November 17, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Prager, Jerusalem Embassy Move and Middle East Issues

A Rational Approach to Religion

My anxieties over David Suissa’s ascendency to the Journal’s throne were relieved after seeing it was accompanied by the disappearance from its pages of Dennis Prager’s predictable aggravated assaults against liberal thinking. Now Prager has commandeered last week’s cover and the attention of Jonathan Kirsch for his book “The Rational Bible” (“A Rational View of the Torah,” May 18).

Being one of those aberrant liberals who keep trying to find good in Prager’s thinking, I couldn’t help but note from Kirsch’s review how widely Prager is followed, perhaps by everyone except liberals. Maybe it’s because his so-called rational approach to religion reaches out to the millions disillusioned these days by conventional religion. Good for him.

So what is it that fires his virulent attacks on liberals rather than using his platforms to gently coax us to make adjustments based on his criticisms, some of them quite legitimate? My fear is that an answer lies in his embrace of President Donald Trump, many of whose followers worship him because of his multifaceted outrageousness rather than in spite of it. Dennis, don’t give up on trying to reach us too, “not by might, nor by power, but by thy spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Roger Schwarz, Los Angeles


Israel and the Democratic Party

Ben Shapiro stated in his column (“No-Shows in Jerusalem,” May 18) what everyone knows but that the mainstream media seem to be ignoring:  The Democratic base has moved in a significantly anti-Israel direction over the past two decades. According to the Pew report, as of January, 79 percent of Republicans sympathized more with Israel than Palestine, while just 27 percent of Democrats did. It makes little sense that Democrats who profess to be supportive of the rights of minorities refuse to acknowledge that Israel is the only true democracy in its region and, in particular, is the only country in its region that allows serious religious diversity. However, for Democrats, the values of a democracy take a backseat to intersectionality and race grievance values.

This should be no surprise, given that the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee is Keith Ellison, an avowed Jew hater. The Democrats just assumed that they own the Jewish vote, no matter how badly they malign Israel and elevate Jew haters to prominent positions in the Democratic Party. This will not go on forever. We Jews are not as naïve as the Democrats assume we are.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

In your May 18 issue, columnist Ben Shapiro asks an interesting question about fading support for Israel on page 10. He gets a direct answer two pages later on page 12 from Israeli columnist Uri Dromi. I hope Shapiro read Dromi’s column.

Martin A. Bower, Corona del Mar


Synagogue Dues Model

Read the article about the new dues structure that is in effect at Adat Ari El synagogue and think it is very progressive (“Adat Ari El Shakes Up Dues Model,” May 18). As a longtime member for 38-plus years (and who got married there), I believe this new format will be the norm rather than the exception in the future of synagogue dues and membership structures.

Synagogues now more than ever must realize that maintaining members and reaching out to new members is a priority rather than expecting members will automatically renew, because there are more choices out there for where you can worship as a family.

Also, those synagogues with day schools attached to them are having the parents pay extra for both dues and school tuition. Because the cost of tuition is very high these days, a dues structure like this makes a lot of sense. I’m hoping to see the membership grow larger in the future at Adat Ari El because of this and our school will benefit greatly.

Jeffrey Ellis via email


The Wisdom of the Ages

Just as the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches, age 70 is the time to embrace “the fullness of years.” As Sydney Alderman Perry states at the conclusion of the article, “I don’t wish my life and the things I value to contract, but rather to take on new dimensions.” What does that mean? (“Age 70 Is No Time To Slow Down,” May 4)

To me, the latter years in our lives are best spent applying one’s life experiences and knowledge to make this a better world. When I retired, I decided to have a second career and to become involved in my community.

As my second career, I chose poker. I found the mental challenge and stimulation of the game, as well as the social interaction, to profoundly help my aging brain.

About 20 years ago, I created a seniors  poker group at a senior citizen center. Starting with six members, it quickly grew to more than 200. Having kept in contact with many of them over the years, I found it remarkable that (to the best of my knowledge) not a single one has developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently I was evaluated for memory health by a team of experts at UCLA. My score: 100. Wow! Especially considering that I’m 91. As far as being involved in the community, I recommend that retirees consider joining one of the many senior citizen centers in Los Angeles. I have found the exercises and classes, as well as other activities a big plus.

George Epstein via email


Embassy Move to Jerusalem

The world should salute President Donald Trump for following through on his commitment to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Kudos also to the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for their assistance in bringing this about.

Although what happened last week was momentous, in retrospect, it should not have been all that remarkable. After all, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995 declared Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and mandated that the U.S. Embassy be transferred to Jerusalem no later than 1999. However, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, although making promises that they would follow the law, did not.

To his credit, Trump — who has now shown himself to be perhaps the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House — was not deterred by the many predictions that the Arab world would unite behind the Palestinians in resisting this move and that America’s geopolitical interests would suffer.

Last week’s events came at a particularly opportune time. The message of firm U.S. support for Israel after eight years of Obama wilderness was unmistakable and cannot but dissuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from thinking he can continue to fashion a fictive Palestinian narrative and sell it to an amen corner in the White House. It is also a message to Iran and others that the U.S. stands behind its allies and is not concerned about political correctness.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hill


Middle East Issues

Some of the media seem to be delighted when Islamic children die from uprisings and conflicts involving Israel. Last week, it was reported that an 8-month-old Palestinian infant was killed during Israel’s current defense of her border, which is not a protest but an armed invasion. My first reaction was why was an infant anywhere near the fighting? Someone would have had to bring the infant to the battle site. Hamas is known for using civilians, including children, as shields. I saw nothing in the media reports deflecting any blame from Israel. Not surprising.

Michael Gesas, Beverly Hills

One can’t help but notice the irony of 57 Islamic nations calling this week for the creation of an international force to protect Palestinian Arabs after their recent human shield abomination in Gaza. Hamas openly has admitted it offered its people as cannon fodder and confirmed that most of the dead were terrorist combatants hiding among civilians paid or coerced to be there.

For 70 years, despite their daily genocidal threats, a billion Muslims haven’t been able to destroy the Jewish state or protect their brothers in four declared wars and tens of thousands of acts of terrorism. The military threats have been supplemented by a highly successful anti-Israel disinformation campaign funded with hundreds of millions of petrodollars. Now they want the rest of the world to help them.

Only the most obtuse individual wouldn’t notice there’s something wrong with this picture. Despite the conspiracy accusations against the United States and a supposed cabal of wicked, controlling bankers (read: Jews), Israel’s adversaries might have to face the fact that it is here to stay. Which is just as well because its humanitarian, educational, scientific and moral contributions to the well-being of the world are unequaled per capita.

Perhaps reason will miraculously spring forth from the hateful brains that spew hatred toward the Jewish people. Perhaps not.

Desmond Tuck via email

I am an old Reform Jew who spent my teen years agonizing over World War II and the Holocaust. I joined the free world celebrations when it destroyed the Nazis and created the State of Israel. David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence promised that all residents would have equality, making it a true democracy.

It is my understanding that on April 30 the Knesset voted on an updated version of the “Nation-State” bill. Nowhere in the legislation is Israel defined as a democracy.

It is pathetic, but quite understandable, because the population of Orthodox voters has grown. They believe that God gave the Jews all of the Holy Land.

So what is Israel’s next action regarding the 5 million Palestinians that they control on the West Bank and Gaza Strip? The righteous, unilateral creation of a Palestinian state? Stupidly, the Palestinians rejected partition, but there are about 2 million non-Jewish Israeli citizens. I think it is possible that a Palestinian state could become an important ally of Israel.

Martin J. Weisman, Westlake Village

Excerpts: Prager on Exodus

Exodus 23.16: “[And you shall observe] the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field …”

This is the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday that takes place at the time of the first harvest. Often referred to as Pentecost, Shavuot is the Hebrew word for “weeks.” This holiday of “Weeks” was so named because the Torah commands it be celebrated exactly seven weeks after the first day of Passover. In addition to its agricultural significance, Shavuot marks the Jewish people’s receiving the Torah.

The Unique Moral Power of Empathy

The law against wronging the stranger ends with the words, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

It is a fact of life we can only fully empathize with other people when we have experienced what they have experienced. That is why the Torah commands love of the stranger by reminding the Israelis about their own painful experience as strangers in Egypt.

I personally learned this truth about empathy after undergoing a period of serious, sometimes disabling, physical pain. I realized that when listening to, or reading about, people in pain, one can, and of course should, sympathize with them; but unless one has experienced similar pain, it is not possible to truly empathize with them.

Exodus 25.9: “Exactly as I show you — the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings — so shall you make it.”

This is one of those verses in the Torah that does not seem particularly significant, but is actually one of the most significant.

Regarding religion, the Torah provides guidelines on how to lead a religious life. While there is room for spontaneity in religion — prayer being an obvious example — such spontaneity must be within the context of the Torah’s ethical monotheism. In our time, many people believe they need no guidance on how to express religiosity or, as many put it, “spirituality.” They attempt to be religious without adhering to any religious standards or even just to biblical ethical monotheism.

The great lesson of this verse is individuals and societies need ethical, moral, artistic, and religious standards that transcend them or there will be no more ethics, morality, art, or good religion.

Was Animal Sacrifice in the Torah Immoral?

People today eat beef and chicken without thinking twice about the life of the animal taken. In the world of the Torah, however, the killing and eating of animals was taken extremely seriously and imbued with sanctity. Moreover, the animals sacrificed were not subject to the cruelties of modern slaughter-houses or factory farming, the fate of the large majority of animals eaten in our time.

In light of that, only a vegetarian could morally object to the sacrificial system — and any such objection would have to be made against every secular or religious society that allowed meat eating.

Of course, religious sacrifice today does not involve giving up livestock. It involves giving up money and time. In terms of money, this is generally understood to mean financial contributions to religious institutions and other charities. In terms of time, it means engaging in Bible study.

Exodus 31.16: “The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time.”

By keeping the Sabbath, the Jewish people affirm they have a covenantal relationship with God. Prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments and its command of the Sabbath, circumcision served as the sign of the covenant. However, circumcision is not unique to Jews; it has been practiced all over the world. And though circumcision remains a cornerstone of Judaism, it is the Sabbath that serves as the chief sign of the unique relationship between God and Israel. Furthermore, while circumcision applies only to males, the Sabbath applies to both men and women. And, of course, in terms of influencing people’s behavior, circumcision is a one-time act, while the Sabbath is observed weekly. The late Pinchas Peli, a prominent Israeli theologian and dear friend, once noted a seventy-year-old Jew has spent ten years observing the Sabbath.

A Rational View of the Torah

Shavuot is a festival with three names: the Feast of Weeks, the Day of the First Fruits, and the Harvest Feast. Scholars tell us that Shavuot, as observed in ancient Israel, marked the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. And yet, starting in the third century C.E., according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, a “remarkable transformation” took place — Shavuot came to be wholly reinterpreted as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. By the Middle Ages, it was customary for young children to start their Jewish studies on Shavuot. So the observance of Shavuot is an appropriate moment take a fresh look at the Torah through the eyes of Dennis Prager in “Exodus: God, Slavery, and Freedom” (Regnery Faith).

Prager, of course, is already a media celebrity. He is best known as a conservative radio commentator and the author of “Think a Second Time” and many other best-selling books about Judaism, politics and ethics. He is the founder of Prager University, an online showcase for short video segments on topics ranging from “Gun Rights for Women” to “Gender Identity: Why All the Confusion?” Now he has launched a series of biblical commentaries that he calls “The Rational Bible,” and the first title in the series is his commentary of the Book of Exodus.

It’s a handsome volume, beautifully printed and bound. Starting with the updated and streamlined translation of Exodus that first was published by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) in 1985, Prager interlays the biblical text with his own explanations, elaborations and annotations. The volume is edited by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, whom Prager first met in high school and with whom Prager has co-authored some of his best-known books, including their inaugural effort, “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism.” In appreciation for the supportive role that Joel Alperson played in the development of “Exodus,” the book is dubbed “The Alperson Edition.”

The distinctive voice that we hear in our heads as we read his version of Exodus belongs to Prager alone. Born in 1948, he has spent most of his life in the study of Torah, and he is never shy about sharing what he knows and what he thinks. When he disagrees with the fine points of the JPS translation, for example, he says so. He insists that he is always deferential to the divine writ: “When I differ with the Torah, I think the Torah is right and I am wrong,” he quips. Yet the raison d’etre of Prager’s book, like every other work of scriptural exegesis since antiquity, is the effort to explain what the Torah actually says and means.

By way of example, when we read the biblical commandment to observe Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot (which is described in Exodus 23:16 as “the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field”), Prager points out that Shavuot is the least widely observed of the three pilgrimage festivals. “One reason is it has the fewest rituals associated with it,” he explains. “We are physical beings living in a physical universe; physical expression — which is what ritual is — matters. And Passover and Succot are replete with rituals.” And he ventures the opinion that “moderns relate far more to the idea of freedom (Passover) than to a holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah.” Yet the association between Shavuot and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Torah itself.

Fans of Prager’s contributions to the Jewish Journal when he served as a columnist may be surprised to find that his new book is entirely free of the sometimes harsh rhetoric that he deployed against Jews whom he characterizes as “leftists.” One reason for Prager’s kinder and gentler approach may be the providence of his new book. “Exodus” is published by Regnery Faith, a publishing house that is owned by Salem Media Group, which also produces and distributes Prager’s radio show; Salem targets “audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values.” So Prager strikes a notably ecumenical stance in the pages of “Exodus,” and he is apparently mindful that many of his readers will be non-Jews.

Prager does not dwell on what are essentially theological arguments. Rather, he is a strict moralist in the best sense of the word because he demands good behavior from everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or practices.

Indeed, the preface to his new book includes separate sections that are variously addressed to Jewish readers, Christian readers, and nonreligious readers. Strikingly, Prager announces that it was the nonbeliever he had in mind in composing his commentaries. “With every passing generation in the West, fewer and fewer people believe in God, let alone in the Bible,” he writes. “This is a catastrophe for the West, and it is a tragedy for you.” Although he insists that he does not have a “parochial agenda,” Prager is plainspoken about his religious agenda. “I want as many people as possible to take the Torah seriously, to entertain the possibility that it is God-given, or, at the very least, to understand why so many rational people do.”

Exactly here is where two fundamental ideas collide. Prager invites his readers to approach the ancient text from a place of reason — that’s why he calls his series “The Rational Bible” — and yet he insists that the reader also must embrace the article of faith that the Bible is the revealed word of God rather than the work of human hands and minds. For most of readers who pick up the book, embracing these two notions at the same time will not be a challenging experience. The nonbelievers whom Prager had in mind when he wrote the book, however, may feel that he is begging the question.

“I am convinced the Torah is divine, meaning God, not man, is its ultimate source,” he continues. “The Torah is so utterly different — morally, theologically, and in terms of wisdom — from anything else preceding it and, for that matter, from anything written since, that a reasonable person would have to conclude either moral supermen or God was responsible for it.”

Prager does not dwell on what are essentially theological arguments. Rather, he is a strict moralist in the best sense of the word because he demands good behavior from everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or practices, or the absence thereof, and he extracts from the Book of Exodus a code of conduct that he believes to be universal. His commentary on the writings from the ancient past is often hot-wired to contemporary reality, and that’s why his explanation of Exodus 23:8 (“Do not take bribes …”), for instance, points directly at the benighted world in which we live today.

“Corruption is the primary reason that societies fail to thrive,” he writes. “In Angola, for example, I saw rows of unfinished modern apartment buildings — unfinished because governmental officials were not offered sufficient bribes to allow completion of those buildings. To most people, corruption sounds bad, but most people do not recognize how devastating it actually is. The Torah does.”

Thus, Prager does not argue that we ought to obey the Ten Commandments because the Bible tells us that they are the word of God; rather, he argues that they amount to a civilizing code of conduct. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:13) is included in the Ten Commandments, he argues, because “it is indispensable to forming and maintaining higher civilization.” He seems to express a degree of compassion for adulterers: “No one knows what goes on in anyone else’s marriage. And if we did, we might often well understand why one or the other sought love outside the marriage.” But his bottom-line argument is that “no higher civilization can be created or can endure that condones adultery,” and he assigns the same importance to five of the Ten Commandments, all of which “are intended to safeguard a foundation of civilization: life, family, property, truth, and justice.”

