November 20, 1997
As the members of the Los Angeles Jewish Commission on Sweatshops,we were dismayed and extremely disappointed that Joel Kotkin has soquickly jumped to conclusions about our work ("A Stitch in Time MaySave Jobs," Nov. 7). In our examination of work conditions in thegarment industry, we ourselves have scrupulously avoided jumping toconclusions until we learn as many of the facts as possible.
Despite Kotkin's assertions, we have no ax to grind on behalf ofanyone. By hearing from government officials, workers, manufacturers,retailers, union representatives and many others, we hope todetermine the extent of any serious problems in the industry and howthe Jewish community might act to foster improved work conditions.
Indeed, because Jewish manufacturers occupy such a prominentposition in our region's garment industry, we are very hopeful thatour community can be at the forefront of positive change. We areoptimistic that many of our community's manufacturers are concerned,as we are, about improving the conditions faced by workers insegments of the apparel industry.
Rooted in our long-standing and deep connections to the garmentindustry, as well as Jewish law and tradition mandating fair andequitable treatment of workers, we believe that the Jewish communityhas an important role to play in addressing the issue of workconditions today.
The members of the Jewish Commission represent a number ofnational Jewish organizations and rabbis from several denominations.Our aim is to be inclusive in hearing from a range of experts aboutthe garment industry, and then to inform our community about how wecan be a force for positive change.
The Members of the Los Angeles Jewish Commission onSweatshops:
Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman
Rick Chertoff, regional director, Jewish LaborCommittee
Rabbi Alice Dubinsky,
assistant regional director, Union of AmericanHebrew Congregations
Jack D. Fine,
vice chair for legislative advocacy,
American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles Chapter
Rabbi Steven Jacobs
Steven J. Kaplan,
American Jewish Congress, Pacific SouthwestRegion
president-elect, National Council of Jewish WomenLos Angeles
executive director, American Jewish Congress,Pacific Southwest Region
Rabbi Perry Netter
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben,
vice chair for social action, Southern CaliforniaBoard of Rabbis
Evely Laser Shlensky,
immediate past national chair, Commission on SocialAction of Reform Judaism
Former State Senator Alan Sieroty
Prof. Richard Appelbaum, Ph.D.,
Consultant to the Commission
Counsel to the Commission
The Yale Five
I am in total sympathy with the Yale Five. They chose to get anacademic education from a prestigious school. During theireducational experience, they will interact with numerous professorsand students of all religious and diverse backgrounds. Why must theysleep in a promiscuous co-ed environment if it is against theirreligious beliefs and values?
If we want Jews to remain and practice Judaism then they must haveour support. Anna Zeigler unwittingly points to the very problem ofassimilation that young Jewish boys and girls encounter upon leavinghome for college ("Not-So-Famous Five," Nov. 14). I quote: "Mostimportantly, we learn from each other because we are all sodifferent. There is Thomas Pearson from Salinas, Calif., who livesdirectly above me. He is Episcopalian. There is John Mezquia, aHispanic Christian from Miami who lives directly below me. Both theseboys are in our suite all the time lounging around, getting to knowus and each other."
This type of interaction can result in another intermarriage andanother lost Jew. The opportunities are plentiful unless one is in apredominantly Jewish environment. The challenge is to educate Jewishboys and girls with sufficient Torah so they can face the challengeand request that their Judaism not be compromised. I salute the YaleFive.
Arguments and heated discussions over the conversion law in Israelhas brought with it some rather ugly diatribes between Conservativeand Reform Jews on one side and the Orthodox on the other. I mightmodify this to say between Conservative and Reform leaders onone side and some Orthodox leaders on the other.
At my Conservative synagogue on Yom Kippur, the rabbi spent anhour in a discussion group on the conversion controversy, paintingthe Orthodox as a group which still practiced shtetl Judaismand who were unwilling to talk to their fellow, more progressiveJews. He invoked the memories of Golda Meir, Ben-Gurion, YitzhakRabin and others who would "roll over in their graves" if they couldsee the abuse which the Orthodox heaped on the rest of the Jewishworld. Interestingly enough, this is in a Conservative movement thatdoes not recognize the patrilineal descent decree of the Reformmovement. Politics sure makes for interesting bedfellows!
It seems that the shtetl Judaism which has lasted for over 4,000years and has kept our people together through slaughter, dispersionand ridicule, is no longer modern or progressive enough for us. Thechief rabbinate in Israel is Orthodox and is charged with maintainingJewish law (including marriage and conversion), adhering to ourancient teachings. When we can't get them to come over to our beliefsin a short period of time, instead of continuing to talk and debatethe subject, we force the issue.
