September 28, 2000
Our offices are in Koreatown. In the elevator last week, a young Korean man asked me if I worked at The Jewish Journal. I said I did. His eyes lit up, and he touched the Bible tucked into his portfolio. "So you are an Israelite?" he asked.
I hesitated. I smiled. I enjoyed a quick mental image of myself in a robe and sandals, telling some prophet to get to the point already. That's what editors did in 1000 B.C.E.
The Korean man saw my grin, and asked me which was the correct term, Israelite or Jew.
Little did he know that every year at this time, we gather in synagogues and listen as our rabbis exhort us to try to imagine ourselves in Abraham's place, one tribesman alone facing a mysterious and demanding God.At Yom Kippur, we are asked to imagine ourselves trembling in the desert, one among the multitudes, awaiting the sign that our sins have been cleansed. On Sukkot, we are actually commanded to live as Israelites, building huts and eating in them.
Clearly, the rabbis who codified our tradition didn't want us to stray too far from at least the spiritual idea of being an Israelite, a member of a tribe.
In many good ways, we haven't: As you'll read in these pages, this community and Jews around the world have rallied to the cause of the "Shiraz 10," Jews unjustly imprisoned in Iran whose appeals were rejected last week. They are a world away, but they are part of us.
Here at home, this past year saw Jews in L.A. lend outspoken support to Deborah Lipstadt, who was facing a difficult libel trial in London for calling a Holocaust denier a Holocaust denier.
And there have been daily instances of Jews reaching out. Hundreds of volunteers went into public schools this past year to teach reading to disadvantaged youths through The Jewish Federation's KOREH L.A. program. The Anti-Defamation League brought anti-hate crime lessons into public school classrooms. Lawyers at Bet Tzedek worked to help indigent seniors. Just this past week, rabbis went into the L.A. County Jail to help prisoners celebrate the New Year (see our story inside). And several months ago, the Joyce and Stanley Black Family Special Care Facility opened at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services to provide groundbreaking treatment for severely disturbed youths.
All these good works (and this is a miniscule sampling) help Jews and non-Jews alike. After all, a tribe whose daily prayer is the Shema understands it is part of a much bigger tribe.
There are, of course, less appealing aspects of our tribalism, and this past year we haven't failed to display these either: Factionalism, the ease with which we disparage our own, the pride that bleeds into chauvinism. These are also part of a tribal heritage.
After the Korean's question, I tried to picture myself as an actual Israelite. I would have been a terrible one: I don't do well with authority (don't even talk to me about animal sacrifice ) and, most damning, I sunburn easily. But I try, as do we all this time of year, to be a better Jew, a better person, a mensch.At the end of the day, at the beginning of a New Year,, that's all our rabbis can expect of us, and the most we can expect of one another.
The staff of The Journal has at least two wishes to convey for the New Year. One is for Gene Lichtenstein, the man who created The Journal 15 years ago. We wish him a sweet year and hope we will continue to turn out a paper of which he can be proud.
Our second New Year wish goes to you. May it be a sweet year, a healthy and prosperous 5761 for you, your families and for this community. And may you check in with us often, or at least once a week.