The Torah, according to Dennis Prager, is not the only way to understand the origin, meaning and purpose of the Bible in general or the Book of Exodus in particular. Prager joins a chorus of commentators, uncountable in number, that reaches back into distant antiquity and continues to attract new members. From all of us who regard the Torah as a living document, whether it was written by the finger of God or the hands of human beings, Prager deserves our praise for calling his readers back to the Bible.


Jonathan Kirsch, book editor of the Jewish Journal, is the author of, among other titles, “Moses: A Life.”

Week of May 18, 2018

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Nov. 16-23: Vulture Festival, Dennis Prager and ‘War of the Worlds’

FRI NOV 17
“WHY JUDAISM MATTERS”

During a Kabbalat Shabbat service, Temple Israel of Hollywood Rabbi John Rosove discusses his new book, “Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation.” Rosove’s work, presented in the form of letters from a rabbi to his sons, is a guidebook for Reform Jews who find it difficult to engage with Jewish orthodoxy, beliefs, traditions and issues in the 21st century. A dinner follows services and the discussion. 6:30 p.m. Free. (RSVP required for dinner). Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

“BERNSTEIN ON STAGE”

John Mauceri conducts the New West Symphony in an evening of the music of Leonard Bernstein, honoring the centennial of the famed composer’s birth. The concert will also feature the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, the Women of Areté Vocal Ensemble, the California Lutheran University Choir, Suzanna Guzmán, Davis Gaines, Celena Shafer and Casey Candebat. 8 p.m. Tickets $58–$73. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Also 8 p.m., Nov. 18, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; 3 p.m., Nov. 19, Oxnard Performing Arts Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. (818) 677-3000. valleyperformingartscenter.org.

GRATITUDE SHABBAT: CELEBRATING UNITY AND THANKSGIVING

Wilshire Boulevard Temple brings together its Rabbi Susan Nanus, the American Jewish University Choir led by conductor Noreen Green, and the BYTHAX Gospel Choir led by composer, vocalist and conductor Diane White Clayton in a joint Shabbat concert that mixes poetry, prayer and song. A community Shabbat celebration follows. 7:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Glazer Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org.

“A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM”

Comedy — tonight! An ancient Roman slave tries to gain his freedom by helping his master woo a young woman in the bawdy farce “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Ancient Rome is turned on its ear in this raucous Tony Award-winning musical featuring mistaken identity and dizzying plot twists. (Intended for adult audiences; may contain adult language and situations.) 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 31. Tickets $45–$52. Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 955-8101. garrymarshalltheatre.org.

SAT NOV 18
VULTURE FESTIVAL L.A.

Sarah Silverman

James Franco.

Lena Dunham.

Natalie Portman.

Hollywood Jews, including Sarah Silverman, James Franco, Lena Dunham, Natalie Portman, Damon Lindelof, Eugene Levy, Rachel Bloom and Joshua Malina are among the stars appearing at this two-day festival in Hollywood. From a panel on “Stranger Things”: Inside the Upside Down, to a discussion with the women behind HBO’s “Girls” on The Panel of Their Generation (or at least a panel of a generation), this is the ultimate festival for any pop-culture fan. Organized by politics and culture magazine Vulture. Through Nov. 19. 11 a.m. Saturday–9 p.m. Sunday. Various prices. The Hollywood Roosevelt, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. vulturefestival.com.

“WAR OF THE WORLDS”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, featuring Israeli-American opera director Yuval Sharon, up-and-coming Jewish composer Annie Gosfield, and members of the L.A. Phil New Music Group, re-creates Orson Welles’ 1938 original radio script, incorporating Gosfield’s satellite and machine and industrial sounds. Admission to the concert includes entry into “Noon to Midnight,” which lets attendees roam Walt Disney Concert Hall for a day of pop-up performances featuring L.A.’s top new-music ensembles. Noon, 2 p.m. $25-$58. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111. S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.

DENNIS PRAGER

Nationally syndicated radio host and New York Times best-selling author Dennis Prager will discuss “Supporting Israel and Maintaining Conservative Traditional Values in America’s Contemporary Cultural Climate” during a special Shabbat morning service. After the service, the founder of Prager U will participate in a Q-and-A session over a catered lunch. Childcare available. Seating is limited. 9:30 a.m. $40 members, $60 nonmembers. Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000. sephardictemple.org.

SUN NOV 19
“NAZISM IN THE U.S.”

Beth Ribet, who holds a doctorate in social relations from UC Irvine and a law degree from UCLA, discusses Nazism in American institutions and history, its relationship to white supremacy and what it means today. Attendees explore opportunities to mobilize and respond. Coffee and bagels served. Co-sponsored by Sholem Community and LGBT congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim. 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Free. Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (310) 984-6935. sholem.org.

MAAGALIM CYCLING EVENT

Israeli and Jewish families with special-needs children come together for a day of cycling, karate, fitness, pumpkin decorating and more. Professional cyclists will
provide instruction to those who have never ridden a bike. Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) will attend and partner with kids with special needs. Organized by Maagalim, a new organization aiming to provide more opportunities for inclusion for special-needs families. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Free. IAC Shepher Community Center, 6530 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 288-8108. maagalimcircles.org.

“HITLER, MY NEIGHBOR: MEMOIRS OF A JEWISH CHILDHOOD, 1929-1939”

Historian Edgar Feuchtwanger participates in a talk and book signing for “Hitler, My Neighbor: Memories of a Jewish Childhood, 1929-1939.” The book is Feuchtwanger’s account of being a young boy from a prominent German-Jewish family in Munich when Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler moves into the building across the street. The boy watches from his window as terrible events unfold. 3 p.m. Free (RSVP required). Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

CAROL LEIFER AND WENDY LIEBMAN

The two headliners at Whizin’s Stand-Up Comedy Showcase have starred in comedy specials on HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central. Carol Leifer is a four-time Emmy Award nominee for her writing on “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” Wendy Liebman has performed on late-night shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, and was a semifinalist on “America’s Got Talent.” 4 p.m. $25. David Alan Shapiro Memorial Synagogue Center, American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL IN CONCERT”

American Youth Symphony (AYS), a laboratory for skilled high school musicians, performs John Williams’ legendary score for “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” accompanying a screening of the iconic Steven Spielberg film. AYS Music Director Carlos Izcaray and conductor Jon Burlingame lead the symphony. The event features a Q-and-A with industry leaders, moderated by Burlingame. 4:30 p.m. $11-$15. Royce Hall, UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles. (310) 470-2332. aysymphony.org.

MON NOV 20
“NIGHT OF 80 SHABBATS”

Today is the final day to register as a host for the Builders of Jewish Education’s (BJE) “Night of 80 Shabbats” on Dec. 1, when
Shabbat dinners are served in homes across Los Angeles. The initiative marks the 80th anniversary of BJE. Young adults and millennials who host a dinner could be eligible to receive $10 per person in food expenses, up to $150, from One Table, which brings Shabbat to people of all backgrounds who are in their 20s and 30s (restrictions apply). For additional information, visit bjela.org/night-80-shabbats-0.

REZA ASLAN AND RABBI SARAH BASSIN

Join Reza Aslan, best-selling author of “Zealot,” and Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills as they discuss God and the concept of the divine, from prehistoric times to today. Part of the Behrendt Conversation Series, in partnership with Chevalier Books. A copy of Aslan’s new book, “God: A Human History,” is included with the price of admission. 7 p.m. $25 online; $35 at the door. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Corwin Family Sanctuary, 300 N. Clark Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737. tebh.org.

INTERFAITH THANKSGIVING SERVICE

Seven congregations comprising the Pacific Palisades Ministerial Association, including Reconstructionist synagogue Kehillat Israel, participate in an annual evening of prayer, music, readings, meditation and fellowship. A patio reception with hot beverages and other refreshments follows. 7 p.m. Free. Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine Temple, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328. ourki.org.

“SUDDENLY, A KNOCK AT THE DOOR”

Writer Eitan Katzen is visited by a bearded man, a survey taker and a pizza delivery woman in this original play by Robin Goldfin, based on stories by award-winning Israeli author and filmmaker Etgar Keret. Brandishing weapons, these visitors hold the writer hostage and demand a story. For these three strange muses, Katzen begins to weave his tales, played out on the stage by the same characters holding him captive. The staged reading is directed by Jeff Maynard. Free with RSVP required. 8 p.m. Lenart Auditorium, Fowler Museum at UCLA, 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, Los Angeles. (310) 208-3081, ext. 108. international.ucla.edu/institute.

For more events in Jewish L.A., visit http://jewishjournal.com/calendar/.

As Prager takes Disney Hall stage, music drowns out controversy with Santa Monica Symphony

Dennis Prager conducts the Santa Monica Symphony at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Aug. 16. Photo courtesy of the Santa Monica Symphony.

The news that conservative commentator Dennis Prager would conduct the Santa Monica Symphony was met with dissent from some of the symphony’s volunteer musicians. But at least for the duration of the Aug. 16 performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the sounds of classical music drowned out any controversy that preceded the show.

“Just curious, are there any fans of Dennis here tonight?” the symphony’s music director, Guido Lamell, asked the sellout crowd, to uproarious applause from a great majority of the audience.

Prager’s conservative views, aired on his daily radio show and in his regular contributions to the Jewish Journal, put him at odds with the political mainstream in overwhelmingly liberal Santa Monica. So when a group of volunteer musicians objected to his planned appearance at the fundraising concert, encouraging their fellow players to sit it out, “I cannot say that I was shocked,” he told the Journal by email.

But for the radio host, a longtime classical music buff, the thrill of conducting a 72-piece orchestra in a world-famous venue overwhelmed any controversy, he said.

“Disney Hall is such an extraordinary honor that it wasn’t even on my bucket list,” he wrote in the email, referring to the renowned concert hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The hall is a considerable step up from the symphony’s regular venue at Santa Monica High School, where it offers free concerts to the public. In spite of that, some musicians were put off when Lamell announced in March that Prager would take the baton at the symphony’s Summer Gala Concert, its first Disney Hall appearance.

“We believe that Dennis Prager’s publicly stated positions are fundamentally at odds with our community’s values and that the proposed concert would deeply damage our orchestra’s relationship with our community,” four symphony members wrote in an open letter posted online dated March 27.

The letter cited Prager’s opposition to gay marriage and multiculturalism, and his endorsement of President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions as stances that bring him in direct conflict with members of the orchestra and its community. Their statement drew a chorus of local figures and officials in solidarity, including a Santa Monica councilmember who called Prager a “bigoted hate-monger.”

UCLA political science professor and symphony violinist Michael Chwe, who co-authored the letter, worried that Prager’s appearance would permanently damage the symphony’s reputation, especially within the liberal community that makes up its regular audience.

“If people associate the Santa Monica Symphony with right-wing bigotry, it’s hard to fix that,” he told the Journal before the concert.

Lamell said in the March email announcing Prager’s appearance that it would help the symphony address a “serious shortfall” in its budget. But the reasoning left some musicians unconvinced.

“There are just a million celebrities, all sorts of musicians,” said Jeff Schwartz, a co-author of the letter. “I can’t believe there isn’t a less offensive person who wants to pose in front of the band with a stick for half an hour.”

Prager addressed his critics in the email to the Journal, describing the incident as an example of “how the intolerant were defeated.”

“Disney Hall was sold out in large measure because people are sick of the totalitarian silencing of conservatives,” he said.

Lamell told the Journal before the performance that he had no problem mustering a group of musicians from his roster of some 700 volunteers. Lamell, a 39-year member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said he wanted to expose his volunteers to the venue where he makes his living.

“I wanted them to have the privilege of playing in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and I have had far more people wishing to play than possibly can be accommodated,” he said.

He predicted that the symphonies would “overwhelm the political issues.”

“If I dare use this term, music trumps politics — absolutely,” he said.

A number of the musicians agreed.

Asked if he was endorsing Prager’s political views by playing the concert, violinist Steve Ravaglioli said, “No, absolutely not, because I don’t endorse his political views. I might endorse some of what he says, but I don’t I don’t feel like playing with him conducting is a political statement, period.”

Politics went unmentioned at the performance, where Lamell’s traditional choices of Mozart and Beethoven stood in contrast to Prager’s selection of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 51, a rarely performed piece with a notoriously difficult horn passage.

Prager promoted the performance beforehand on his radio show and his online video platform, PragerU, helping to sell out the venue’s more than 2,200 seats. A Haydn enthusiast, Prager intermittently mentions his love of classical music on the air and has been asked to conduct on a volunteer basis for several local orchestras. Previously, his most notable appearance was leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Hollywood Bowl in 1994.

At the Aug. 16 performance, Prager led the orchestra through the four movements of the Haydn symphony before deconstructing the music, isolating each section one-by-one, first the cellos and basses, then the violins, then the horns and woodwinds, beaming with the enthusiasm of a kid with a shiny new toy. “This is awesome,” he told the audience.

Dennis Prager surprised the audience with a rendition on his accordion of “America the Beautiful.” Guido Lamell accompanied him on the musical saw. Photo by Eitan Arom

After Lamell closed the program with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Prager surprised the crowd with an encore performance of “America the Beautiful” on the accordion, with Lamell accompanying him on a musical saw.

“We figured we’d try to do something you haven’t seen too often,” Lamell said.

The audience was livelier than those who normally show up to classical concerts, unrestrained from applauding between movements and calling out to the conductor.

“Thank you for neutralizing the turbulence, Dennis,” one audience member, Kenneth Rogers, called out audibly after the Haydn piece concluded. “How could anybody remain angry?”

Rogers told the Journal afterward he was referring to the controversy that preceded Prager’s appearance, as well as the controversy Prager faces on an almost daily basis. But, Rogers, a retired Los Angeles Unified high school teacher, said, “This is a wonderful forum to break from, as I put it, all the turbulence that’s out there.

“All the conservatives are out there in the audience, but there are quite a few liberals up there among the musicians,” he said. “I was kind of wondering what would happen tonight. Can’t we set aside our differences?”

 

Letters to the Editor: Money & religion, comparing Trump with Obama

How Trump Is Judged, Compared With Obama

Rob Eshman’s last column was 100 percent on the mark (“The Double Standard,” July 28). Thank you for pointing out little-remembered but very important facts about the Barack Obama administration to Donald Trump supporters within and outside of the Jewish community.

Every ray of truth shines like a beacon in this dark night of Trump.

Myra Newman, via email


Money, Religion and the Alternatives

Enjoy your provocative columns!

Regarding Rob Eshman’s “Religion and Money” (Aug. 4): Why not set up some sort of program for the donation of previously used bar mitzvah suits for those parents and sons unable to afford a new form-fitted, expensive designer suit. This would truly be a blessing.

Joe Goldstein, via email

Many synagogues do allow people with financial difficulties to get reduced-price or free High Holy Days tickets, but it is difficult to get those tickets. Jewish families have been known to have to jump through multiple hoops, which include speaking with temple employees, showing tax returns, writing essays and more in order to get those discounted or free tickets to services that every Jew is entitled to.

“Progressive cost models” are attempts to maintain a balance between the financial needs of the temple and the cost of tickets and/or membership. But here again, these are models that do have heavily “suggested” donation amounts.

Many of us have been unaffiliated for years, and this has been a sticking point. We are bothered and offended that synagogues demand fees, rather than having faith that those of us who can give will support our communities.

The Chai Center in Los Angeles, and Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village operate without dues, membership or ticket fees. After 30 years, Chai Center is still open and inviting to everyone. Temple Ner Simcha switched to the no-dues/cost model last year. The Journal published a nice article about the motivations for the switch last year. 

As a donor and board member of Ner Simcha, I can vouch that there are significant financial challenges to creating and maintaining this model. I also can vouch for the positive feelings I have knowing that my support helps Jewish families.

I encourage every temple to examine this model.

Mark Mushkin, Westlake Village


A ‘Bold’ Choice to Become Orthodox

Columnist Gina Nahai’s shock over bumping into a childhood schoolmate, one she referred to as having been “least likely to become domesticated” but now bewigged, long-skirted and with several children in tow at the kosher supermarket, is utterly patronizing (“I’ve Seen This Woman Before,” Aug. 4).