So what do progressive Jews do when they can't get their way? Wehire an attorney and go to court, in this instance, the IsraeliSupreme Court. We are going to legislate religious practice! The samepeople who in the United States fight for a strict and sometimesridiculous separation of church and state, are the first to go tocourt in Israel to affect religious law.
Our tradition and religion are so rich and wonderful that it isdifficult to foresee the outcome if we cannot come together as apeople. Let's have a real renewal, and give this the time it needs tomake it work.
William M. Bender
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is a welcome and needed addition for the muchmaligned politically conservative Jews disenfranchised and isolatedfor years by a predominantly liberal, secular Jewish community.
For the last few decades, we have endured disdain and moralsmugness from a politically correct Jewish establishment -- as ifthey and the liberal doctrine they adhere to hold the key to moraldecency. To be politically conservative in such an "intolerant"atmosphere took great courage. To do so, one took the risk of beingdemonized for "mean-spirited, intolerant, extreme right wingbehavior."
It seems that middle America's silent majority has found itsvoice. The liberal Jewish establishment now finds itself out of syncwith the values and standards still held dear by the middle class,and are under attack by a growing conservative movement whichincludes an increasing Jewish presence. While David Lehrer continuesto name-call those who differ with him, and while the good rabbiHarold Schulweis, a great thinker and scholar, feels the heat that weconservatives have felt in the past, I would urge them to practicethe tolerance they preach.
For many politically conservative Jews, it is difficult toidentify with an organized Jewish establishment that has abandonedstandards for expediency and has embraced preferential programs,homosexuality and illegal immigration.
It has been reported that 2 million Jews were lost to Judaismwithin the last 15 years. Let's not continue to lose anymore.
The logical extension of Rabbi Lapin's contentions and desires, isfor this country to become a theocracy.
If Lapin joins with the Christian Right's objective oftransforming the U.S. into a "Christian Nation," he will soon findout that Jews, Moslems, and other minority religions, will soon berestricted because the majority's is the only true and legitimate"god."
That is what a segment of the Likud party wants to accomplish inIsrael. To quote Shimon Peres, "...they must become more demandingbecause compromise and concession are not necessarily part of thereligious vocabulary. Their platform is a set of absolute beliefsthat must exclude others in society. This is sadly what is startingto happen in Israel."
In a theocracy, history teaches us, freedom of speech and thoughtis not permitted or tolerated.
Harry Shragg M.D.
The nascent interest of American Jews for the conservative portionof the political spectrum is fraught more with danger thanopportunity. The Republican party -- traditionally anathema toAmerican Jews -- and the Christian Coalition embraced politicalconservatism, while we were still defending affirmative action, openimmigration, women's rights and a host of traditional Jewish causes.
Having been preempted from the organized conservative politicalarena, my inner ear senses finger nails being rubbed up and down ablackboard. If, in order to give full expression to the conservativepolitical thoughts I may harbor, I must share common ground with thereactionary Christian right, I will maintain my silence.
The Christian right may feign friendship and interest in Jews, butscratch below the first layer of skin and you will quickly findsomeone whose sole interest is in the universal dominion of Christ.They speak kindly of the Judeo-Christian heritage we all share, butthe inclusion of "Judeo" in this mantra is a relatively recentaddition designed to encourage Jewish support -- and conversion.
I may support conservative issues; I will do so, however,selectively and I will not join nor seek common cause with anyorganization contaminated by the "thought police" of the reactionaryChristian right. I urge my fellow co-religionists to exhibit similarcaution.
Roger G. Goldberg
During the night of Nov. 10, 1938, in the terrible pogrom ofKristallnacht, thousands of Torahs, prayer books and pricelessreligious articles were mutilated in Germany and Austria. Over 1,200synagogues were desecrated and burned to the ground. With no protestsand condemnations by world leaders, this fateful day signaled themitigation of more intense oppression, persecution and the FinalSolution.
We are taught to love and respect the Torah and to conduct ourmoral and spiritual life accordingly. However, virtually no Jewishpublications, organizations or religious leaders in our communitydeemed it worthwhile to mention this tragic day in Jewish history. Wemust remember the past as we are also obligated to turn evil intogoodness, sadness into joy for Judaism, and remembrance intoteaching. If we as Jews disregard the significance of this sad day,we signal and invite mankind to also forget.
Vernon L. Rusheen
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