism in the black community.

“I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Obama told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, noting “theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”

“So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Such policy and ideological pronouncements were enough to secure support during the Democratic primaries from a few pro-Israel stalwarts in the U.S. Congress (most notably Robert Wexler of Florida) and the media (New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz). And even the recently defunct New York Sun—a neoconservative newspaper that had plenty of problems with Obama’s domestic and foreign policies—felt inspired to publish an editorial in his defense on the general question of support for Israel.

“We’re no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven’t checked their facts,” the newspaper declared in the January 9, 2008 editorial. “At least by our lights, Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”

Still, despite such sentiments and Obama’s feverish efforts to allay Jewish concerns, polls showed him having trouble with Jewish voters—first during the primary season, when he reportedly trailed his main party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and then throughout much of the general election race when surveys showed him failing to match the totals of previous Democratic nominees.

In recent weeks, however, as the Republican ticket has had to cope with the nation’s economic collapse and the declining popularity of vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, Obama has been able to flood swing states with waves of newfound Jewish surrogates who were either neutral or with Clinton during the primaries but are now speaking out for him.

Their effectiveness was in evidence last week in a Gallup Poll that showed Obama breaking through a plateau that had dogged him for months: The Democratic candidate garnered 74 percent Jewish support, matching past Democratic candidates and bypassing the persistent 60 percent showing since the primaries.

The trend toward Obama was tangible earlier this month at the B’nai Israel synagogue in Rockville, Md., where the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Noah Silverman made the case for GOP nominee John McCain in a debate with Michael Levy of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Unlike the false depictions of Obama as a radical Muslim that have spread through the Internet, Republican Party reminders of Obama’s past associations with alleged radicals “are not smears,” Silverman said.

The packed hall burst into sustained laughter. Such derision, however, has not inhibited the guilt-by-association attacks. John Lehman, a Reagan administration Navy secretary, at this city’s Jewish community center last week cited the usual litany. He even tossed in Wright, though McCain has banned the use of the pastor’s liberation theology as a cudgel.

“You’re known by the company you keep,” Lehman said several times.

He later defended his mention of Wright, who once described Israel as a colonial power and used the phrase “goddamn America” in a sermon about the continued struggle facing blacks.

“It’s an important issue,” Lehman told JTA. “I don’t see how someone could sit in a pew for 20 years and listen to that crap.”

The Youngstown audience wasn’t interested—it peppered Lehman and the Obama surrogate with questions about policy.

That doesn’t mean that some of the attacks are not substantive. In an interview with JTA during the primaries, Obama failed to say how he could not have been aware of Wright’s radical views on Israel over a 20-year relationship with his church.

“It doesn’t excuse the statements that were made, it’s just simply to indicate it’s not as if there was a statement like this coming up every Sunday when I was at church,” Obama said at the time, evading the question, which was how Obama responded to Wright’s radicalism on those occasions, however infrequently he may have encountered it.

A few weeks later, Wright’s public appearances grew intolerable, and the Obamas left the church and cut off the pastor.

On other fronts, Obama has been less decisive in walking back from what many Jewish and pro-Israel activists—including his own supporters—see as obvious blunders.

Obama still won’t acknowledge that his “I would” reply to a debate question in 2007 about whether he would meet unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant just that. And his clear declaration of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital at the AIPAC policy conference in May was followed up by poorly conceived clarifications to the Palestinians, then to the pro-Israel community, then to anyone who was still bothering to ask.

The most effective Republican tack has been his status as a blank slate: Obama is 47 and has barely four years of experience on the national stage.

What has smoothed these concerns has been a strategy of systematically cultivating the Jewish community since his first run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness to scions of Chicago’s most influential Jewish families—including the Pritzkers and the Crowns—propelled a state-by-state outreach that strategically targeted similar dynasties.

For instance, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came on board after a meeting between the candidate and his father, Ron, a leading Cleveland developer. The campaign has set up Jewish leadership councils in major communities and hired Jewish outreach directors in at least six swing states.

Obama used the same strategic outreach in building his policy apparatus. The foreign policy team making the case for an Obama administration that engages in intense Middle East diplomacy features several accomplished Jewish members.

In addition to Wexler, Obama’s circle of advisers on Israel and Iran policy includes familiar veterans of the Clinton administration such as Dennis Ross, once America’s top Middle East negotiator; Dan Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Mara Rudman, a former national security councilor.

Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-or-break figure among Florida’s Jews, before announcing for president, and since 2005 has been consulting with Ross—the most reputable name among Jews in Middle East peacemaking.

“His vision of direct American engagement” with leaders in Tehran “for the purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it,” Wexler told JTA.

“Direct American engagement” with Iran was once inconceivable as a pro-Israel position. Due in part to a concerted effort by Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it has gone mainstream, most recently in a bill co-authored by the Democratic nominee that promoted tightened anti-Iran sanctions as well as the utility of engagement. The bill, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but was killed by Senate Republicans without explanation.