Nahai assumes that the “boldness” she once knew in her former friend had been replaced by a “tamer, more rewarding connection to motherhood and religion.” As one who also traded some degree of social defiance for a similar path of Orthodoxy, I can tell you that choosing to become Orthodox, which went against the paths of all my friends and family, was the most daring and bold decision I ever could have made.

Judy Gruen, Los Angeles


Times Have Changed Since the Days of Leviticus

Dennis Prager is absolutely right that Muslim immigrants are causing Europe to go into a death spiral (“Wisdom vs. Compassion,” July 21). The Journal reader who invoked the line in Leviticus, “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong,” conveniently forgets that in that time, the strangers did not assault, rape and kill their hosts.

Stephen Meyers, via email

Letters to the editor, week of June 12

Kudos to the Journal

Thank you for important information covering many topics. As an African-American female Jew, I’m feeling pressure from all sides. I’m glad you’re out there.

The article about Michael Twitty: Thank you (“A Taste of Black History and a Side of Jewish Culture,” March 31).

Laura D. Joyner
Los Angeles

… or Not

Lately, I hate to take your paper in hand because it is more political than Jewish.

I find the same vitriolic remarks as Sen. Chuck Schumer’s, audacious and calumnious, insulting our president.

You also are insulting your other readers who value and respect Donald Trump.

The only Jew at heart in your newspaper is David Suissa. He lived in another country as a Jew, and he understands the plight of Judaism better than anybody else.

Tame your horses, get a feeling for your readers.

Elvira Schwartz
Los Angeles

Foundation Forging Change With Grants

I want to commend the Journal for the important public service provided through its coverage of the inaugural Los Angeles edition of Slingshot, A Resource Guide to Jewish Innovation (“New L.A. Guide Spotlights Top Jewish Nonprofits,” June 9). Since its inception, Slingshot has become the Michelin Guide of Jewish social innovation, serving an instrumental role in calling attention to and recognition for initiatives that are reimagining and reanimating our communities. It is an invaluable resource for, among other purposes, engaging volunteers and highlighting funding opportunities for prospective donors.

As Slingshot Executive Director Stefanie Rhodes rightly notes, Los Angeles is at the epicenter of Jewish social entrepreneurship. Consequently, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) is duly proud to be a sponsor of the new Los Angeles edition. It makes me prouder still that 15 of the 26 organizations featured on the local list — and no fewer than five in the Slingshot national edition — were recipients of significant seed funding from The Foundation in the form of our annual Cutting Edge Grants. This support has enabled the launch of many of the listed organizations as well as the creation of catalytic new initiatives within established institutions. Since 2006, we have awarded more than $15 million to more than 80 innovative local programs that engage and forge inclusive pathways into local Jewish life.

These social entrepreneurs and their organizations’ lay leaders are igniting the flame beneath the local Jewish future. It’s a fire that burns brightly and will serve as a beacon for us all.

Marvin I. Schotland
President and Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Prager Should Know Better

Once upon a time, before Dennis Prager blamed all things negative on liberals, he would tell his radio audiences that he deplores generalization.

I’m a liberal and Prager doesn’t know me. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t know any of my family or friends. And I doubt he knows “all” liberals he condemns. Because some of us don’t agree with every observation he expounds upon doesn’t make all of us responsible for destruction of Western civilization.

Prager should stay true to who he says he is. All liberals, all Jews, all ‘whatevers’ are always on the wrong side of an issue. Generalizing, and its next step down, stereotyping, is the stuff of ignorance. Isn’t a recognized great thinker like Prager beyond that?

Joe Siegman
Los Angeles

History Brought to Life

As Bob Hope would sing, “Thanks for the Memory.”

I loved the Journal using the cover story of the old Heritage Southwest Jewish Press from June ’67 with its own story (“Los Angeles Rallied Around Israel in ’67,” June 2). It was a joy to read Tom Tugend recalling his Jewish journalistic roots on 2130 S. Vermont Ave. (Heritage’s editorial office), not far from the old Jewish Federation building.

I hope to see Tugend’s byline in the Journal for many years. He is living Jewish history in his own incredible life.

Reuven Davidson
Jerusalem

First-Person Stories

The recent addition of a mini personal story at the last page of every Jewish Journal is a real winner. I never miss it — truly great stories that trump (excuse the pun) so much of what passes for worthwhile news these days.

I am impressed … really.

Arnold Ross
via email

Who’s an anti-Semite?

A sign reading “Fascist Free Campus” on the University of California, Berkeley, campus in the aftermath of the cancellation of a speech there by conservative political commentator Ann Coulter on April 27. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

The Jewish left has been calling conservatives “anti-Semites” — not to mention “fascists” and “racists” — for as long as I have been alive.Yet, outside of the Muslim world, virtually all anti-Semitism and Israel-hatred comes from the left. Of course, to most left-wing (as opposed to liberal) Jews, Israel-hatred is not the same as anti-Semitism. One can even help those who wish to destroy Israel — through supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, for example — and still be honored by Jewish institutions. Two local examples: Ed Asner was just given a lifetime achievement award at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. and Cornel West was invited by the UCLA Department of Jewish Studies to give a keynote address.

But no matter how destructive the left is — not only to Jews and Israel, but to civilized society as demonstrated by the intolerance and violence at our left-wing universities — it’s the right that frightens most American Jews.

Which brings me to an advertisement in the May 12 edition of the Jewish Journal by a Jewish leftist attacking Ann Coulter as an anti-Semite and me for defending her against that charge.

I don’t know what prompted the ad, since none of the allegations against Coulter is recent. The issue is gone and largely forgotten. My best guess is that precisely because there is so much Israel- and Jew-hatred emanating from the left, the man who took out the ad felt it necessary to find a prominent right-wing example of anti-Semitism. And since it is so rare, he revived the Coulter issue.

The irony is that even if Ann Coulter were an anti-Semite, this lone voice would hardly come close to matching the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism coming from the left that permeate Western universities, intellectual life and the media.

But even that irony doesn’t apply, since Ann Coulter is strongly pro-Israel. But, again, neither matters to most Jews on the left, since, as far as these Jews are concerned, being pro-Israel doesn’t make you a friend of the Jews and being anti-Israel doesn’t make you an enemy of the Jews.

Now, to the charges.

During the course of the second Republican presidential debate, Ann Coulter, tweeted: “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”

Her explanation was that she was frustrated with the candidates’ remarks that concentrated on things nearly all Republicans agree on — admiration of Ronald Reagan, opposition to abortion and support for Israel — while ignoring what she considers America’s biggest domestic problem: illegal immigration. She regarded the candidates’ remarks as “pandering” to various Republican constituencies and tweeted out a series of critical and angry comments, including the one about Jews.

If all non-Jews were as anti-Semitic as Ann Coulter, we Jews would be living in a Jewish utopia, a world without enemies.

She was condemned by Republicans — myself included — and Democrats for the tweet. It was wrong, and it damaged, at least temporarily, Republican and conservative supporters of Israel. But as I wrote at the time in a piece published by both The Jerusalem Post and the Forward, Ann Coulter is not an anti-Semite. She constantly has defended Jews and Israel. Every mention of Jews or Israel I’ve read in any of her books is a spirited defense of Jews and Israel, or an attack on those who attack Jews and Israel. I should add, for the record, that she has been to my home twice for Shabbat dinner.

If all non-Jews were as anti-Semitic as Ann Coulter, we Jews would be living in a Jewish utopia, a world without enemies.

Those Jews, like the ad writer, who label her an anti-Semite point to that 2015 tweet and to something she said in a 2007 interview with Jewish TV personality Donny Deutsch. She said that America (and presumably the world) would be better if everybody were a Christian.

Deutsch asked if that meant all Jews should become Christian. Coulter said yes, and Deutsch was offended. He was further offended when she labeled Christians and Jews who became Christians as “perfected Jews.”

But those are hardly anti-Semitic sentiments. Believing the world would be better if everyone were a Christian hardly renders one a bigot, let alone a Jew-hater. Don’t progressives believe the world would be better if everyone were a progressive?

And why is the belief that Jews who become Christian are “perfected Jews” anti-Semitic? Why is that different from a Jew believing that a Christian or anyone else who converts to Judaism becomes a member of the Chosen People? Or from Orthodox Jews who believe that Christianity is idol worship? I don’t agree with that view, but that hardly makes Orthodox Jews Christian-haters. I know a prominent Orthodox rabbi who thinks Christianity is idol worship and who works constantly with evangelical Christians whom he adores.

We need to be very careful before labeling people anti-Semites. This is especially so with regard to Christians who believe that the only way to salvation is through belief in Christ. The fact is that the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in America are largely those evangelical Christians who believe that only faith in Jesus saves.

In addition, epithets are not always a good indicator of who our enemies are. Harry S. Truman wrote home when he visited New York City that he was in “Kike-town” and wrote very disparaging things about the Jews in his diary. Yet, as president, he became the man who had America recognize the newly formed State of Israel within minutes of its declaration of independence — against the advice of his entire State Department.

When Hillary Clinton was accused of calling a campaign aide a “f—ing Jew bastard” — an account attested to by three witnesses — I wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal defending her against the charge of anti-Semitism. Unlike the ad writer who, like so many others on the left, smears ideological opponents, I defended Hillary Clinton, even though I have no respect for her. I defended Clinton because it was the right thing to do. And because if Jews cry wolf by calling virtually every opponent an anti-Semite, when the real anti-Semites come, no one will take us seriously.

And one more thought: With our universities more hostile to identifying Jews than at any time in American history, with many young Jews fearing to wear a Star of David or a yarmulke on more and more left-wing campuses, a Jew looks pretty foolish taking out an ad in a Jewish publication to attack Ann Coulter and Dennis Prager.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the Editor: ‘The Promise,’ Sean Spicer and the Holocaust

‘The Promise’ Closely Adheres to History

I recently read Rob Eshman’s column “Morgenthau’s Children” (April 21) in the Jewish Journal, where, in describing the exchange between Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and Ottoman Empire Interior Minister Mehmet Talaat in the movie “The Promise,” he wrote, “I don’t know whether the incident happened exactly as it played on screen.”

As a matter of fact, and to the credit of the filmmakers, that entire scene is faithful to Morgenthau’s account in his 1918 memoir, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.” The passages in question (from the 1918 edition) read:

“Why are you so interested in the Armenians, anyway?” he said, on another occasion. “You are a Jew; these people are Christians. The Mohammedans and the Jews always get on harmoniously. We are treating the Jews here all right. What have you to complain of? Why can’t you let us do with these Christians as we please?” …

“You don’t seem to realize,” I replied, “that I am not here as a Jew but as American Ambassador. My country contains something more than 97,000,000 Christians and something less than 3,000,000 Jews. So, at least in my ambassadorial capacity, I am 97 per cent Christian. But after all, that is not the point. I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or any religion, but merely as a human being. You have told me many times that you want to make Turkey a part of the modern progressive world. The way you are treating the Armenians will not help you to realize that ambition; it puts you in the class of backward, reactionary peoples.”

Thank you for your column.

Armen Manuk-Khaloyan, master’s candidate in history,Cal State Northridge

I agree with what Rob Eshman wrote in “Morgenthau’s Children.” The last paragraph especially resonated with me: “If we, of all people, do not take up the cause of the victims of genocide, in every country, in every generation, who will?”

It is with that truism in mind that I write this email. I don’t speak for all Armenians, but while Armenians are generally sympathetic toward Jews (common history marked by persecution and near extinction), and they admire Jews, some have expressed frustration with Jews, Jewish organizations and Israel for what they think is not only undermining the Armenian cause but even represents hostility toward Armenians.

If ever there was a country that should recognize the Armenian genocide, and if there ever was a people who should make sure that the lessons of genocide — not just the Holocaust, but all genocides — are never forgotten, it should be Israel and the Jews. Unfortunately, not only has Israel, and in many instances, Jewish organizations, been silent on this cause, but in some cases have gone out of their way to prevent the formal recognition of the Armenian genocide.

Additionally, after what has now been dubbed the Four-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan (April 1-4, 2016), it was discovered that Israel had sold Azerbaijan drones as well as more lethal weapons. While on the surface this may seem benign, that nations sell their weapons to other nations all the time, for Armenians this is akin to Armenia supplying nuclear-making material to Iran.

I hope Jews, especially American Jews and Jewish organizations would be more forceful in asking or demanding that Israel, of all nations, to properly recognize this crime against humanity.

 Arthur Bayramyan, Via email

 

Dennis Prager, Sean Spicer and the Holocaust

Dennis Prager’s defense of Sean Spicer’s ignorance misses the point (“More Left-Wing Abuse of the Holocaust,” April 21). I, too, do not believe that Sean Spicer is a Holocaust denier. I believe he never even thought about the Holocaust and those “Holocaust centers” until his boss told him to go out to the White House press corps and make a statement. He is a reflection of his boss’ ignorance — and that’s the point!

Gilbert H. Skopp, Calabasas

My lifelong experience convinces me that incompetence, ignorance and stupidity trump (no pun intended) conspiracies and hidden agendas most of the time. While I agree with Dennis Prager that Sean Spicer’s comments contrasting Bashar Assad to Hitler were not some conspiracy to deny the Holocaust, of which I am a survivor, they are another example of the Trump administration’s lack of competence to lead our nation.

Prager uses an overreaction to a mistake by Spicer to write an entire column condemning what he calls the “left,” while defending the administration that creates “alternative facts” and is attempting to trample every freedom and social benefit it finds too inconvenient or too costly. Dennis, where are the Jewish values that you profess to espouse?

 Michael Telerant,  Los Angeles

More left-wing abuse of the Holocaust

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Last week, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, was widely accused by Jews and non-Jews on the left of engaging in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism when he drew a comparison between Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and Adolf Hitler. The comparison involved Assad’s use of chemical weapons to kill and terrorize his own citizens. As there is no lie more heinous than Holocaust denial, this is quite a charge. If true, it would signal an unprecedented moral collapse at the highest levels of American government.

But Sean Spicer never denied the Holocaust.

As professor Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat, Hillary Clinton supporter and liberal (though not leftist) activist wrote: “It never occurred to me that Spicer’s misstatements were motivated by anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial or an intent to ‘slur’ the Jewish people. Nor do I believe that those who have accused him of such evil motivations actually believe it. They deliberately attributed an evil motive to him in order to pander to Jewish listeners. That offends me more than anything Spicer did.”

Dershowitz is right: the only thing worse than Holocaust denial is falsely accusing someone of engaging in it.

Yet, that is what many on the Jewish and non-Jewish left (but when it comes to the Holocaust, it’s the Jews who matter the most) are guilty of. Accusing a non-Jew of engaging in Holocaust denial is the moral equivalent of the medieval Blood Libel against Jews (the accusation that a Jew killed a Christian child to use the child’s blood to bake matzo for Passover).

Most public figures know that it usually is a bad idea to invoke Nazism or Hitler to make a political point. But Spicer did invoke Hitler, and though he immediately explained himself, the left-wing media, also known as the mainstream media, unleashed a frenzy of irresponsible charges.

Most people knew what Spicer meant — that Assad had done something that even Hitler didn’t do: specifically, use warplanes to drop chemical weapons on his own people. However, given Hitler’s use of gas to murder German Jews, mentally handicapped Germans and others he considered less than human, the statement was factually incorrect. Spicer should not have made the point. Assad’s evil is clear enough without invoking Hitler; and the point he made could be taken by some to lessen Hitler’s evil.

Spicer realized this immediately and made a full apology shortly afterward.

Again, Dershowitz: “There was no hint of anti-Semitism in his [Spicer’s] historical mistake and his apology should have ended the matter.”

Nevertheless, the Democratic National Committee issued a statement under the headline “We will not stand for anti-Semitism,” that included the following: “Denying the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime is a tried and true tactic used by Neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups that have become emboldened since Donald Trump first announced his campaign for president.”

And Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, falsely accused Spicer of “downplaying the horror of the Holocaust.”

To which Dershowitz responded: “By leveling that false accusation, Pelosi herself is exploiting the tragedy,” he wrote.

Most people knew what Spicer meant — that Assad had done something that even Hitler didn’t do: specifically, use warplanes to drop chemical weapons on his own people.

