At-risk Orthodox kids clown for the camera -- and hide their faces
Wendy Jaffe's cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results ("Who Gets the Shul?" Oct. 6).
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b'nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b'nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.
Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha'arei Am -- The Santa Monica Synagogue
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, "Long Live Hezbollah" ("Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award," Sept. 22).
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us "un-American" fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city's model for human relations.
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission's selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award's namesake.
There has been no "pressure" on us from "Jews in high places," and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a "moderate Muslim."
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer "troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior" ("Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles," Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed ("Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes," Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as "war crimes."
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International "appear to be acting with good motives" toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel's actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.
That both groups ultimately admitted Hezbollah committed war crimes does not make them balanced -- they each released some 20 statements and only a few focused on Hezbollah. We would love to believe human rights groups care about Israeli civilians as much as other civilians, but the record shows that simply isn't the case.
In their recent ads in The Jewish Journal, the Republican Jewish Coalition clearly and convincingly stated that Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to support Israel. In response, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) claimed that support for Israel is actually bipartisan. Unfortunately, Berman is just plain wrong.
Research shows that the majority of dissenting votes in Congress against pro-Israel legislation are Democrats. And, beyond votes, even Democrat Jewish politicians themselves who do support Israel do not speak out against those who do not. Instead, they either join in partisan attacks on pro-Israel U.S. Ambassador John Bolton (Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-Calif.] and Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.]) or remain silent about hostile national Democrats, from Jimmy Carter to Congressmen John Conyers (D-Mich.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Fortney Pete Stark (D-Fremont), et al, (some of whom might become chairman of House committees) to new Muslim congressional candidate Keith Ellison a Minnesota Democrat.
Also, where are the public voices of local Jewish Democrats Zev Yaroslavsky and Jack Weiss railing against the L.A. County Human Relations Commission award to Israel-basher Dr. Maher Hathout or the United Teachers of Los Angeles committee seeking a boycott and sanctions against Israel? As with other Democrats, they are silent.
Bobbi Leigh Zito
I am ashamed of the lack of tolerance shown by supposedly liberal minds against conservative Jewish political views. I am ashamed of the mean spirits, closed minds and bitter attitudes of left-wing Jews who worry more about Islamo-phobia than Islamo-fascism.
The nastiness of the left against all things Republican, Jewish, and now Jewish Republican is shameful. Jewish Republicans are at the forefront of defending and supporting Israel and working with our administration to confront global anti-Semitism.
Democrats, think about it and come join us.
The rage that loyal Jewish Democrats express over the RJC ads would seem misplaced.
The truth hurts, but it is hard to smooth over the fact that today's American anti-Israel activists, including supporters of Palestinian terrorism, supporters of Hezbollah an Hamas, Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, supporters of divestment from Israel, et al are supporters of the Democratic Party.
Unless Jewish Democrats have been sleeping, surely they have seen that the growing worldwide trend of left-wing organizations and personalities (Hugo Chavez?) are consistently aligned against Israel (and America). Unfortunately, American left-wing activists are following the same trend and the Democratic Party is now their home.
Faith and Season
Rob Eshman in his "Faith and Season" editorial mentions that some people may think that religion is "the cause of human misery" (Oct. 6). Actually, I believe it is the interpretation of the holy books that is the cause of human misery.
Fundamentalists believe that their particular holy book is the only truth. Instead of respecting the beliefs of other religions, they feel threatened, which can lead to violence.
Why do evangelical Christians believe that ultimately all Jews must accept Jesus as their savior and more liberal Christians respect the perpetuation of Judaism? Why do fundamentalist Muslims believe that martyrs receive dozens of virgins in paradise, whereas a more liberal interpretation of the Quran indicates that they receive only dozens of raisins?
It would be far better if all religions acknowledged that their holy books should be read as literature, and that one law-abiding religion is no better or worse than any other.
Abandonment of proselytizing could be the first step toward world peace.
Martin J. Weisman