The bill is just one example of how Obama has offered detailed policy proposals that have meshed his emphasis on diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially when it comes to Iran. By the time Obama or his surrogates have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan that includes targeting refined petroleum exporters to Iran, the insurance industry and Iranian banks, listeners at some forums almost appear to have forgotten about Obama’s one-time pledge to meet with Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t hurt that the McCain campaign is short on such specifics.

In a trip to Israel over the summer, Obama impressed his interlocutors by internalizing their concerns over Iran and immediately integrating them into his own vision for the region, Ross said in an interview.

“He told the Israelis during the trip that ‘Iran with nuclear weapons was not only an existential threat to Israel, and I view it that way, but I also would view it as transforming the Middle East into a nuclear region, undermining everything I’d hope to accomplish,’ ” said Ross, who accompanied Obama on the trip.

None of this guarantees a smooth pro-Israel presidency. During the primaries, Obama cautioned Cleveland Jewish leaders that to be “pro-Israel” does not mean being “pro-Likud,” an encomium that could haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship if Obama is elected and the Likud Party—as projected—returns to power in case of early elections in Israel. Still, Obama supporters credit a meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for some of the nominee’s initiatives dealing with the Islamic Republic.

But it is the overemphasis on Obama’s Middle East views and associations—real or imagined—that might prove the critical weakness in Republican efforts to cut down Obama’s support among Jews. It’s not just that it’s true now, as it has been in past campaigns, that Jews are not single-issue voters. It is also that Obama has uncovered an exquisite Jewish spin to his broader appeal to generous notions of America’s liberal past.

In making the case that Obama is an unreliable flip-flopper, Republicans note that one of the biggest applause lines in his AIPAC speech was his Jerusalem pledge. But they don’t mention that the biggest applause line had nothing to do with Israel—especially extraordinary considering the foreign-policy-first crowd.

“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said in his conclusion. “They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man—James Chaney—on behalf of freedom and equality. Their legacy is our inheritance.”

In Washington’s culture of sarcastic bon mots, surely there lurks a line about what it takes to make an AIPAC activist cry. Judging by some of the faces in the crowd that day in May, Obama found the soft spot.

Ed Guthman leaves legacy of fighting injustice

When Ed Guthman died Aug. 30 at the age of 89, the Los Angeles Jewish community lost one of its most distinguished members.

He had been a Pulitzer Prize- winning reporter. As press secretary to Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, he braved danger in the South when the federal government forced recalcitrant states to integrate. Before that, he’d faced danger in combat in Italy during World War II.

Ed was an editor at the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a beloved journalism professor at USC. He helped create and then headed the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

I don’t believe Ed was religious. We never discussed it. Our shared religious background was hardly mentioned when, in 1972, he assigned me to do a story that was of major interest to the Jewish community.

At the time, Republicans were mounting a quiet but intense campaign to persuade Jews to vote for President Richard M. Nixon on the grounds that he was Israel’s best friend. I told Ed I had a connection who might help, Louis Boyar, a cousin who was a major philanthropist, political contributor, supporter of the Jewish community and friend of Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel.

Ed assigned me the story. I had lunch with Boyar at the Hillcrest Country Club and reported what I had learned. It wasn’t enough, so Ed sent me east, first to the office of Jake Arvey, the retired Chicago political boss and a prominent Jew, and finally to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The last stop, plus some other interviews, finally gave me enough information to satisfy Ed, and I wrote the story.

Looking back on the incident, what was striking was how little our being Jewish figured into the pursuit of the story, even though it would be widely discussed in the community. My memory of the story is how he urged me on until I got to the bottom of it.

That’s not unusual. A newsroom is a most secular place. In all my years in newsrooms, I can recall discussing religion with only one person, my friend Tim Rutten, a devout, although cynical, Catholic.

Such secularism, by the way, is one reason for journalism’s spotty coverage of religion. The United States is a highly religious country, but this is not reflected on television news or in mainstream publications.

But whether or not he was religious, Ed was a righteous man — although never self-righteous — who approached his tasks with a commitment to social justice, honesty and concern for society’s underdogs. There was something biblical about him, like those prophets who couldn’t let evil pass by without doing or saying something about it.

When he was honored by the Los Angeles City Council for his public service, he said he was grateful to his father, a German Jewish immigrant, for imbuing in him an obligation to serve.

“He always taught us that we had to give something back to this great country and the freedom we enjoy and experience,” he said.

I became friends with Ed at the Times, where he was national editor from 1965 to 1977.

It was a big job. Ed was in charge of a growing network of bureaus around the country, as well as the Washington bureau. In addition, he was responsible for a national desk, which edited the large number of stories that came in each day.

Ed took the best of this work into the daily news meetings, where the managing editor, after hearing the pitches of each of the editors, decided what would go on Page 1. Ed argued fiercely for his stories and was sometimes too intense for a group who seemed to take pride in being calm, laid back and uninvolved.