Dershowitz also attacked two Jewish frauds, Steven Goldstein and the so-called Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. As I wrote in my last Jewish Journal column, Goldstein engages in chillul Anne Frank, a desecration of the name of Anne Frank.

“Steven Goldstein,” Dershowitz wrote, “a hard-left radical who heads a phony organization that calls itself ‘The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect,’ accused Spicer of ‘engage[ing] in Holocaust denial. … ’

“Goldstein,” Dershowitz continued, “repeatedly exploits the Holocaust in order to gain publicity for him and his tiny group of followers. Shame on them!”

But many left-wing Jews repeatedly quoted Goldstein and his radical Anne Frank Center. Adam Peck, an editor at ThinkProgress; Antonia Blumberg, a reporter at Huffington Post; Noah Berlatsky, writing in the Los Angeles Times; Kenneth Stern, executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, which also purportedly exists to fight anti-Semitism; and other left-wing Jews cited Goldstein and his organization charging Spicer with Holocaust denial.

Another one of them, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a contributor to CNN Opinion and professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, also continued the lie of tying Trump to anti-Semites and to anti-Semitism, even after it became clear that threats to Jewish community centers had been made by either a Black radical or young American Jew in Israel.

Meanwhile, for the record, in 2013, Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” said that unlike Assad, Hitler never used chemical weapons. It is true that he was not the president’s press secretary. But no one — on the left or the right — said anything, let alone accused Matthews of Holocaust denial. But if a Fox News host had said it, left-wing Jews and non-Jews surely would have accused him or her of Holocaust denial.

No one, left or right, should invoke Hitler for political gain. But among Jews, the left has a near monopoly on misusing the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to attack its political foes. It only serves to lessen the unique evil that constitutes the Holocaust.

Moving and Shaking: IFF holds annual luncheon, synagogues collect items for refugees, Saban on Walk of Fame

From left: Israeli actress Sapir Azulay, Israeli-American film producer Avi Lerner, talent agent Adam Berkowitz, Israeli actress and producer Noa Tishby, IsraFest founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein, “House” creator David Shore and Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul (in front) attend the IsraFest luncheon. Photo by Pal Photography.

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the Isra-Fest Foundation, which brings Israeli films to Los Angeles each year as part of the Israel Film Festival (IFF), knows how to thank his supporters. Several months before each festival, he invites them to a luncheon at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Fenigstein made aliyah with his family three years ago after residing in Los Angeles for many years. He continues to run the IFF from his new home in Israel and through frequent visits to L.A.

This year, the luncheon honored David Shore, creator of the television show “House” and a board member at Save a Child’s Heart, with the IFF Visionary Award; Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, who has been instrumental in selling numerous TV shows, including “Seinfeld” and two Israeli series, “The Greenhouse” and “Fauda,” with the IFF Career Achievement Award; and Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Max Webb with the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Webb delivered the most moving speech of the event, recounting his 12 years in labor camps and six concentration camps, and the promise he made to himself, his mother and to God. “I made a vow that if I get out of this hell, I’ll help others in need, the Jewish people and Israel,” Webb said.

After building a real estate empire in California, he kept true to his promise and donated millions of dollars to charity organizations, hospitals and the State of Israel.

During the event, Webb celebrated his 100th birthday (his actual birthday is March 2) and blew out candles on a cake presented to him by Fenigstein, while guests sang “Happy Birthday.”

IFF will take place Nov. 7-22 at various Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego.  Photo by Tyson Roberts.

Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego. Photo by Tyson Roberts.

What began as a partnership between Temple Beth Am and B’nai David-Judea to collect household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego grew into a community-wide effort involving six local Jewish organizations, with a daylong collection effort on March 16 dubbed “Project Hope.”

A rented truck driven by Beth Am member Tyson Roberts began to make its rounds at 7 a.m., stopping at private homes as well as multiple synagogues. Community members donated furniture, toiletries and other everyday necessities. The following day, Roberts delivered the donations to Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD), which helps resettle refugees from around the world. By March 17, some of the items collected already had furnished apartments for two Afghan families, JFSSD said.

Temple Beth Am’s Refugee Taskforce led the collection drive, partnering with Camp Gilboa. Roberts’ daughter, Shoshana Roberts, spearheaded Camp Gilboa’s involvement as her bat mitzvah project, working with the camp’s executive director, Dalit Shlapobersky.

The other Jewish institutions involved were IKAR, Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and Kehilat Israel in the Pacific Palisades.

The effort collected dining sets, sofas, armchairs, toaster and microwaves ovens, a crib and more. It was the second iteration of Project Hope, following a previous collection last August.

Tyson Roberts said he hopes to hold a third donation drive this summer. “A lot of people, as I was loading the truck, were like, ‘Wait, I still have stuff!’ ” he said.

More information and a list of items requested by the JFSSD can be found online at tbala.org/get-involved/project-hope.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Haim Saban with a star on the Walk of Fame in front of the Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Lionsgate, the film studio behind “Saban’s Power Rangers,” now in theaters, nominated Saban, an Israeli-American media producer, businessman and philanthropist, for the honor.

Saban, the creator of the “Power Rangers” television show, expressed his gratitude to Lionsgate during the March 22 ceremony “for your belief in the ‘Power Rangers’ franchise, and for your unconditional support for the launch of the ‘Power Rangers’ movie … [which,] Baruch Ha-Shem, with God’s help, will be a resounding success.”

The fee for installing a star on the Walk of Fame is $40,000 and the sponsor of the nominee is responsible for the cost. The money benefits the nonprofit Hollywood Historic Trust.

Attendees included Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leron Gubler, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, musician David Foster and former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell.

Saban is a member in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2017 in the Television category, joining Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor and George Segal.

Bill and Hillary Clinton congratulated Saban for receiving a star on the Walk of Fame in a letter that was published on the website of Variety. “This well-deserved honor is not only a testament to your decades of groundbreaking contributions in the entertainment industry,” the letter from the former U.S. president and his wife, the former senator and presidential candidate, says, “but to your enduring generosity and efforts to advance good causes across America and around the world.”


Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Feb. 5 Israel solidarity event titled “Israel 200” — which aimed to draw 200 student attendees — attracted 120 teenage students in grades 8 through 12 to Chabad of North Ranch. The event featured workshops, a buffet lunch and discussions that included “Israel — Why Should I Care?”

Organizers were Rabbi Mendy Friedman and Mushka Friedman, co-directors of CTeen Conejo.

“We may be thousands of miles away [from Israel], but the events going on there are of utmost importance to Jews and people of conscience all over, including teens,” Mushka Friedman said in a statement.

Speakers were from StandWithUs, the Jewish National Fund and other organizations, including Israel Defense Forces (Ret.) Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak. Additionally, students participated in a boot camp training that “pushed them to discover inner strengths and the ability to go beyond themselves,” a press release said.

CTeen Conejo describes itself as “a community organization under the auspices of Chabad that is dedicated to encouraging teens to make the world a better place.”


From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

More than 1,000 people attended the ninth annual Israeli American Council (IAC) gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel on March 19.

Guests included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, whose support has helped the IAC open 12 regional offices across the United States since a group of Israeli-American leaders founded the organization a decade ago in Los Angeles.

IAC has grown steadily since its establishment, holding community events such as the Celebrate Israel festival and operating a variety of programs, including Eitanim, which connects high school students to Israel as they prepare for college and develop professional skills.

IAC National Chairman Adam Milstein discussed the importance of the organization for the future generations of Israeli Americans.

“As I think about the future and look 10, 20, 50 years down the line, I’m not sure if I will be here, but I know the IAC will be. We are creating a grass-roots movement that will last for generations for Israel, for America and for the Jewish people,” he said.

Additional speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was introduced as the city’s first Jewish mayor; radio host and Journal columnist Dennis Prager; and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, who was the gala honoree in recognition of his philanthropy and passionate involvement with many organizations that support Israel and Jewish life.

Wiener told his heart-wrenching story of survival, saying, “The best day of my life was the day the State of Israel was established.”

Mentalist Lior Suchard emceed the evening. During his performance, he guessed correctly the name of one woman’s first love, one of his many mind-reading tricks.

During the fundraising portion of the evening, attendees pledged more than $2 million in support of the organization, including IAC board member Naty Saidoff’s pledge of almost $600,000.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. n

Letters to the editor: Prager receives some criticism, readers criticize Journal characterizations

Health Equipment Option

Your recent article about Yad Sarah, an Israeli organization that provides services such as low-cost rentals of wheelchairs and other medical equipment, suggests that the United States could learn from this Israeli group (“Israel’s Yad Sarah Has Prescription for U.S. Health Care System,” March 10).

I think your readers would like to know that we have similar nonprofit organizations in Southern California. What American organizations seem to lack is publicity. 

For more than 90 years, the Convalescent Aid Society has served Pasadena and other cities in the San Gabriel Valley. There is no means test and no time limit on the free delivery, setup, loan and servicing of used medical equipment, including special beds, wheelchairs and canes.

In Los Angeles, we also have the Durable Medical Equipment Society, headquartered in, but not limited to, the San Fernando Valley.

Both groups are operated by volunteers, who maintain the equipment and staff the offices.

Both groups accept donations of re-usable medical supplies and give donors a note for a tax deduction. As American Jews age, I think we need to know of and donate to local charities that support our health care. They help us heal the world (tikkun olam)! 

Joel Peck, Culver City

Grammar Police to the Rescue

Beryl Arbit needs to vacate that glass house (Letters to the Editor, March 17). Whatever Nicholas Melvoin’s linguistic shortcomings, she should be declaring that hers will be one fewer, not one less, vote for him. 

Geoff Neigher, Los Angeles

Dennis Prager’s Logic Is Faulty

Dennis Prager is at it again (“There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Crime in America,” March 10). He cherry-picks a few incidents of, what appear to be, Trump-induced hate crimes. Upon further investigation, these crimes were committed by people who dislike Trump. Prager, in order to fill the role of loyal lapdog for him, extrapolates these few incidents into a general conclusion that the left is committing these crimes to falsely accuse Trump’s election of unleashing a wave of hate crimes.

Clearly, there are those on the left who engage in such tactics. These people should be condemned. However, the right is equally guilty of engaging in such tactics. 

Bottom line, while the numbers are still being deciphered, anecdotally I would argue that there has been an increase in hate crimes because of Trump. I don’t recall the same number of such crimes when George W. Bush or Barack Obama were elected president.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Columnists are supposed to be swizzle sticks, stirring the political waters and the sediment that lies below. The Jewish Journal has its share of such columnists, and they can be divided along the following continuum: Gina Nahai occupies the center, while to the left are Rob Eshman and Marty Kaplan, and to the right, David Suissa and Shmuel Rosner. The only outlier, the Pluto in a universe by himself, is Dennis Prager.

Prager is a one-themed writer, viewing the left as the scourge and plague that separates and decimates humankind from its senses, and if not eliminated, from its very existence.

Those of us who embrace a progressive stance will fight, in both print and in the street, for the 4,000-year-old Jewish mission of truth, justice, morality and community that Dennis and his acolytes seem so intent on distorting (and in many ways destroying) for their own self-aggrandizing ends.

Marc Rogers, North Hollywood

Don’t Misrepresent Orthodox Judaism

Given that all halachic authorities agree that Open Orthodoxy is not an expression of Orthodox Judaism, please defer from slurring Modern Orthodoxy by accusing it of harboring Uri L’Tzedek and its ilk (“Orthodox Rabbis Urge ‘Spiritual Resistance’ Against Trump Policies,” March 10). They are members of a different branch of Judaism.

S.Z. Newman, Los Angeles

Letters to the editor: Criticism and love for columnists, response to GOP health care bill

Photo from Pexels.

Dennis Prager Misses Mark With Crime Wave Premise

Congratulations to Dennis Prager. His splenetic “No Wave” column exceeded his usual repugnant level of see-through propaganda (“There Is No Wave of Trump-Induced Crime in America,” March 10). This inexplicable Nazi/white power apologia reached all the way to outright sick-making (especially appearing in a Jewish publication).  

Bonus points for tacking on, at the thrilling conclusion of this slop, blithe lecture-y dismissals of the effects of climate change, AIDS, rape and racism among police, too (efficient!). Love how you brought a little Kellyanne into our Jewish world — fun!  

Grrrr.  

Steve Heller via email

Columnists Stir Strong Feelings Among Readers

Dennis Prager and David Suissa appeared to be an oasis of credible journalism and well-thought-out commentary in the March 10 edition. It wasn’t a Purim joke; it was rational, credible journalism. In particular, Dennis Prager clearly showed that there is no wave of Trump-induced crime in America. David Suissa exposed the so-called Women’s March as a political movement with a bias toward the liberal left (“Why I’m Protesting the Protests of March 8,” March 10). The Women’s March completely ignored the real persecution of women, such as in some countries that persecute women under Muslim law.

Rob Eshman should, by now, get the message that his bias toward the liberal left has created a disconnect with the Los Angeles area Jewish community. He should take a lesson from and try to emulate Dennis Prager and David Suissa.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

Thank you, David Suissa. Your take on recognizing Trump as a bullshitter (“Is Trump Worse Than a Liar?” Feb. 24) and on handling acts of Jew-hatred in America from a position of strength (“Fight Jew-Haters but Don’t Promote Them,” March 3), I found right on the mark.

And I especially want to thank Gina Nahai for her firsthand illuminating account of life under the shah (“The Nature of Rubbish,” March 3). I gained tremendous understanding and compassion for what her family and other Persians went through. We Americans need to understand and appreciate how people cope with and survive totalitarian regimes, including “fake news.”

Sharon Alexander, Torrance

GOP Caught in Health Care Trap

Michelle Wolf wrote that the proposed Republican health plan will drastically cut Medicaid benefits from the most needy and vulnerable Americans (many of whom voted for Trump) (“The Cruelest Cuts of All,” March 10).

That is only part of the story. Many, but not all Republicans would like to repeal Obamacare altogether and do away with all government assistance to the medically needy. They got elected on the promise to abolish Obamacare.

However, when it comes to reality, there is a conundrum: Many Republicans campaigned on the shortcomings of Obamacare that, indeed, over promised. They not only promised repeal, but a substitution program which would retain all the popular provisions of Obamacare and add more benefits but cost less.

Now they are caught in the trap of over promise. The actual proposed plan (Trumpcare) would indeed cost less, but would drastically cut benefits, leaving about half of the approximately 20 million newly insured without insurance and most of the rest paying more for less. There is no magic. You usually don’t get more for less. If there is a lesson to be learned from what happened to the Democrats, the Republicans have not learned it.

Or maybe they just painted themselves into a corner. Consider turning over a new leaf: Medicare for everyone.      

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Watch Your Language, School Board Candidate

Thank you very much for your coverage of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board candidates, including Nicholas Melvoin (“Melvoin: ‘New Blood, New Ideas’ and Charter Schools,” March 3). If I were Harvard, I’d ask Mr. Melvoin to return his English diploma: “Me and Steve could be brothers.” This from someone who is seeking a seat on the Board of Education? Why would anyone support a candidate who cannot construct a simple declarative sentence correctly?

Mine will be one less vote for Mr. Melvoin.

Beryl Arbit via email

Letters to the editor: Responses to immigrants and Trump, Journal’s 30th anniversary, Stephen Miller on Stephen Miller

Iranian Jews and Trump

I enjoyed reading Gina Nahai’s column (“Trump’s in the Torah,” Feb. 3). I am an immigrant of the post-World War II era. I, as well as most of my fellow immigrants, was grateful for the opportunity to live in a civil society. Most of us felt that liberal democracy gave us, as well as the rest of the nation, the opportunity for a better life and to thrive.

This has not been true of most of the later immigrants from despotic regimes. Nahai describes the situation among the Iranian-Jewish community. I also notice similar attitudes among the immigrants from the former USSR.

What is it about those who escaped despotism but admire autocracy? The general feeling that I get is they believe that allowing freedom of action and tolerance of opposing opinions are signs of weakness. They feel that leaders who allow dissent are foolish and taken advantage of.

What is so good about intolerance and autocracy that it prompted them to escape? How well has it worked out for the countries that adopted these ideologies?