It was a tumultuous period, and Ed was in the middle of it. The Watts Riot of 1965 ushered in the era, followed by student rebellions in Berkeley and across the country and then demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In the middle of it were the assassinations, first of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and then Ed’s friend, Robert Kennedy. That occurred here in Los Angeles, the night Kennedy won the 1968 California Democratic primary.

Then there was Watergate. Ed’s leadership in the Times coverage and his association with Kennedy earned him a place high on Richard Nixon’s enemies list.

Ed’s office was one of several for editors at one end of the vast newsroom. He didn’t spend a lot of time in the office. When he was in there, he was on the phone with his correspondents around the country and in the Washington bureau.

But much of the time, he roamed through the newsroom, talking to reporters. He respected reporters and was curious about what they were working on and how they were going about it.

That’s how I became friendly with him. I covered politics, and Ed was intensely interested in what I was doing, from state elections to campaigns for City Council. He began arranging with my boss for me to do national stories for him.

In writing this sort of piece for a newspaper, a journalist looks for illuminating anecdotes that in three neat paragraphs can illustrate and explain the subject of a story.

Ed did not lend himself to anecdotes. He was forthright and plain in his speech. For a man of such accomplishment, he was extremely modest. In a business full of men and woman with huge egos, he didn’t boast of glory days of the past.

So I don’t have any great stories about Ed. What I took away from our friendship was a commitment to social justice and to fighting injustice. Long after he left the paper, I tried to carry on his tradition in my own work and, when I became an editor, in the work of my reporters. Many of them knew Ed and were inspired by him, as were his students at USC.

They are Ed’s legacy to journalism and his country.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Before King, it was Prinz

A few months before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a short Jewish man stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke to a large group ofAmericans:

“I speak to you as an American Jew. As Americans, we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice, which make a mockery of the great American idea.

“As Jews, we bring to this great demonstration, in which thousands of us proudly participate, a twofold experience — one of the spirit and one of our history.

“In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, He created him as everybody’s neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.

“From our Jewish historic experience of three and a half thousand years, we say:

“Our ancient history began with slavery and the yearning for freedom. During the Middle Ages my people lived for a thousand years in the ghettos of Europe. Our modern history begins with a proclamation of emancipation.”

Thus began the least-remembered great speech in American civil rights history, one that had the dubious fortune of being immediately followed by another speech: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which America just celebrated on its 45th anniversary.

But before King’s speech electrified the world and became an anthem for a generation, a German-born rabbi by the name of Joachim Prinz spoke on those famous steps. In front of 300,000 people at the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, Prinz, the rabbi of a New Jersey synagogue and a community leader, offered a taste of tikkun olam to a human sea of freedom marchers.

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime,” Prinz continued, “I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

“America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act, from the president down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro, not for the sake of the black community, but for the sake of the image, the idea and the aspiration of America itself….”

To be honest, my first reaction when I discovered Prinz’s speech was embarrassment. How could I have not known about such a seminal moment in Jewish American history — at an event that King himself called “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation”?

How did this little gem slip under the mainstream Jewish radar?

Of course, that can hardly be said for King and his speech. Go on, for example, and you’ll see a nostalgic love letter to “I Have a Dream” from someone who saw it live, and in the Forward newspaper, a fawning essay on the moral and spiritual influence of King’s speech on the Jewish community.

But search in the major Jewish papers for Rabbi Prinz’s speech — the one that march organizer, Bayard Rustin, actually called the event’s “greatest speech” — and what do you find?


For a noisy community like ours, that’s puzzling. And a shame, too. Especially at a time when the already complicated relationship between Jews and blacks is being frayed by a virulent and viral anti-Obama campaign, it’d be nice to recall a time when the two groups fought so closely on the same side of history.

And there were few times when they were closer than on that hot August day of 1963, when King and Prinz, who were personal friends, made quite a one-two punch.

Prinz’s speech complemented King’s. Whereas King railed against the lingering effects of modern-day slavery, Prinz spoke as a descendant of biblical slaves who represented man’s first struggle for freedom. While King brought the clear perspective of the victim, Prinz offered the more complex dual perspective of victim and observer.

It was as if Prinz, who died in 1988 at the age of 86, was saying to the black community: “Because we are white, we don’t suffer from the same racism that you do. But as Jews, our experience as victims of prejudice goes back to our earliest days. That experience has helped us feel the pain of others. So we feel your pain, and you can be sure that we will not remain silent. Our tradition teaches us to fight not just for ourselves, but for all of our neighbors.”

As things would have it, it was one of my neighbors here in Pico-Robertson, Daniel Fink, who awakened me to Prinz’s speech. Fink, a longtime community activist and member of the local neighborhood council, came by recently for a late night tea. Our conversation meandered: two Jews talking. After a while, he began recalling his childhood on the East Coast. Fink got all misty-eyed when he recalled a man he had met almost 50 years ago whose influence he still feels.

The man was a local rabbi who would teach Fink and his teenage buddies Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of our Fathers) every Sunday morning. The rabbi’s wish, Fink said, was that one day they would use these life lessons to help enrich their lives and the lives of others.

The name of the rabbi, it turns out, was Joachim Prinz.

And while a great many Jews may not presently know him, sometimes all it takes to change that is one neighbor.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Gay rabbis getting married — and marrying

It’s almost 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 17, and the line at the West Hollywood Park snakes around itself, as some 400 people wait to obtain marriage licenses on this first official day that the State of California is issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples (aside from one wedding on Monday).

Some men wear tuxedoes, some men wear suits, a few women are in white (a few women are in suits), but most of the couples are decked out in California casual on this momentous day. By far the most interesting – and photographed — group is situated in the middle of the line, holding up a white chuppah on bamboo poles and the banner of their synagogue: Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC).

The first gay and lesbian synagogue, located on Pico Boulevard, has brought 10 couples here to get marriage licenses. Some, like the Hales – Cara in a bridal outfit of an ivory lace top and trousers, and Heidi in a gray pinstripe suit and silver tie — have had Jewish weddings already. Others, like Davi and Bracha Cheng, were married before (in San Francisco four years ago, annulled by the court two months later). Itay Seigel and Tony Gregory Smith had never been married at all — not out-of-town, out-of-state or Jewishly.

“For us, it’s the right time and the right place,” they said. Another was the rabbi of BCC, Lisa Edwards, who was both obtaining her own license and marrying five couples in the park afterward. In the summer, she will perform more than 20 weddings — and have a civil ceremony with her partner, Tracy Moore.

It is a momentous day for gay and lesbian couples — but doubly meaningful for rabbis in same-sex relationships: Not only can they marry, but they can perform legal marriages for other same-sex couples, too. And as Jewish leaders — who have fought a number of battles for civil rights, first for acceptance in the Jewish community and then for acceptance as rabbis — this is one of the most important steps in the fight for equality. (The next hurdle would be to see gay marriage made legal and available in every state).

Three L.A. rabbis have taken different paths to solidifying their unions, and each has different feelings about the State of California’s legal sea change. For Edwards, who will marry her longtime partner in a civil ceremony this summer, it was her Jewish wedding 13 years ago that was most meaningful. For Wilshire Boulevard’s Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, who just celebrated a 10-year commitment renewal for his Jewish wedding and will have a civil ceremony and party on July 13, the newfound right to a civil marriage offers much satisfaction. But for Rabbi Don Goor, senior rabbi of Temple Judea, the new law is meaningful, but he won’t have to do anything. He already married his partner, in Canada four years ago. The California Supreme Court decision simply means that his marriage will now officially be recognized.

Briefs: Three plead guilty in SoCal terror plot; Report says UCI acted properly

Three Plead Guilty in Terror Plot

Three members of an Islamic terrorist cell who were on the verge of attacking the Israeli consulate, an El Al ticket counter and two synagogues, face up to 20 to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to conspiring to levy war against the United States.

The carefully planned plot was discovered by chance in July 2005. Authorities say it was closer to going operational than any other terrorist plan since Sept. 11 and engaged a joint task force of 350 federal, state and local investigators.

Kevin Lamar James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28, entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana last week, and a third defendant, Gregory Vernon Patterson, 27, entered his plea with the court on Monday.

A fourth cell member, Hammad Riaz Samana, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric care at a federal prison, federal prosecutors say.

James founded the cell as Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), translated as Assembly of Authentic Islam, from his jail cell in 1997 and then recruited fellow Black Muslim converts at the New Folsom prison near Sacramento.

Torrance police stumbled on the cell when they arrested Washington and Patterson in a string of gas station robberies intended to raise money for the planned attacks.

A search of Washington’s apartment yielded “jihadist” literature, a cache of weapons, a target list and a lead to James as the JIS leader. A search of the latter’s cell produced the draft of a press release to be issued after the first attack, which included a warning to “sincere Muslims” to avoid potential targets, including “Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of an Israeli state.”

Listed as planned targets were National Guard and military installations and a range of Jewish targets, such as the “Headquarters of Zion,” followed by the address of the Israeli consulate, an unexplained “Camp site of Zion,” and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport — the site of a murderous rampage in 2002, which killed two Israeli Americans — and two synagogues.

Ehud Danoch, Israeli consul general here in 2005, recalled the threatened attack on his office and staff as the tensest days in his three-year tenure during a recent farewell interview.

The two synagogues, which were likely to be assaulted during Yom Kippur services, have never been officially identified, but are located in the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood of the city.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind praised the work of law enforcement agencies in the case and reaffirmed that ADL will continue to monitor extremism in prisons, the radicalization of Islam, and domestic terrorist threats.