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

30 Years and Counting

Thank you Jewish Journal for 30 years of diverse thought and opinion! I’m saddened by the nasty comments against Rob Eshman’s columns, particularly letters in response to “Thank You, Obama” (Jan. 20). It’s important for differing opinions to be expressed — through civility.

May your/our Jewish Journal continue in strength and diversity! 

Robin Siegal via email

Congratulations on the Journal’s 30th anniversary. I am thrilled you continue to make it a great paper providing a real service to the Jewish community.

Gordon Gelfond, Beverly Hills

Rob Eshman: Agree or Disagree?

The omission of Jews from the Trump administration’s Holocaust statement cannot be defended as Rob Eshman makes clear (“A Holocaust Without Jews,” Feb. 3). But we would be well advised to watch what he does, because saying the right thing is no indication that actually doing the right or smart thing is likely to follow.

Let us hope, for example, that Trump’s Middle East policies and his handling of Iran will help control the fires lit in the Middle East during the Obama administration and that are still raging. 

Stupidity abounds in politics. Let us hope Trump learns more quickly than the previous administration.

Julia Lutch via email

I read Rob Eshman’s workout of Stephen Miller’s ancestry (“Stephen Miller, Meet Your Immigrant Great-Grandfather,” Aug. 12). My name is Stephen Miller and my ancestry is similar to my namesake’s.

My Jewish grandparents came to the U.S. from Romania and Poland and Austria to escape persecution. I disagree with my namesake on the question of immigration. In my book “Walking New York: Reflections of American Writers from Walt Whitman to Teju Cole,” I talk about how New York has been revitalized by immigration. The immigration policies espoused by my namesake are deplorable. I usually vote Republican, but not in this past election. Trump is a disaster — and so is my namesake.

Stephen Miller via email

Douglas Mirell rightly believes that repeal of the Johnson Amendment would be an attack on the wall separating church and state, and that we need to cover our ears and ignore President Trump’s call for doing away with it (“Preserving the Barrier Between Church and State,” Feb. 10). 

On the other hand, Rob Eshman’s column in the same issue (“The Rabbi Speaks Out”), which described Rabbi Naomi Levy’s rebuke of Trump from the pulpit over the Muslim travel ban, demonstrates how criticism of the president by the clergy could mount were Trump to succeed in his efforts. I am pretty sure this is not the result he has in mind. 

Joan Watson via email

Trump and Nazism

Generally, I read [Dennis] Prager’s column when I haven’t had my cup of coffee and I need a jolt to wake me up.  His column about progressives trivializing Hitler, Nazism and Auschwitz got my juices flowing (“Progressives Now Trivializing Hitler, Nazism, Auschwitz,” Feb. 10). The purported examples he cites as support pale in comparison to a glaring omission on his part. President Donald Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day Proclamation fails to mention its impact on the Jewish people. If Prager is incapable of criticizing Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for their insensitivity to the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish people, then he lacks any moral authority to berate those who fail to see the world through his eyes.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Letters to the Editor: Election and immigration

The Left, the Right and the Election

Dennis Prager declares Good triumphed over Evil by stating: “Turns out the whole Democratic Party lost hugely on Election Day” (“Please Keep Calling Us Racists and Misogynists,” Nov. 18). He failed to look at the numbers. As of late November, the Democratic candidate had garnered more than 2 million more votes than his president-elect. Therefore, the Democratic Party is the majority party. The Republican candidate was saved by the Electoral College likely to give him 282 votes. 

I wish his president-elect good luck. I hope he will rise above his questionable utterances made during the campaign and be a good president for Americans of both sexes, all races and all religions.

And, who knows, maybe his Jewish grandson will be a Democrat and be the first Jewish president 50 or 60 years from now.

Ken Lautman, Los Angeles


While Republican Party apologist Dennis Prager bloviates about his party’s wins on election night, he misses the point in his urgency to again demonize the left for its “half-century [of] libeling and labeling conservatives” and “the harm the left has done to … Judaism, Jews, America and to Western civilization.”

Over 70 percent of eligible, registered voters either didn’t vote at all or voted against Donald Trump. In the face of this non-mandate, which Hillary Clinton would have inherited, as well, Mr. Prager has curiously chosen to strafe the left and to ignore perhaps a greater task at hand: to use his voice to help heal his own Republican Party, and, rather than chastising caring Jews who sat shivah last week, lead by example in words and deeds why we should do teshuvah and return to the Republican Party. Essentially, Mr. Prager missed a golden opportunity.

Graham Becker, Oak Park, Calif.


Dennis Prager writes, “For eight years, many on the left have described criticism of Barack Obama as racist. … For the left, it is not possible that conservative opposition to [Obama] has been rooted in public policy and moral differences that have nothing to do with race.”

Numerous polls have shown that more than 40 percent of Republicans believe President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. Donald Trump and the conservative media who propagated these calumnies (and Republicans who embraced these lies) did so solely to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. And they did it for only one reason: because he is Black.

This has nothing to do with “public policy and moral differences” and everything to do with race. 

Michael Asher via email


It is amazing that after all the information came out, no thanks to the mainstream media, about Hillary Clinton, (“The New Political Reality,” Nov. 18) that The New York Times reported that 71 percent of “Jews” still supported her candidacy! 

But, again, not all the Jews of Mitzrayim left with Moses.

This election was a beautiful morality play, and thank God, it turned out right.

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles


An Iranian Jew’s View of Immigration

As a fellow American Jew with an Iranian heritage, Gina Nahai’s series of “do you ever think” admonitions posing as “questions” would have been demeaning were they not devoid of intellectual rigor and evident of a pervasive bubble mentality among the left’s elite (“Appeasing the Crocodile,” Nov. 18). Immigration laws of any nation are intended, first and foremost, to protect the safety and well-being of its citizens. A charitable and moral country such as ours (perhaps the most in the history of mankind) also welcomes the benighted and offers a haven to the persecuted, but not at the risk or to the detriment of its citizens. A nation without borders cannot remain a nation. I doubt Ms. Nahai leaves her home door unlocked anytime during the day. If a minority voice among my cultural cohort exhibited anti-American sentiments, I would 1) expect my government’s vigilance in monitoring its immigration, and 2) speak up against its perversion, not cast dispersion from the luxury and safety of my Westside home. Ms. Nahai is disingenuous by claiming she has only “one question” and is “not attempting to make a point here,” but the real question is why isn’t the answer self-evident to the intellectual left?

Ramin Kianfar via email

Is kosher all or nothing?

Because of the many objections, most of them from Orthodox Jews, to my last column (“If You Don’t Eat Bacon, You Keep Kosher,” Aug. 5), and because the column was widely disseminated, I feel I owe readers a response to some of those objections.

Before I begin, I should point out that many Orthodox Jews agreed with what I wrote. But, as is well known, people who disagree are far more likely to express their opinions publicly than people who agree.

My primary argument, in a nutshell, was that even if a Jew only desists from eating the prohibited animals of the Torah, this Jew should be regarded as “keeping kosher” — just as one who gives less charity than Jewish law commands is usually regarded as a charitable Jew.

The most often made objection to this argument was that my charity comparison is invalid since halachah (Jewish law) does not require that a Jew give, as I had (apparently erroneously) written, a tenth of his income to charity. In fact, many noted, halachah doesn’t really require that a Jew give almost anything. As one responder wrote, “The law merely requires 1/3 shekel to tzedakah a year. Thus someone who donated $10 to tzedakah has fulfilled his legal obligation.”

This, I embarrassedly admit, was news to me. That on a moral issue as important as helping the poor and the sick, Judaism demands essentially nothing came as a surprise. On the other hand, it demonstrates that halachah is not the only way to achieve what God wants, given how charitable Jews have traditionally been.

But whether or not Judaism specifies the amount a Jew should give to tzedakah, my argument was this: We call a Jew “charitable” if he gives just about any tzedakah, but we do not say a Jew “keeps kosher” unless he keeps kosher in every detail.

This led one responder to write:

“I found the idea of the all or nothing in ritual but not in ethics really interesting!”

That is the issue I most wanted to raise: It is not good for Judaism that we view ritual law as all or nothing. That is why I wrote the column — not to have Jews “feel good about themselves,” as some wrote, or, even more amazingly, in order “to lead Jews to sin.”

I wrote it because “all or nothing” is intellectually and Jewishly counterproductive — it almost always leads to people doing nothing rather than doing all.

Think about it. In what areas of life would we really want to advocate all or nothing? 

If you were a passenger in a car going 10 miles per hour above the speed limit, would you say to the driver: “You know you are deliberately violating the traffic law; you are a lawbreaker, no different from someone driving 40 miles an hour above the speed limit”? 

Probably not.

Would you say to the driver: “You are entirely wrong to consider yourself a person who observes traffic laws”?

Again, probably not. 

And why not?

Because most of us recognize that in life “all or nothing” is usually absurd.

Over the course of 40 years, I have brought innumerable Jews to keeping kosher (including Orthodox levels of kashrut). And one of my most persuasive arguments has been that the moment a Jew declines to eat any food because he is a Jew, he is keeping kosher.

I never wrote that a Jew who only refrains from eating Torah-prohibited animals keeps “fully” kosher. I don’t use the word “fully” with regard to kashrut, or Shabbat, or any other Jewish law, including ethical laws. The term is worse than useless; it is damaging.

As one Orthodox rabbi, Ephraim Epstein, the senior rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in New Jersey, commented on the Jewish Journal website: “We would do much better if we threw away our FRUMometers and did away with the urges to assess levels of other people’s religiosity. …”

Let me end with a story that illustrates how powerful not using “all or nothing” is to bringing Jews to observance of kashrut (and other Jewish laws).

One day, many years ago, I was eating in Factor’s deli in the Pico-Robertson section of Los Angeles, when out of nowhere a woman approached me and said: “You have no idea how important it is for me to see you eating here. I heard you make the case for keeping kosher, and you persuaded me. But I still didn’t think I could do it because I knew I wouldn’t restrict myself to eating only in kosher restaurants. Now that I see that you can eat in a regular restaurant and still keep kosher, I will start keeping kosher.”

Did I cause that woman to sin? Or to keep kosher?

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

If you don’t eat bacon, you keep kosher

If you are a Jew who doesn’t eat bacon or shellfish because Judaism prohibits eating pork products and shellfish — but you do eat chicken and beef that have not been slaughtered according to halachah (Jewish law) — do you keep kosher?

Nearly every Jew who keeps kosher — and probably most who don’t — will answer that you do not.

[MORE FROM PRAGER: Is kosher all or nothing?]

Among Jews who keep kosher, in order to be considered a Jew who “keeps kosher,” one must eat only kosher food. That means refraining from eating not only the animals prohibited by the Torah — pork, shellfish, birds of prey and nearly all insects — but also any land animal not slaughtered halachically, not eating in a non-kosher restaurant and avoiding any foods not certified kosher.

I would like to make the argument that this attitude is both logically and Jewishly flawed — that a Jew who only refrains from pork and shellfish should in fact be considered a Jew who “keeps kosher.” 

To understand why, let’s take the example of tzedakah (charity). The Torah commands us to give 10 percent of our income to tzedakah. Now, if a Jew gives 5 percent, do we say that he gives tzedakah? Of course we do. In fact, we might even characterize such a Jew as baal tzedakah, a charitable man. 

But if we applied the same criterion to tzedakah that we do to keeping kosher, we would never call such a person — one who only gives half of what Judaism demands — a baal tzedakah. In fact, we wouldn’t even say that he gives tzedakah. If a Jew who only keeps half of what Judaism demands regarding kashrut doesn’t “keep kosher,” why would we say that a Jew who only observes half of what Judaism demands regarding tzedakah “gives tzedakah”?

This attitude tells us a lot of what has gone wrong in Judaism.

It tells us, for example, that we are far stricter in assessing Jews’ observance in ritual laws (the laws between man and God) than in ethical laws (laws between man and man). Partial observance of ethical laws doesn’t disqualify a Jew from being regarded as observant of those laws or as ethical, but any deviation from what is considered complete observance of ritual laws means the Jew simply doesn’t observe those laws.

It has gotten to the point where even a Jew who refrains from eating any non-kosher foods, even those that do not have an Orthodox Union certification, but who will eat off dishes that may have touched nonkosher food prior to being washed, or eats fruit in a nonkosher restaurant, will not be considered by many Orthodox Jews as keeping kosher.

The same holds true for Shabbat observance.

The prevailing definition of a shomer Shabbat — one who keeps Shabbat — is one who keeps all the laws of Shabbat. If a Jew refrains (even at the sacrifice of income) from working on Shabbat, he is not a shomer Shabbos if he so much as turns on lights in his house on Shabbat, let alone if he drives to shul or to a Shabbat meal. 

In other words, when it comes to ritual, it’s all or nothing when we describe a Jew. But in the realm of ethics, we never apply all or nothing.

There is a very negative consequence to this attitude: We expend far more religious energy in disqualifying Jews from considering themselves religious than in trying to have more Jews consider themselves religious. As a result, the Jew who refrains from eating only Torah-prohibited animals is deemed to be — and deems himself to be — a Jew who doesn’t keep kosher, which is one of the defining rituals of a Jewish life

Why is that good for Judaism? Why would Jewish life want to exclude as many Jews as possible from being considered or considering themselves religious instead of wanting as many Jews as possible to be considered or to consider themselves religious?

It makes no sense logically or Jewishly to say that a Jew who doesn’t eat Torah-prohibited animals doesn’t keep kosher, or that a Jew who doesn’t work on Shabbat but drives to Shabbat-related events on Shabbat is a mechalel Shabbat (Shabbat desecrator). Does any religious Jew label a Jew who only gives 5 percent of his income to charity a mechalel tzedakah (tzedakah desecrator)? And if not, why not?

The bottom line is that a Jew who doesn’t eat any non-kosher foods for Jewish reasons keeps kosher. He simply doesn’t keep kosher to the same extent as more observant Jews do. 

So, if you don’t eat bacon or shellfish because you are a Jew, you can, and should, proudly say that you keep kosher. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the editor: Jesse Owens, Donald Trump, Dennis Prager and more

Jesse Owens’ Winning Ways

I had the pleasure of attending a dinner where Jesse Owens spoke about his experience in the 1936 Olympics in Germany (“This Week in Jewish History, July 29). He said, “Hitler died on a Jewish holiday.” Throughout the predominately Jewish audience, you could hear, “Huh?” “What holiday?” “It wasn’t a Jewish holiday.”

Mr. Owens heard this, and waited. Then, with impeccable timing, he explained, “Any day that Hitler died is a Jewish holiday.” Laughter resounded in the room. He had us in his pocket with his wit and gentle charm and grace.

Susan Cohen via email

Taking Rape Seriously

I recognized that Danielle Berrin was poking fun at Donald Trump’s bigotry in her most recent article when she remarked about how she and her sister saw no rapists when they traveled to Mexico (“Where Are the Mexican Rapists?” July 29). However, I was disappointed that, in her attempt at humor, Ms. Berrin perpetuated some common misconceptions about rape. She reported, “[M]y sister and I were so utterly ignored by the country’s infamous rapists that my sister remarked early in our journey, ‘Nobody’s even hitting on us!’ ” Ms. Berrin then facetiously admitted to “the possibility that we have an inflated sense of our own attractiveness,” but that she expected more attention from the Mexican men with whom she came in contact. This pairing of a woman’s attractiveness and the likelihood that she will be raped is a fallacy. Rape is a crime committed not out of sexual desire, but out of a lust for power. Furthermore, rape is not on an extreme end of a continuum that begins with flirtation. This fact makes Trump’s accusation all the more repugnant.

Guy Handelman, Sherman Oaks

Berrin responds: Thank you, Mr. Handelman, for making this important point. I intended to suggest that, far below rape, even harassment, which is common, wasn’t something that my sister or I experienced.

Trump Supporter Speaks Out

I read Rob Eshman’s screed and I am a Jew (“All Together Now,” July 29). You will be surprised the morning after the election when the Chicago Tribune repeats its monumental bold headline blunder, the one that read “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Remember to email me.

What bias makes your head so thick? Did you get paid to write that? If yes, who paid you?