The successful conclusion of the case reversed a string of setbacks by the U.S. Justice Department in trying to convict alleged terrorists in American courts, such as last week’s refusal by a federal jury in Miami to convict seven indigent men, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Report Finds UCI Acted Appropriately

A federal civil rights investigation has cleared University of California, Irvine administrators of allegations that they systematically turned a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of Jewish students over a four-year period.

The ruling by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco, made public Dec. 12, was in response to a complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The complaint cited a long series of incidents in which Muslim and Arab students and extremist Muslim speakers had vilified Jews and incited against “Zionists” and Israel, without appropriate response by campus administrators.

Among the cited incidents were threats against students wearing Star of David and pro-Israel T-shirts, vandalism of a Holocaust memorial exhibit and a one-hour speech in which a Muslim cleric attacked “the apartheid state of Israel” and its “Nazi behavior,” as well as “American imperialism” and “the Zionist-controlled media.”

The federal ruling, which closed a three-year probe, found that while such acts were “offensive to Jewish students,” the incidents were “based on opposition to the policies of Israel,” and not on the “national origin” of the Jewish students.

UCI Chancellor Michael Clark welcomed the report and asserted that “we remain firmly committed to freedom of speech and open discourse … and equally committed to maintaining a safe, non-threatening environment for all members of our community.”

Manuel Gomez, who as UCI vice chancellor for student affairs dealt with the issue on an ongoing basis, said that he was particularly pleased by the report’s finding that the “university responded in a prompt and effective manner” to campus incidents.

A different reaction came from Susan B. Tuchman, director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice in New York, who said that she was “obviously disappointed and outraged.

“This was a difficult case, but the evidence was clear that Jewish students had been harassed and that the university had not responded adequately,” she said.

Tuchman had drafted the ZOA complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, she said, defined Jews not only as a religious but also an ethnic group under the “national origin” clause.

She blamed a change in leadership at the Office of Civil Rights, shortly after she filed the complaint in October 2004, for narrowing the protection afforded Jewish plaintiffs.

Tuchman warned that the federal decision “sent a very depressing message that the agency will not afford protection to Jewish students and this will embolden the perpetrators of hate actions on campuses.”

She added that ZOA was now weighing its options to pursue the matter.

At the time ZOA filed the complaint, some local Jewish officials characterized it as a misguided effort by outsiders.

Kevin O’Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Orange County/Long Beach, said that he remained skeptical that the ZOA action had been an effective way to deal with the campus administration.

P. F. Sloan: does he still believe we’re on the ‘Eve of Destruction’?

“Eve of Destruction,” the famous folk-rock protest hit from 1965, isn’t usually regarded as a specifically Jewish song. Or even a religious one, for that matter.

It’s a litany of anguished complaints about the problems of the temporal world of the time — civil rights marchers repelled in Selma, Ala., the imminent danger of nuclear war, the threat from a militant “Red China.” It struck such a chord with a teenage audience worried about the future that it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a youthful crie de coeur against the political status quo. It became an extraordinary pop-cultural event in its own right.

But the long-missing-in-action writer of “Eve of Destruction,” 61-year-old Los Angeles resident P.F. (Phil) Sloan, cites his studies of Jewish mysticism as a key source of inspiration. After decades of fighting physical and mental illnesses that ended his professional career, Sloan is back with a new CD, “Sailover,” recently released on Hightone Records. Only his sixth album since 1965, it includes versions of “Eve” and other songs he wrote in the 1960s, plus new folk-rock compositions. And he performs at Largo in the Fairfax district, where he grew up, on Sept. 27.

After his bar mitzvah at Hollywood Temple Beth El, Sloan’s rabbi recommended him for early kabbalah training, especially study of the mystical writings and Torah interpretations in the Zohar.

“It is rare because you’re supposed to be 40 [to study],” Sloan said, speaking by phone from Chicago where he was performing at a club. “My rabbi suspected I was an old soul.”

He studied for about 18 months, he said, providing him with “a greater, deeper understanding of Judaism and its relationship to people.”

But at the same time, Sloan was also interested in rock ‘n’ roll. In 1964, while still a teenager, he and friend Steve Barri wrote and recorded “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin'” as the Fantastic Baggys. His “P.F. Sloan” persona appeared in 1964, when in response to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, he wrote several protest songs, “Eve of Destruction,” “The Sins of the Family” and “Take Me for What I’m Worth.” It took a full year before the growlingly, deep-voiced singer Barry McGuire, fresh from the New Christy Minstrels, released “Eve” on L.A.’s Dunhill Records — also Sloan’s label — and it became a hit.

Sloan feels the song was “directly attributable” to his kabbalah studies.
“The song was a divine gift,” he said. “I was given information about the history of the world through that song — not that that’s unusual in mystical Judaism. It was quite a wonderful gift at age 19 to be given that. I knew it was special and knew it would change things.”

Sloan sees the song as his dialogue with God.

“I say to God that ‘this whole crazy world is just too frustrating,’ and then God says to me, ‘But you tell me over and over and over again about these problems I already know,'” he said.

“It’s an endless dance around this razor’s edge about what God is saying every time I sing this song,” Sloan explained. “He’s telling me, ‘Don’t believe we’re on the eve, I’m not going to allow it.’ And then other times when I sing it, I get the message he’s going to allow destruction to happen. Every time I sing it, I get an insight into what’s going on.”

Sloan’s parents moved from New York, where he was born as Philip Gary Schlein, to Los Angeles for his mother’s arthritis. But when his father had trouble getting permission to open a downtown sundries store under his name Schlein, he changed it to “Sloan” to avoid anti-Semitism.

Working with Barri or alone, Sloan wrote hits for other pop stars in the 1960s, including “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “Where Were You When I Needed You” for The Grass Roots and “Let Me Be” for The Turtles. But his attempts at becoming a successful singer-songwriter like his idol, Bob Dylan, didn’t work out. He says his record company was reluctant to support him at the time and that he signed away his songwriting royalties.

And from roughly 1971 to 1986, he said, he was incapacitated by undiagnosed hypoglycemia that led to depression and catatonia. He lived with his now-deceased parents until they found an apartment for him and helped him get nursing care.

But in 1986, he also started visiting Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru who claims healing powers, at his ashram. He has gone back every two years and slowly started to recover. He said by 2001 he felt good enough to start performing again. In 2003, for instance, he participated in a tribute concert to Jewish religious singer and songwriter Shlomo Carlebach at Congregation Beth Jacob.

“I’m now walking 1 1/2 miles a day,” Sloan said. “I have a huge amount of energy. It’s like God has touched me and just given me a tremendous amount of love and energy. I feel like I’ve been reactivated.”

P.F. Sloan will be at Largo, 432 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. Doors open at 8 p.m. $5-$20.

For more information, call (323) 852-1073 or visit


Fight Against Campus Bias Gets Boost

If you’re a Jewish college student, you no longer have to tolerate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on your campus. You are protected under our federal civil rights laws. These were the landmark conclusions of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that analyzes information about discrimination and reports its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.

In November 2005, the commission held its first-ever hearing on the issue of campus anti-Semitism. One topic was the Zionist Organization of America’s precedent-setting civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, who have faced a pattern of anti-Jewish hostility that university administrators have known about but have failed to adequately address. Based on the hearing, the commission recently issued historic findings and recommendations that both Jews and non-Jews can applaud.

According to the commission, the problem of campus anti-Semitism is “serious.” In addition to name-calling, threats, assaults and the vandalism of property, hatred toward Jews is being expressed on campus in subtler ways. Zionism — the expression of Jewish rights and attachment to the historic homeland of Israel — is being unfairly mischaracterized as racism. Israel is being demonized and illegitimately compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, and its leaders are being compared to Hitler.

At UC Irvine, annual campus events (titled, “Anti-Zionist Week” and the misnomer “Israel Awareness Week”) have been regular opportunities to attack Jews, Zionists and those who support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Signs have equated the Star of David with the swastika and depicted it dripping with blood. Speakers have portrayed Jews as overly powerful and conspiratorial; one referred to “the Jewish lobby” as a “den of spies.”

At San Francisco State University, fliers depicted a baby with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat — Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” The commission rightly condemned all this conduct as anti-Semitism, finding that “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”

The commission also recognized that Jewish students face harassment inside the classroom. Many academic departments present a one-sided, anti-Israel view of the Middle East conflict, squelching legitimate debate about Israel. According to a Jewish student at Columbia University, her professor said that she had no claim to the Land of Israel because she had green eyes and therefore could not be a Semite. In response to such incidents, the commission recommended that academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.”

According to the commission, “severe, persistent or pervasive” anti-Semitism on campus may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI requires that colleges and universities ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on “race, color or national origin.” Otherwise, they risk losing their federal funding. The commission recognized that Jews are protected under Title VI because they are an ethnic group sharing a common ancestry and heritage.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education ensures that colleges and universities comply with Title VI. The commission recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism.

The commission also urged university leaders to denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech. Some have already done so: When a cartoon mocking the Holocaust was published in a Rutgers student newspaper, the university president publicly recognized that although the publication was constitutionally protected, it was hurtful to the community and inconsistent with the university’s values. He urged the students involved to take responsibility for their actions and succeeded in getting them to apologize for the hurt they caused to the community.

Not all university leaders have exercised the same moral leadership. Some have remained silent in the face of anti-Semitic speech and conduct, justifying their silence by saying that offensive behavior is constitutionally protected. Of course, we must all stand up for free speech and vigorous debate — especially on a college campus, where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged. But hateful, degrading and demeaning speech is hateful, degrading and demeaning, no matter where it occurs.