Martin Kessler via email

Hold the Movie ‘Kreplach’

As much as I admire David Kipen and his wonderful Libros Schmibros bookstore, I take major exception to his calling “Tiempo de Murir” a “kreplach Western” simply because its director and studio heads were Jewish (“ ‘Kreplach Western’ Screening a New Frontier for Boyle Heights Lending Library,” July 29). By this skewed, ethnocentric logic, American Westerns by the likes of William Wyler and Anthony Mann or any other Jewish director working for a Jewish-headed studio would have to be so designated, as well. In keeping with the “spaghetti Western” geo-culinary template, I suggest “arroz con pollo” Western instead.

Vincent Brook, Los Angeles

Prager and the Police

The propaganda penned by Dennis Prager is the type of rhetoric that divides the country. The idea that only the people on the left side of the political stratum are responsible for police brutality and the deaths of police officers is absurd, to say the least (“The Left Has Cops’ Blood on Its Hands,” July 22). 

Prager’s attack on Michael Eric Dyson, an esteemed professor of sociology, is typical stereotyping, suggesting that if a Black man projects an opinion that is contrary to his own beliefs, then he must be a Black radical. Prager quoted a paragraph of Dyson’s article and used it out of context. One should read the entire article to fully understand the positive message of Mr. Dyson. 

Prager’s position on having the police vigorously patrol Black areas to reduce the murder rate is unreasonable and lacks meaningful solutions. To that, I quote Michael Eric Dyson: “Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.” I fear that the only person who is filled with “anti-isms” is Prager himself.

Bervick J. Deculus, Tarzana

Prager responds: Any response to Mr. Deculus would simply involve restating the facts and studies I cited in my original column. Therefore, I will respond only with a heartfelt suggestion — that Mr. Deculus read Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Jason Riley, Larry Elder, Jesse Peterson and other Black writers and scholars who, unlike Michael Eric Dyson, do not blame whites for most problems afflicting Black life, and who feel immensely blessed to be American.

Letters to the editor: Ringling Bros. Circus, Dennis Prager, Jerusalem Syndrome and more

The Cruelest Show on Earth

I am an avid reader of the Jewish Journal who found the recent article “Ringling Bros. Circus Has Been a Feld Family Affair for Three Generations” very disturbing (July 22).

No one will dispute the fact that the Jewish people have been subjected to cruelty and suffering throughout our history. At the same time, anyone who researches the suffering inflicted on animals connected with the Ringling Bros. Circus at the direction of their Jewish owners soon realizes that there is another cruel side to that circus. I saw that side once in the past when, during a show, I witnessed innocent animals being prodded, poked, mistreated and forced to do inhumane tricks. 

I hope that one day the Ringling Bros. Circus will eliminate all animals from every performance. Until that day arrives, I am staying home.

Deborah Weinrauch, Culver City

Prager, Right and Wrong

In “The Left Has Cops’ Blood on Its Hands” (July 22), Dennis Prager maligned The New York Times for race-baiting yet supports and will vote for Donald Trump, someone he describes as bigoted, mean, insecure and lacking intelligence. Mr. Prager’s entire professional life has become devoted to bashing the left. There is a profoundly dysfunctional element to the American right and the political party it controls (the Republicans).

The party that nominated Sarah Palin (“I can see Russia from my window”) and now Donald Trump is the laughingstock of the entire world. It would be far more intellectually honest and persuasive if Mr. Prager were more balanced in his commentary.

Aaron Rubin, Los Angeles

Prager responds: I accused The New York Times and the left of breeding an anti-cop hysteria that has helped lead to the murder of police officers. The Times itself just reported on a study by a Black Harvard professor that showed that Blacks are proportionately less likely to be killed by white policemen. And Mr. Rubin responds by writing about Donald Trump and Sarah Palin — even repeating the lie that Sarah Palin said, “I can see Russia from my window.” Tina Fey said it. If Mr. Rubin loved truth as much as he loathes Republicans, he wouldn’t have written this letter.

As for “bashing the Left,” if all I will have achieved in my life is to awaken people to the destructive nature of the Left, it will have been a life well spent. With Prager University garnering 150 million views a year, most of which are people under 35, I feel I am having some success doing so. Just about everything the Left (not classic liberalism, with which I identify) touches it ultimately destroys. Just look at what it has done to our universities and to American and Western support for Israel.

Liberals and Israel

Jonathan Kirsch in his July 22 column reviews Dov Waxman’s book, “Trouble in the Tribe” (“Signs of ‘Trouble’ Seen in American Support for Israel”). He quotes many statements from the book, which essentially say that American Jews, and especially younger ones, are increasingly not supportive of Israel because of their idealistic secular liberal view of the state; that Israel has changed in disturbing ways; that the era of Israel, right or wrong, is over; and most disturbingly, Israel should recommit to the goal of establishing a Palestinian state.

Waxman’s opinions, shared by many liberals (Amos Oz, among others), are hardly surprising. Perhaps Norman Podhoretz said it best: “Liberal Jews don’t believe in the Torah of Moses, rather they believe in the Torah of liberalism.” 

No one believes that Israel is perfect. If you want perfection, you will have to wait for the world to come. But all rational people should understand that Israel is surrounded by countries and terrorists who seek to destroy it. 

It is also not surprising that young Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel. After generations of secular liberal parents and teachers, many of whom have instilled negative images of Israel, what would one expect? No, Israel has not changed — Waxman and his cohorts have.

C.P. Lefkowitz, Rancho Palos Verdes

The Enemy Within

I am not sure I agree with the “prophecy” of Rob Eshman in “Jerusalem Syndrome” (July 22). He tries to make us believe that as soon as we easily defeat militant, jihadist Islam, and filter out the mentally unstable from the reach of those who could turn them into terrorists, the world would become a safe haven for all of us.

The problem is that inside we are all driven by a self-serving, self-justifying nature that views anybody different as a threat. We are all driven toward ruthless, exclusive competition, we all enjoy succeeding at the expense of others. How this nature is expressed outwardly depends on personal, national, cultural or religious characteristics, but at the end of the day we all serve only self-interest at all cost.

Unless we actually address this inner problem, unless we find a way to rise above our instinctive inclination toward other humans, history will remain a recurring chain of vicious cycles until we exterminate ourselves.

It is the Jews who have the only practical method, “Instruction Guide,” that could facilitate people building the necessary, true, mutually complementing collaboration above that instinctive human nature. We are the ones who have to show the shining positive example of unity and mutual responsibility above diversity, argumentative nature and despite unfounded hatred.

S.H. Kardener via email

Correction

In a review of Dov Waxman’s “Trouble in the Tribe” (“Signs of ‘Trouble’ Seen in American Support for Israel,” July 22), the author’s university affiliation was misidentified. It is Northeastern University.

Letters to the editor: Cost of medication, Elie Wiesel, restroom laws and more

Medications’ High Cost to Society

A point that stands out in the story of Laurie Ritz is the high cost of the medications needed to treat his mental illness (“The Failure of L.A.’s Mental Health System,” July 8). The high prices of meds that can treat mental illness and alcoholism are surely a contributing factor to homelessness and to other weighty public and personal burdens (which are hardly confined to L.A.). It would be interesting to see a follow-up story about these important kinds of medications, including why they cost so much.

Kathryn Kirui via email

Recognize Terrorism in All Its Forms

Wow, Rob Eshman. “After the Istanbul airport terror attack that left at least 44 dead and hundreds wounded,” instead of imploring that all terrorism is wrong, you instead choose to engage in hypocrisy (“Istanbul and Hallel,” July 8).  

This works both ways. How often do you call out Israeli terrorism, including collective punishment against innocent Palestinians? Now in the 50th year, the military occupation is by definition terrorism.

Estee Chandler via email

California Needs Restroom Law 

Thank you, Michelle Wolf, for your enlightening column “The Politics of Pee,” detailing Illinois’ Ally’s Law, the Restroom Access Act (July 8). Too bad our California legislators, with their selective liberalism, cannot see how easy it would be to require retailers with three or more employees present to permit individuals suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (UC), to use “employees only” restrooms on the premises.  

Notwithstanding the complaints by small business protesters, the law could be easily limited — as it is in the 14 other states enacting this legislation — simply by mandating a licensing procedure, the bureaucratic cost of which could be covered by an annual fee (with appropriate exemptions for low-income sufferers) and the application for an ID card, which would require a physician’s written diagnosis. Unlike handicapped-parking placards, there would be little incentive for fraudulent abuse.  

IBD sufferers can have a sudden, immediate and uncontrollable need for a toilet, most often without the normal physical warning signals our bodies give. I guess none of our legislators has a child with Crohn’s or UC; otherwise, they would champion this very simple solution. Perhaps to our elected representatives, this failure, among many other things they do, should be retitled “The Politics of Poo.”

Reeve Chudd Pacific Palisades

Al-Noor on Target With “Hypocrisy”

I want to thank the Jewish Journal for including the words of Nadiya Al-Noor in this week’s opinion page (“Palestinian Terrorism and Muslim Hypocrisy: An Open Letter From a Muslim Woman,” July 8). Her words come as a refreshing reminder of the hypocrisy within the Muslim and Palestinian reactions to terror wherever it occurs. 

Terror and killing innocents wherever they are found is wrong by every standard known. Neither the Bible nor the Quran can support these actions. Hopefully, more Muslims will read and appreciate her words! I thank her for her courage!

Ron Spiegel via email 

Prager Loses His Way in Palestinian Argument

As a liberal Jew, I agree with Dennis Prager’s assertion that moral people cannot support the Palestinians (“Moral People Cannot Support the Palestinians,” July 8). I commiserate with his objecting to liberals who err in reflexively condemning Israel as the heartless oppressor of Palestinians they see as innocent victims of Israeli occupation.

However, as a psychotherapist who specializes in couples work, I have long since learned that Prager’s characteristic style of judging, blaming and setting one side as right and good against the other as wrong and bad is a losing strategy. It is no more effective coming from the right than from the left. Consequently, I doubt that many liberals are influenced by his polemics.

The Journal would do well to assign his column to other conservatives whose communication styles might more effectively stimulate liberals like me to think twice about our positions.

Roger Schwarz, Los Angeles

Elie Wiesel Worthy of the Cover

I am VERY disappointed. Elie Wiesel passed away a week ago Shabbat. I am shocked that he was not on the cover of this past week’s Jewish Journal. 

The cover story regarding mental health is important but could/should have been pushed back one week. 

What a shame and discredit to such a special and unique human being as Elie Wiesel, the voice of the victims. You missed a great opportunity to honor him properly! 

Elke Coblens Aftergut via email

Editor’s Note: Because of the July 4 holiday, the Journal’s cover went to press on the Friday before Elie Wiesel passed away. Our coverage was inside that issue, and inside this one, as well.

Moral people cannot support the Palestinians

I understand those who yearn for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I do, too.

I understand those who fear a bi-national Jewish-Palestinian state. I do, too.

I understand those who wish Israel never came to rule over millions of Palestinians. I do, too.

But there is something wrong with the moral compass of anyone who sides with the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel.

While every nation has good individuals, as a collective, the Palestinians are among the world’s most morally unimpressive national groups.

• Palestinian immorality was manifest before there was even a distinct Palestinian national identity. The Palestinians’ leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini (1897-1974), was an ally of Hitler who pushed for the annihilation of Jewish people in Europe. As Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote in the Jewish Journal:

“The Grand Mufti will be remembered as one the 20th century’s most virulent Jew haters and a key cheerleader for Hitler’s genocidal Final Solution.  … [He] helped organize a Muslim Waffen SS Battalion, known as the Hanjars, that slaughtered 90 percent of Bosnia’s Jews, and were dispatched to Croatia and Hungary.”

• The next Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, another Jew-hater, responded to Israel’s offers of a Palestinian state with two “intifadas,” a fancy name for what was nothing more than the terror-slaughter of Israelis on buses, in restaurants and at schools.

• Palestinians adore those who murder Jews. According to a Palestinian poll conducted in December 2015, two-thirds of Palestinians support the recent wave of knife attacks on Israeli Jews.

• Every Palestinian who murders Jews is deemed a national hero of the Palestinian people by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and is celebrated among the majority of Palestinians. Squares and schools are named after Palestinians who murder Jews.

• The Palestinians have been the single greatest reason the United Nations has become the moral cesspool it now is. Instead of combating the world’s most horrific evils, the U.N., under relentless pressure from the Palestinians and their Muslim allies, have made Israel almost its sole concern. 

Recently, for example, Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, reported:

“On March 24, 2016, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) wrapped up its annual meeting in New York by condemning only one country for violating women’s rights anywhere on the planet — Israel, for violating the rights of Palestinian women.

“On the same day, the U.N. Human Rights Council concluded its monthlong session in Geneva by condemning Israel five times more than any other of the 192 U.N. member states.”

• The Palestinians living in Gaza voted Hamas into power. Unlike the PA, Hamas makes it clear that its one agenda is to exterminate Israel. Thus every Palestinian murder of a Jew —whether a baby or a 90-year-old or an entire family – is hailed by Hamas. 

• Palestinians routinely engage in libels as wild and toxic as the medieval blood libel. 

Most recently, even The New York Times reported:

“Echoing anti-Semitic claims that led to the mass killings of European Jews in medieval times, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority accused rabbis in Israel of calling on their government to poison the water used by Palestinians. He made the unsubstantiated allegation during a speech to the European Parliament. … ”

Under international pressure, Abbas later retracted the lie. But, of course, the retraction meant nothing. Palestinians probably don’t even know it was retracted. It was done for gullible Westerners. 

And, as the Times further reported:

“Anadolu, the Turkish state-run news agency, repeated the claim on Sunday. It was echoed in the Gulf News, a daily newspaper in Dubai. The Anadolu article said that a Rabbi Shlomo Mlma, whom it called the ‘chairman of the Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements,’ had issued an ‘advisory opinion in which he allowed Jewish settlers to poison water in Palestinian villages and cities in the West Bank.’ ”

The rabbi, the council of rabbis and the call to poison the water were all made up by the Palestinians.

Palestinians spread lies about Israel on a regular basis. Lying is a Palestinian art form.

• In what many consider the finest history of the 20th century, “Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties,” English historian Paul Johnson wrote this about the African dictator Idi Amin, the cannibal-murderer of hundreds of thousands of his fellow Ugandans:

“Idi Amin’s terror was a Muslim-Arab phenomenon … run by Nubians, Palestinians and Libyans.”

• And, of course, there is the record of Palestinian suicide bombings, the form of mass murder of the innocent that violent Muslims have now spread around the world. The Palestinians did not invent it, but they can look with pride upon a practice that they made popular and respectable.

Despite all this, left-wing Jews and non-Jews speak about the Palestinians as if they are a moral people oppressed by an immoral one. 

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the editor: Atheism and Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn Wasn’t Jewish

No need to twist history. Felix Mendelssohn is [repeatedly referred to in the Journal and online as being Jewish].

A Christian who converted to Judaism is not anymore a Christian, but a Jew. Similarly, Felix Mendelssohn, whose Jewish father Abraham Mendelssohn had converted to Christianity, was not Jewish. Felix Mendelssohn was not circumcised, and was brought up without religion until the age of 7, when he was baptized as a Reformed Christian. His funeral was held at the Paulinerkirche, the university church of Leipzig. Felix Mendelssohn’s grandfather, the German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, was Jewish. Thus, Felix was Jewish only according to Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws.

Edith Shaked Perlman, Los Angeles

An Atheist Answers Prager

I am not an “influential” living atheist, just a living one, but I am eager to respond to Dennis Prager’s column (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10). Do I hope if I am right or wrong? My hopes lie somewhere else. Do I ever doubt my atheism? No. 

Prager’s rumination actually supports the fundamental objection against the existence of Divinity: Man was not created by God but God was created by Man. Particularly in the early days of humans on Earth, understanding of nature and life was simplistic; religious tales seemed to be helpful in dealing with harsh reality. (Remember Marx, labeling religion as the “opium of the masses?”) Unfortunately, religion morphed from fairy tales into a tool of exploitation.

Our mind is advanced enough to instill big questions but still not advanced enough to find sufficient answers. What I hope for is better understanding of nature and myself. I accept only objective, observable reality (or materialism, to use a “dirty” word Marx also favored). Until I see undeniable evidence, I don’t have doubts. Since thousands of years were not enough to generate a shred of such evidence, I am not concerned about eating crow or earning Prager’s respect; I am not an agnostic but a proud atheist. 