We can’t lose our common sense about what is hateful and harmful, just because it is expressed on a college campus. If college officials remain silent, they help perpetuate the bigotry. And their silence contributes to making the targets of the hate feel even more marginalized and unwelcome.

What should you do if you are experiencing anti-Semitism on your campus, to the point that the environment feels hostile or intimidating?

First, you should try to resolve the problem internally by working with university officials to create an atmosphere that is tolerant and respectful. While colleges and universities must uphold the right of free speech, they have a legal obligation to provide you with an educational environment that is free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. If working with university officials fails and the hostile environment persists, then you can and should file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (

More information is forthcoming. The commission has recommended that OCR conduct a public education campaign, and it will be distributing its own materials to inform students of their rights. Hillel directors should be getting the message out to college administrators and to their Jewish constituents. The Zionist Organization of America will be undertaking its own nationwide effort to inform Jewish students and college administrators that anti-Semitism is illegal and that students have legal tools to fight it.

Whatever your campus experience, if you are a Jewish student, it’s important to know that the Civil Rights Commission has staked out its position firmly supporting your right to be free from campus anti-Semitism. You have the right to obtain your education in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and that does not intimidate or harass you because you are Jewish or support Israel.

Susan B. Tuchman, is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice, and testified at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ hearing on campus anti-Semitism on Nov 18, 2005. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.


Shlomo’s World

Shlomo Wollins begins his narration well before we reach Hebron, a city on the very fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His tour, by car and by foot, on this late January day is an entry into a worldview of The Chosen and The Other, in which Jews, God’s Good Guys, are the victims of Arabs, but it’s also a world in which Jews are victors over Arabs.

At times, it’s a persuasive, irresistible message.

“You see that bus stop beside the road,” he says, indicating a nondescript crossroads on the drive south from Jerusalem. “That’s where three Jews were gunned down, including a 10-year-old boy and a pregnant woman. Just like that — as they waited for the bus. I came down and helped push dirt into three graves.”

I don’t doubt that Wollins did just that. His bearded, 40-something face is creased with kindness. His handshake is firm. His hug is warm. He was born and raised in America and tells me he made and lost a fortune in corporate America before immigrating to Israel. Inevitably, his conversation circles back to his dark vision of inevitable war.

“Right now the majority of people want to conclude that war is not necessary. That is a delusion,” Wollins says.

I crane my neck for a swift look as our car races by the bus stop. There’s a glimpse of a makeshift stone memorial. There isn’t much else to see there, except for a handful of Jews waiting for a bus.

Wollins himself usually rides the bus to Hebron, so he’s not absolutely sure how to navigate. He almost casually notes that a wrong turn would land us in an Arab village, with potentially deadly consequences.

On the way, we make two wrong turns. Each time, our driver, Orit, the third member of our party, wheels a hasty retreat. Perhaps the element of surprise works in our favor. Some bewildered Arab children seem as though they aren’t expecting an Israeli license plate. Had they been ready for us, would these adorable sprites really have lobbed rocks, or worse?

The unreality, the illogic of it all leaves me more fearless than I know I should be. Even the main road that we stick to runs almost exclusively through West Bank territory populated almost entirely by Arabs. Orit, a journalist I know to be intrepid, clearly looks nervous. Maybe she’s trying to remember if she got that spare tire repaired.

But we arrive in Hebron without incident — just ahead of a tour bus of mostly middle-aged U.S. visitors. If it’s safe for them today….

The bus’ appearance also says something about the irrepressible urge for normality, which asserts itself in Israel at any possible opportunity.

It’s no secret why a tour bus would stop here. Hebron and its environs are revered by both Muslim and Jewish faithful as the burial place, in the Cave of Machpelah, of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. There’s been a Jewish presence on and off since then — and when it was off, it usually was in the wake of a bloody, unprovoked event. A local museum commemorates a 1929 expulsion pogrom that killed 67 Jews and wounded 60. When Jordan controlled the area from 1948 to 1967, its officials tried to raze all traces of the Jewish quarter, including the medieval synagogue. For that matter, over hundreds of years, the Muslims in charge had denied Jews and Christians access to Cave of Machpelah site.

So after Israelis overran the area during the 1967 War, there was plenty of pent up Jewish aspiration. The result was the nearby Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, which began at an old army installation and now houses some 6,500 souls. And, later, Jewish settlers pushed into Hebron itself, where they now occupy four, ever-at-risk neighborhoods, with about 1,000 residents in all.

Everything about Hebron speaks of a separateness dividing Israelis and Palestinians. A no-man’s land has developed between where Israelis live and where Palestinians live. And this dead zone is patrolled by young Israeli soldiers who make the Jewish quarter livable for Israelis outnumbered somewhere between 80-to-1 and 300-to-1, depending on who’s doing the counting. Those are bad odds even for Jews rough-and-ready enough to stage an Alamo-like stand.