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

Gender solidarity is regressive

In 2000, when Sen. Joe Lieberman was the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, almost every member of my extended family (for the record, not my immediate family — neither of my sons was of voting age) voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Even the few relatives who generally voted Republican voted Democrat. The reason? Pride in potentially having a Jew as vice president of the United States.

I voted for George W. Bush. That a Jew might be vice president struck me as being less important than the fact that if that happened, Al Gore would be president and the Democratic Party would use its control of the White House to further expand the already wildly oversized government and to name more judicial activists to the Supreme Court and the lower courts.

In other words, Jewish “pride” didn’t trump my value system.

I have always been a deeply committed Jew. I grew up a yeshiva boy in an Orthodox Jewish home and community, was sent by Israel to the Soviet Union for a month to smuggle in Jewish items and smuggle out names of Jews who wanted to emigrate, co-wrote one of the most widely read introductions to Judaism in the English language, directed a Jewish institute (the Brandeis-Bardin Institute) for seven years, among much other Jewish work.

But I have never much related to the notion of ethnic Jewish pride. I remember receiving the book “Great Jews in Sports” as a bar mitzvah gift. I had no interest in the book. That Benny Leonard was the lightweight boxing champion of the world or that Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers was one of the greatest baseball players of his era meant little to me as a Jew.

At 13, I realized that I marched to the beat of a different drummer. I didn’t know then what that beat was, but I did know shortly thereafter that there were actually two beats to which I marched. 

One was that I was a religious, much more than an ethnic, Jew. That’s why the Torah inspired me much more than famous Jews did. 

The other was that I shared the late, great thinker Viktor Frankl’s view of mankind. In his modern classic, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl, a Jewish psychoanalyst, wrote about how his time in a Nazi concentration camp shaped his thinking. After incredibly surviving the war, during which members of his family were murdered, Frankl wrote that he was once asked, “Do you hate the German race?” 

“No,” he responded. “There are only two races, the decent and the indecent.”

That has been one of the central values of my life. The only division that has ever mattered to me is that between the decent and the indecent, the good and the bad. So as much as I have been devoted to Jews and Judaism, from being a leader in the Soviet Jewry movement to defending Israel on the radio, in columns, at Oxford, on YouTube, etc., I have never been a “Jew  fan,” but rather a “Torah fan,” an “Israel fan” and a “good-people fan.”

Likewise, I am an “America fan” because America represents what Abraham Lincoln said it represents — “the last best hope of Earth” — much more than because I happen to have been born in America. I have come to love America for its unparalleled liberty, its deep but moderate religiosity, its acceptance of people of every background, including and especially Jews, its moral commitment to liberty around the world, and much more.

So I am unmoved by the notion that women should vote for Hillary Clinton out of female solidarity. That is tribalism of the most immature sort. And if I am not a Jewish tribalist — which at least I understand — how could I in any way respect gender tribalism? When former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said at a recent Hillary Clinton event that “there is a special place in hell” reserved for women who don’t help each other — meaning, in this case, not voting for Hillary Clinton — she earned intellectual and moral contempt.

All those who advocate female solidarity in supporting Hillary Clinton believe the opposite of Viktor Frankl. They do not divide the world between the decent and the indecent, but between the right gender (female) and the wrong gender (male). The decency of the candidate is of no consequence.

Therefore, all those parents who yearn to tell their daughters, if Hillary Clinton is elected president, “You see, you can aspire to the greatest heights,” might wish to reflect on the other message they are conveying to their daughter: “Mom and Dad believe that gender trumps character.”

That’s the progressives’ message. But it’s a morally regressive one. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the editor: Orlando, Dennis Prager and atheism, Muhammad Ali and more

An Astute Reaction to Orlando

I’d like to thank Rob Eshman for his insightful response to the Orlando tragedy (“Pulse and Pride,” June 17). It had the merit of being the smartest and most comprehensive reaction I read this week, while remaining succinct and clear. He legitimately referred to the violent attack as an example of Islamic terrorism, but criticized the Donald Trump supporters’ unfair rhetoric against the general U.S. Muslim population. Eshman’s prescriptions for gun control were moderate and respectful to Second Amendment rights. His comparison to last week’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, and Israel’s response to it, was justified.

Guy Handelman, Sherman Oaks

Words That Were Left Out 

I am surprised that the quote you reported by Rabbi Michael Lerner speaking at the memorial for Muhammad Ali did not include his shameful comment that he stands shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians against the unjust rule by Israel (“Best of Our Blogs,” June 17). 

Jerry Freedman, Los Angeles

Atheists Are Unhappy — With Prager

Here is Dennis Prager’s statement of faith and ironically the reason that so many of us have become atheists: “For to know how awful the consequences of atheism are and still be convinced that there is no God is an unhappy fate indeed” (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10). 

To assume that atheists cannot possibly be happy and are deluded is a form of moral supremacism. Atheists have moved past that.

Larry Shapiro, Rancho Mirage

Why does Dennis Prager persist in peddling his discredited myth that because they don’t believe in God, heaven or hell, for atheists “there is no ultimate meaning in life,” no “objective morality” and “no ultimate justice in the universe”? Far more profound thinkers than Prager have long rejected the idea that there is no morality without religion.

The Dalai Lama has pointed out that “the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” According to Albert Einstein, “Man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.” 

According to Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, to “suggest that one can’t be good without belief in God is not just an opinion … it is a prejudice. It may even be discrimination.”

Prager needs to practice what he preaches by extending as much tolerance and mutual respect to nonbelievers as he does to believers. It’s called the Golden Rule.  

Stephen F. Rohde, Chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, Los Angeles

Prager responds: To Mr. Shapiro: Regarding atheists and happiness, I stand by the common sense position that to care about human suffering yet be convinced that there is no beneficent God and no ultimate justice — so that, for example, the Six Million and their murderers have identical fates — must make any sensitive human being unhappy. If it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person’s heart.

To Mr. Rohde: When I debated the subject of God and ethics at Oxford University, the first thing the Oxford professor of morals, Jonathan Glover, an atheist, acknowledged was that if there is no God, ethics is subjective. I know of no serious philosopher who denies that. Thus, one of the greatest liberal philosophers of the 20th century, Princeton’s Richard Rorty, a nonbeliever, wrote that for nonbelieving liberals such as himself, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

Finally, I have never written, implied or said that an atheist cannot be a good person. 

CORRECTIONS:

An article about a local Shavuot celebration (“A Shavuot All-Nighter at Temple Beth Am,” June 17) misidentified the congregation at which Charlie Carnow is a member. He belongs to Congregation B’nai David-Judea.

Due to a production error, an article by Scott Edelman and Jesse Gabriel (“Dependable Steps to Defeat BDS,” June 17) did not appear in its complete form. The full story is now online.

Letters to the editor: Baca, BDS, Women in the Torah and more

Gratitude for Baca 

I want to respond to Michael Rubinstein’s letter regarding political cronyism (June 10). I suppose Mr. Rubinstein did not learn the Jewish concept of hakaras hatov. The Jewish community will eternally be grateful to former Sheriff Lee Baca for all that he has done for us. I am personally aware of his involvement in saving a kollel member when lost in the mountains, and without Baca’s help he would not have survived. Likewise, under his administration, the sheriff’s department guaranteed every Jewish inmate the right to practice his/her religion. Lastly, Baca and numerous Israeli police chiefs fully cooperated in fighting terrorism to save Jewish lives.

More than 250 Jews, Christians and Muslims gave Baca a standing ovation as he accepted the well-deserved honor at Congregation Bais Naftoli. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Congresswoman Diane Watson and many more federal, state, county and local officials should be commended for their participation. By the way, the sheriff never pleaded to any corruption whatsoever.

Andrew Friedman, Congregation Bais Naftoli president 

No Palestine, No Peace

David Suissa’s argument that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is best fought by exposing the lack of concern of Palestinian leaders for their people is fatally flawed (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative,” June 10). The argument has validity only on the assumption that an independent Palestinian state exists. It does not exist, and in fact Suissa’s underlying assumption seems to be that it should not be allowed to exist. Until it does, responsibility for the Palestinian people is shared by the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders.

Suissa also says that exposing BDS harmfulness to Palestinians may “if we get lucky … even be good for peace.” I have no idea what peace he is talking about, but I am convinced that peace can and should never depend on luck.

Barry H. Steiner, CSU Long Beach professor of political science

David Suissa responds: Mr. Steiner ignored my key point: Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of a Palestinian state because they put their own interests above that of their people. The day that changes, we will all be lucky, indeed.

A Lot to Like in the Journal

Seems every time I go for some good barbecue, there you and your people are, transforming what I had intended to be a simple mindless hour off into a mind-opening, perspective-stretching afternoon. Great Jewish Journal issue today (June 10)! 

Danielle Berrin’s piece captured a powerful message about the next steps in female power (“The Torah of Female Power”). Eitan Arom’s article helped me comprehend the echo chamber in ways that escaped me when reading other articles (“(((The Emboldening)))”). David Suissa’s words (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative”) pushed me to reconsider how I want to relate to the anti-BDS movements and, like a good wine, paired nicely with the other BDS pieces 

Shmuel Rosner, Michelle K. Wolf, Jeffrey Salkin and Daniel Sokatch each enlightened and informed. Loved loved Rabbi Adam Greenwald’s dvar Torah, as it addressed a problem that I saw and couldn’t reconcile. 

Your articles, as you often do, put into words what I was struggling to grasp. You leave me all bothered. Now I gotta figure out how to deal with this unease. Thanks (said both in truth and with sarcasm simultaneously). 

Wait long enough and I’ll find something to kvetch about. That’s what we do. But not today. Because I loved, loved, loved this week’s issue. Bravo to your team. 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas

Thank you for continuing to explore topics and authors with diverse, even controversial opinions. For example, this week’s Journal has an article by Dennis Prager on the nature of atheism (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10).  Normally, I find Mr. Prager a bit right wing in his opinions, but this article was touching and really got to the core of his seemingly rigid opinions — the meaning of DEATH. I feel I had the opportunity to look underneath the Pedantic Prager and see a little of the humanity inside. Thank you for the opportunity.

Then, lo and behold, I flipped the page and saw the article by Danielle Berrin. “The Torah of Female Power” lifts us higher in our desire to make the world a better place, by reminding us that “freedom from and freedom to” is what the Torah is all about. If we become free and don’t ensure that others who are enslaved become free, then we have ignored our inner “shared responsibility for the well-being of the world.”

Two pages, two great articles about faith — kudos to the Jewish Journal again.

Denise Neumark-Reimer via email

CORRECTION: A column about The Miracle Project (“Anti-Bullying: The Musical,” June 10) misidentified the award won by a documentary on HBO about the project. It was an Emmy Award. 

Two questions for Atheists

I have had the privilege of debating five of the top seven “25 Most Influential Living Atheists” as listed at SuperScholar.org:

No. 2: Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”)

No. 3: The late Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”)

No. 4: Daniel Dennett (“Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”)

No. 6: Steven Pinker (“How the Mind Works”) 

No. 7: Michael Shermer, founding publisher of the Skeptic Magazine

Recently, however, I realized that I never asked any of them two questions that I would now ask before any other:

1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?

2. Do you ever doubt your atheism?

The answers to those questions would tell me what I would most like to know about the person: how intellectually honest he is, and what motivates him.

To be sure, the answers to those two questions neither validate nor invalidate any atheist arguments. Atheist and theist arguments rise and fall on their merits, not on the motivations or personal characteristics of the atheist or the believer. But on a purely human level, their answers would enable me to understand the atheist as a person and as a thinker.

Take the first question: Do you hope you are right or wrong?

I respect atheists who answer that they hope they are wrong. It tells me that they understand the terrible consequences of atheism: that all existence is random; that there is no ultimate meaning to life; that there is no objective morality — right and wrong are subjective personal or societal constructs; that when we die, there is nothing but eternal oblivion, meaning, among other things, that one is never reconnected with any loved ones; and there is no ultimate justice in the universe — murderers, torturers and their victims have identical fates: nothing.

Anyone who would want all those things has either not considered the consequences of atheism or has what seems like an emotionally detached outlook on life. A person who doesn’t want there to be ultimate meaning to existence, or good and evil to have an objective reality, or to be reunited with loved ones, or the bad punished and the good rewarded has a rather cold soul.

That’s why I suspect atheists who think that way have not fully thought through their atheism. This is especially so for those who allege that their atheism is primarily because of their conclusion that there is too much unjust human suffering for there to be a God. If that is what has led you to your atheism, how could you possibly not hope there is a God? Precisely because you are so disturbed by the amount of suffering in the world, wouldn’t you want a just God to exist?

Now to the second question: Do you ever doubt your atheism?

A few years ago, the largest atheist organization in the United States, American Atheists, to its credit, invited me to Minneapolis to debate the head of the organization at its annual meeting. 

At one point, I looked at the audience and asked people to raise their hands if they ever doubted their atheism. Not one hand went up. 

I found this interesting, if not disturbing, and said so. Nonreligious individuals often accuse religious believers of not challenging themselves. And, depending on the religion and on the individual, that is often the case. Yet it would seem that believers challenge themselves more than atheists do. 

As I explained at the debate, I never met a believer who hadn’t at some point had doubts about God. When experiencing, seeing or reading about terrible human suffering, all of us who believe in God have on occasion doubted our faith. So, I asked the atheists, how is it that when you see a baby born or a spectacular sunset, or hear a Mozart symphony, or read about the infinite complexity of the human brain — none of these has ever prompted you to wonder whether there really might be a God?

I remember sensing that I had a struck a nerve.

So, then, while I still debate God’s existence with atheists, I do so in order that the audience will hear sound arguments for God’s existence.

But what really interests me — and I think should interest any believer or atheist — are the answers to these two questions. 

Because only if the atheist responds, “I hope I am wrong” and “Yes, there have been occasions when I have wondered whether there really might be a God” — do I believe that I have encountered an individual who has really thought through his or her atheism. I also believe that I have probably met a truly decent person. 

But a sad one. For to know how awful the consequences of atheism are and still be convinced that there is no God is an unhappy fate indeed. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Letters to the editor: Donald Trump, tikkun olam and more

Rally for Israel, No Matter the President

There is no clear evidence to show whether Donald Trump is strongly pro-Israel or anti-Israel (“Trump and Israel,” May 13). In reality, he is probably neither. What is clear is that Trump is an articulate leader after he decides where his followers want to go.

With this in mind, a pro-Israel American, Republican or Democrat, should make it known to Trump (and Clinton and Sanders) that his or her belief is shared by numerous Americans concerned with maintaining American-Israeli relations. These relations must be based on shared values of American and Israeli domestic security and democratic principles.

It is up to the Jewish majority in Israel to show that their commitment to democratic principles includes a desire and willingness to cooperate with Palestinians. In turn, Palestinians must show a willingness to accept the reality of a Zionist state that safeguards the well-being and security of Jewish Israelis and peace-seeking Palestinians. These steps hopefully will lead to Trump emerging as a pro-Israeli American, whether or not he becomes president.

Marc Jacobson, Los Angeles

Tikkun Olam Belongs to Everyone

While many Jews view tikkun olam as progressive politics, as Dennis Prager writes, (“No Jewish Message,” May 13), the concept can be appropriated for the political right as well as the left. For example, conservatives who believe in less government vigorously support private charity, not just for individual giving but also for larger projects requiring a network of givers.  And in the current political campaign, conservatives are giving more attention than before to those struggling in the economy.

But when its origins are taken into account, tikkun olam has been recently too closely associated with partisan politics.  A Jewish view of it requires present-day conservatives and liberals to find a common path — a bipartisan one, in today’s politics — to improve the world.  That is the sense in which the Mishnah and rabbinical texts apply tikkun olam — as a way for mankind to have a share in completing God’s creation.

Barry H. Steiner, Professor of Political Science, Cal State Long Beach, Los Angeles

No Right to Lose

I am sure many Republicans like Yoni Fife feel their party is conflicted (“ ‘I Can No Longer Consider Myself a Republican,’ ” May 13). Some support Donald Trump, while others do not.  If some of these registered Republicans choose not to vote for Trump in November, and either sit out the election or register as independents, or (heaven forbid) vote for Hillary Clinton, the GOP will surely lose the November election.