This fundamental, almost unquestioned hostility and separateness is discomfiting to me, the child of Jews active in the civil rights movement. But here, in Wollins’ world, it’s a given. And in truth, it’s getting to be a given even for Israelis actively working for peaceful coexistence.

Wollins points to a hill opposite the Jewish quarter, from where Arab snipers used to fire, until the army finally cleared them out. He walks us through the school’s play yard, onto which Arab neighbors on the other side of the divide would toss rocks at grade-schoolers. Up an incline we approach the house where an Arab intruder stabbed to death a rabbi. And in the flats, a monument marks where a sniper shot a 10-month-old girl in a stroller through the head.

Hebron is no place for these Jews to live, except that they consider this site so holy. Besides the patriarchs, it’s also the traditional burial site of Ruth (the biblical grandmother of King David) and Jesse (David’s father). The trail to these tombs snakes between quaint vineyards and Arab homes along a path blocked from open access by razor wire and from view by corrugated metal and opaque plastic. The shielding isn’t bulletproof — and plenty of bullet holes attest to this — but it effectively obscures a clear shot at passing Jews.

But Wollins’ tour is as much about Jewish victory as victimization. He shows off a new apartment building that now stands like a defiant sentinel over land the rabbi’s knife-wielding assailant had once crossed. Next to this new building lies a former Arab parcel that Hebron’s Jews recently purchased over the fury of local Arab officials.

The Jewish quarter is fully rebuilt, sparkling with ancient stones and modern conveniences. So is the medieval synagogue, which a few years ago had been purposefully desecrated through its use as a trash pit and animal pen.

And Jews can once again enter the mosque that sits over the Cave of Machpelah.

Here, alas, there’s still a problem, says Wollins. Jews can only enter half the mosque, except for a few days a year. So some of the ancestors remain out of reach, because of the Muslims who control the grounds. Muslims, he adds, can visit the entire site, but it doesn’t work the other way around. One more example, he says, of Muslim injustice and the Israeli government’s tolerance of inequality when it comes to Jewish settlers.

But that’s not exactly right, as it turns out. After 1967, when Israeli troops took control of the region, Muslims and Jews had access to all parts of the mosque. Then, in 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a radical American doctor who’d immigrated to adjacent Kiryat Arba, entered the mosque armed with a Glil rifle. He opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 125 before being overcome and beaten to death.

After that attack, which was almost exactly 12 years ago, the mosque was divided in half. Jews and Muslims no longer mingle. A few days per year, the whole site is open only to Jews or only to Muslims.

What about that? I ask Wollins, after hearing an Israeli guide explain the actual arrangement and its history to a group of tourists.

How does Goldstein figure into Wollins’ narrative? Wollins, after all, chose not to mention Goldstein on his own, let alone acknowledge that it was Goldstein’s actions, not Muslim perfidy, that precipitated the division of the holy site.

Wollins tries to explain: “I can’t say for sure, because I really don’t know. Maybe he snapped. But I can tell you story after story that I’ve heard of what a good man this doctor was. And I’ve heard from people here — and they say they have good reason to believe it — that Goldstein had advance knowledge of an Arab massacre that was about to happen. And that’s what he was trying to prevent.”

I learn later that Goldstein’s grave has become something of shrine for the radical right wing. And that the graveside inscription reads, in part: “Here lies the saint, Dr. Baruch Kappel Goldstein…. His hands are innocent and his heart is pure. He was killed as a martyr of God.”

To me, it sounds a lot like the posters lionizing the Muslim suicide bombers. I can’t resist thinking that the only thing missing is the 70 virgins waiting to greet Goldstein in heaven.

For his part, Wollins prefers to change the subject, like to a discussion of the peace process, which he regards as a disaster.

What is the better option? I ask.

He says he likes the way it was before then, before Palestinians had any pledge from Israel to turn over land to form a Palestinian state. Sure, he concedes, they would attack us, and we would attack them. And some people would die violently on a regular basis. But overall, that status quo was acceptable compared to the present. He could have lived that way forever — on the presumption that Israel would keep the lands it won in battle and continue to settle them.

And what about now? How can Israel hold onto all this territory and retain its Jewish identity — if that means that most residents of this greater Israel would, in fact, be Arab Muslims?

Wollins has an answer for that, too. Inevitably, he says, there will be a war, and the Muslims must, in the end, leave the land.

That is Wollins’ world — and that of many Israelis, though still a minority. Take that last paragraph and replace the word Muslim with Jew and that’s the world of Hamas, which has now assumed control of the Palestinian Authority. The leaders of Hamas seem equally certain that it is the Jews who ultimately must exit.

And did I mention that these visionaries of conflict confidently proclaim God to be on their side?

On this week after President’s Day, I am reminded that Abraham Lincoln once admonished the Holy Rollers of his day by saying that he never presumed that God was on his side. He could only pray that he was on God’s side.

With all due respect, the world of my friend Wollins is not my world. And I shudder to think that the best that so many can hope for is a bloody time when opposing worlds are fated to collide.