Sol Taylor, Studio City

Yoni Fife obviously has conflicted liberal and conservative feelings. With respect to immigration policy, it was always the intent to have it benefit this country, not the immigrants (with the notable exception of those persecuted in their native country). No country can accept all who wish to enter. His rant on racist, sexist and xenophobic demagoguery is right out of the leftist playbook. I recognize that many Republicans share Fife’s disapproval of Donald Trump as the presidential nominee, as do I, but defecting from the Republican Party will only help the leftist Democrats. I would suggest Fife strengthen his ties to the conservative principles that, regrettably, he is about to abandon because of one man.

It would be refreshing for the Journal to publish an article by a Democrat who is fed up with Hillary and Bernie and their increasingly totalitarian Marxist Party, and intends to switch sides.

C.P. Lefkowitz, Rancho Palos Verdes

Not Immigration — Refuge

With reference to Avrum Burg’s eloquent piece, the writer emphasized that the Palestinians were refugees of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, while Arab Jews were “Olim” Zionist immigrants (“The Israeli Twins — Independence and Nakba,” May 13).  While I agree that some Arab Jews came as Zionists, the majority was, in every sense of the word, refugees. I am one of the Iraqi Jews who became a refugee. I was smuggled out of Iraq in December 1949, when I was refused an exit visa to study in the United States after my graduation from Al’ A’adadiah High School in Baghdad in 1948. Only because I was a Jew. I became a refugee. 

During Iraq’s 1941 Farhud (pogrom), I was 11; there was nowhere for the Jews to go. Thank God there was Israel in 1948. Those who didn’t leave in the 1950s faced increased discrimination and worse treatment. Out of 135,000 Iraqi Jews in 1948, it is estimated there are only eight left today. Did they leave because they were Olim? Of course not. Most of the Jewish communities in Arab lands were treated as second- or third-class citizens and had similar experiences.

Joseph Samuels via email

CORRECTION: An article in the Jewish Journal b’nai mitzvah supplement Mazel Tov (“Instant Gratification,” May 2016) misidentified the mitzvah project that precipitated the creation of the company Good Deeds in Motion and the person behind it. The project by company owner Lisa Kodimer’s son Kole was a special needs baseball team called Westhills Champions.

Letters to the editor: E-bikes, Al Gore and minimum wage

Cycling the City

I really enjoyed Rob Eshman’s column (“L.A., Meet My E-Bike,” May 6). I’ve ridden that route as well and am also concerned that there isn’t a big effort to allow bicycle riders a path to cross Los Angeles safely. I live on the Westside and would love to ride to downtown and back without worrying about getting hit. I have participated in CicLAvia and also in the Tour de Summer Camps ride, where last year there were three riders involved in a serious accident just ahead of me. I don’t know the answer, but we have to keep trying to make L.A. bike-friendly.

Ralph Hattenbach, Los Angeles

The Non-Gore Presidency Lesson

Regarding Danielle Berrin’s column “What If Al Gore Had Won?” (May 6), I completely agree. (There is still a Gore sticker on my car!) My family had the honor of spending Passover at a program that featured Sen. Joseph Lieberman and it was a sad reminder of how our democracy was hijacked, leading to the dissatisfaction of many people and the (justified) distrust of our system, which may have disastrous results this November. We will never know how the Gore-Lieberman presidency would have played out, but we should be ever vigilant to participate in the system and listen to what the candidates are saying.

Linda Rohatiner via email 

A hearty thank you to Danielle Berrin for her column “What If Al Gore Had Won?” Al Gore’s message is more important and timely than ever. Climate change deniers spread their lies and misinformation because of the almighty dollar and to the detriment of us all. I just hope we haven’t missed the boat on saving our Earth. I don’t care who says I’m exaggerating: The facts are there, and we need to be scared into taking real action before it’s too late.

Joshua Lewis Berg, Glendale

In Favor of $15 An Hour

Dennis Prager (“Why Do Jews Support a $15 Minimum Wage?” April 29) is wrong on both the facts and the values. His letter is a virtual catalogue of the misinformation that is disseminated about raising the minimum wage. Two hundred economists recently signed a letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. They wrote: “ … the weight of evidence from the extensive professional literature has, for decades, consistently found that no significant effects on employment opportunities result when the minimum wage rises in reasonable increments. … The economy overall will benefit from the gains in equality tied to the minimum wage increase and related policy initiatives. Greater equality means working people have more spending power, which in turn supports greater overall demand in the economy.” Prager’s unfounded concern for the loss of jobs should be focused on the actual moral issue of corporations earning high profits while simultaneously depriving employees of sustainable wages and the resulting struggle to survive — exacerbated by lowering the wage floor and denying access to the middle class.

Jewish tradition understands a worker’s ability to live in dignity as being equal in importance to an employer’s ability to turn a profit. For this reason, rabbis of every denomination, worldwide, have supported workers’ rights to organize for wages and benefits, which allow them to live with dignity.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Rabbi in Residence, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

I wrote my UCLA dissertation on Katherine Philips Edson, who helped to pass California’s 1913 minimum wage law and then for 18 years sat on the state Industrial Welfare Commission to administer it. Dennis Prager’s misuse of history to argue against a raise in the federal minimum wage law is astounding.

The Davis-Bacon Act applied the principle of “prevailing wage,” which called for bidders seeking federal government contracts to match their workers’ wages to rates where the job would be fulfilled. Minimum wage is different in concept and execution, and the origins, motives and historical paths of each policy are distinct. Minimum wage law established a floor, or a bottom value below which workers could not sell their labor. The first U.S. state laws passed in California and Massachusetts in 1913, and by 1926, 16 more followed, in spite of the Supreme Court’s spurious ruling they interfered with the “liberty of contract” protection. Strategists who sought minimum wage (and hours) laws for all workers were forced to narrow their goals and create a sex- (or gender-) based argument in order to at least seek coverage for the most vulnerable workers who were ignored by organized labor, i.e., women and children. Contrary to Prager’s assertion, organized labor did not support minimum wage laws because union leaders feared the minimum would become the maximum and weaken their fledgling influence.

Jacqueline R. Braitman, Valley Village

Where do Jewish conservatives stand on Trump?

Faced with Donald Trump as his party’s presumptive nominee in this year’s presidential election, Jamie Weinstein, senior editor for the conservative Daily Caller website, said he may have to “take a Tums” and vote for Hillary Clinton — assuming Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee and there’s no third-party conservative alternative.

“Given that you have to vote, and my options are only Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that’s what I’m left to choose from,” Weinstein said in a recent interview. “And I think Donald Trump is a threat to the American system, whereas Clinton is a threat to our economic wellbeing for four years.”

Weinstein, like many Jewish thought-leaders in the conservative world, says he not only will not support the inevitable Republican nominee — he would prefer another four years of a Democrat in the White House if Trump is the only alternative. And this is not only because of the danger he believes Trump poses to America; he also sees Trump as a long-term threat to conservatism and fears the movement may not recover from a Trump presidency.

Among Jewish #NeverTrump-ers are some of the most prominent voices of conservatism: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard; Jonah Goldberg, senior editor for the National Review (the magazine ran an entire anti-Trump issue in February); Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire; nationally syndicated talk-show host Mark Levin; Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin; Elliot Abrams, a former George W. Bush adviser and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); Max Boot, also a CFR fellow and a former John McCain adviser; John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary Magazine; Seth Mandel of the New York Post; Bethany Mandel, senior contributor at The Federalist; David Bernstein and Ilya Somin, both law professors at George Mason University and both also writers for the Washington Post’s “The Volokh Conspiracy” blog, run by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh; Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and also a Volokh blogger; and Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal's foreign affairs columnist, who in his most recent column all but explicitly said conservatives should vote for a Clinton presidency buttressed by a Republican Congress.

Although all conservatives and Republicans in the #NeverTrump crowd say they will never cast a vote for the real-estate developer and reality TV star, they differ in what they will do. Some, like Shapiro, say they will vote on Nov. 8, but only for “down-ballot” races like the Senate and House. Others, like Weinstein, say they will vote for Clinton as the anti-Trump vote, absent a third-party conservative option.

“He is every horrifying stereotype of Republicans that those of us who are actually Republican have been fighting against for years,” Bethany Mandel said. “He’s already destroying all of that work, but he will likely do irreparable damage to the brand.”

Mandel, who lives in New Jersey, said she was particularly turned off by two of Trump’s antics. The first was when he told CNN’s Don Lemon in August that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” in describing Kelly’s performance during a Republican debate in which she challenged Trump about past misogynist comments. The second was at a November rally when Trump mocked and imitated the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a congenital joint disorder.

Shapiro had his own decisive #NeverTrump moment: “The point where I said, categorically, I will never vote for this human being was when he refused to denounce the KKK on national television two days before the Louisiana primary,” said Shapiro, who supported Senator Ted Cruz. “He panders to legitimately the worst elements in American life.”

Shapiro thinks conservatives who are now “falling in line” behind Trump are “cannibalizing [conservatism] to stop the danger of the moment.

“Once you come out and you vote in favor of a man who has opposed every single conservative principle, and pandered to literally the worst people in America, it’s kind of difficult to put that genie back in the bottle,” Shapiro said. “I think Hillary would be a disaster for the country, but I think if we are to have a long-term future, it can’t be one where there’s no conservative party, because the conservative party has been gutted by a charlatan with authoritarian tendencies.”

Among Jewish conservatives, the #NeverTrump group thus far seems to outnumber those who say they will vote Trump—even if only to block a Democratic win. Nevertheless, Trump supporters include some prominent people, such as billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, New York Congressman Lee Zeldin and nationally syndicated talk-show host and Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager. The Republican Jewish Coalition also came out in favor of the presumptive candidate, issuing a statement on May 4 congratulating Trump after Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended their campaigns, saying Clinton “is the worst possible choice for a commander in chief.”

Adelson, who had withheld endorsing until now, told the New York Times at a World Values Network gala May 5 that he will support Trump, and that he believes Trump “will be good for Israel.”  Fleischer, on May 3, tweeted, “There’s a lot about Donald Trump that I don’t like, but I’ll vote for Trump over Hillary any day.”

“It’s a choice between the known and the unknown, and I find myself in the category of hoping that the unknown doesn’t turn into someone as bad as the known,” Fleischer said in an interview, pointing to Trump’s respect for the private sector’s ability to create wealth. Even on economics, though, while Fleischer believes Trump has better instincts than Clinton, he said he “cringed” when he heard Trump say on CNN’s “New Day” on May 9, “You never have to default, because you print the money.” Trump said this in response to a question about his comments to CNBC on May 5, when he indicated that a debt renegotiation (in effect, a default) is always a possibility. “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal,” Trump said, later saying the New York Times mischaracterized him when the paper said he “might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment.”

Fleischer said he “always knew” throughout the nomination process that he would support whichever Republican candidate emerged, but said Trump “almost lost me for good” when he accused President George W. Bush of lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in order justify the Iraq invasion in 2003.

“If this were a race between Donald Trump and Joe Lieberman, I would vote for Joe Lieberman,” Fleischer said. “But this is a race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”

Last January, Fleischer had said a Trump nomination would mean the Republican Party is no longer the conservative party. And he didn’t retract that notion, telling the Journal that Trump’s presumptive nomination may mean the party will be in the hands of its populist, not conservative, bloc.

“I don’t think you can rule that out,” Fleischer said.

Radio commentator and Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager has, since early in the nomination process, opposed Trump, but said he would vote for him if he became the nominee. “I said from the outset that if my darkest dreams were realized, and he became the Republican nominee, I would vote for him,” Prager wrote in an email. “The reason is that there is one thing that frightens me more than Donald Trump being elected president, and that is Hillary Clinton being elected president.”

He said Trump’s behavior and positions made him unsure “almost every day” whether he could maintain that position. Asked what Trump would have to do to lose his vote, Prager said, “He tries almost every day.”

Among the many distinctions Prager sees between a Trump presidency and a Clinton presidency: the Supreme Court, natural gas extraction (known as “fracking,” which Clinton has come out hard against during her campaign against Bernie Sanders), and, as he said, “An ever-expanding government taking over more and more of the American economy.”

Prager fears Clinton appointments to the Supreme Court could, for a generation, allow judges to “use the court to pass laws” otherwise not achievable with a Republican-controlled Congress or White House. Asked to respond to #NeverTrump conservatives’ fear that Trump is redefining—or has already redefined the Republican Party—Prager said that will only happen if he “succeeds as president, and doesn’t do so by adopting conservative policies.”

“Then he may indeed redefine Republican and conservative,” Prager said. “I’ll worry about that then. And if he fails, he will give new impetus to the traditional understanding of Republican and conservative.”

Elliott Abrams, who served as a foreign policy advisor to George W. Bush and as a consultant for Cruz's campaign, said this year’s election reminds him of the first one he voted in—in 1972, when Richard Nixon beat George McGovern in every state except Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

“I voted for governor, senator, all that, but I didn’t vote for either of them for president, because I didn’t support either,” Abrams said. Asked whether the “lesser of two evils” argument sways him at all, he said Trump’s unpredictability does not count in his favor.

“I don’t consider it an argument for Trump that he doesn’t really have many policy positions, that no one has a good idea what he’s going to do as president—including Trump!” Abrams said. “He has no understanding of the job. He has no understating of the Constitution, and that’s dangerous.”

Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, said he will vote for president, just not for either Clinton or Trump, who he believes “undermines basically everything that conservatives especially, and Republicans generally, have said they stand for.”

In 1992, Jacoby voted for libertarian candidate Andre Marrou instead of George H. W. Bush or Bill Clinton. And in 2000, he again voted for the libertarian candidate — Harry Browne — instead of George W. Bush or Al Gore.

Jacoby, too, is not swayed by the argument that Trump is the least bad of two options.

“During World War II, there might not have been a reasonable alternative to accepting the Soviet Union as an ally against Germany, but this isn’t World War II, and I don’t think any individual voter or any conservative organization gains anything by letting the party make common cause with Donald Trump,” he said. “The country has come to a really bad pass, and no matter which path we take, something bad lies ahead.”

Orin Kerr, a libertarian-leaning conservative and law professor at George Washington University, also likened Trump to Nixon, calling him the type of politician “the framers of the Constitution were worried about.”

“I think a President Trump would pose a serious threat to the world’s security and constitutional governance,” said Kerr, who said he’s prepared to vote for Clinton if she’s Trump’s opponent in November. “From what I can tell, Hillary would be another Democratic politician, not too far from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and the republic survived those administrations.”

Weinstein, too, believes Trump has “authoritarian tendencies.” There is the affectionate way he has spoken about Russian president Vladimir Putin; his suggestions of respect for the late dictators Saddam Hussein and Muamar Gaddafi for killing terrorists; and his comments in a 1990 interview in Playboy magazine that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t have a “firm enough hand,” and that the Communist Chinese government “almost blew it” in 1990 during the Tiananmen Square protests, until “they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength.”

What put Weinstein, the Daily Caller editor, over the edge was an incident in which Michelle Fields, Weinstein’s girlfriend and a former Breitbart reporter, was grabbed at a Trump event by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as she tried to approach Trump to ask him a question. A Florida prosecutor charged Lewandowski with battery, and then later dropped the charges, but eyewitnesses corroborated Fields’ account, along with audio and video footage.

Trump’s response was to claim Fields was lying, and he hinted he might sue her. He  also continued to praise Lewandowski and criticized other reporters for their coverage of the incident.

David Bernstein, a George Mason University law professor, said he would’ve voted for most of the Republican candidates in this year’s field, favoring in particular Cruz and Senator Rand Paul, but said he believes the U.S. “will survive four years of Clinton.” He thinks the Republican Party is at a tipping point at risk of being led by the “American version of Hugo Chavez or Juan Peron.”

“We’re going to have a situation where we have a Republican Party that resembles European right-wing parties—xenophobic, in favor of the welfare state; and the Democratic Party,” Bernstein said. “We won’t have any party that’s standing for limited government principles. We will have a big government left-wing party, and a big government right-wing party.”