May 12, 2005
Seder Behind Bars
This is in response to the article by David Finnigan ("Holiday of Freedom Spent Behind Bars," April 29).
We were two of the volunteers that were at the seder, for the second year in a row, that Rabbi Yossi Carron held for the Jewish inmates at Men's Central Jail. The seder we attended was very different from the one that was written about in that article. We considered this to be one of the most touching, emotional and meaningful seders we have ever attended. The prison is not a place where emotions are easily shown. Community, especially Jewish, is practically unheard of. And yet, these men read from the haggadah, joyously sang "Dayenu," read the four questions, put their arms around each other to sing "Oseh Shalom" and bowed their heads, many with visible tears coming down their cheeks, as Rabbi Carron offered the Birkat ha-Kohanim (the priestly blessing).
He is attempting to give to them the hope that their faith and their community will open the doors to a different life than the one they have had -- that God and Judaism are within each of them.
The article did not mention what courage it took for these men to stand and share something personal about a "miracle of freedom" that each could find within these prison walls.
Carron's work with them involves helping them to see that God is in that place, even though it may appear otherwise. He has worked with the men to find blessings even in the darkness of their cells and to work toward making the personal teshuvah [repentance] that will, God willing, keep them out of jail when they are released.
Judaism teaches that all of us have a spark worth saving. Carron treats these men with honor and with the hope that they will find a way through their own "Egypt."
We were privileged to share in this experience and to serve these men, so they could feel a taste of humanity and of the Jewish community that is waiting to welcome them, should they decide to walk into our synagogues.
We aren't sure why the reporter did not talk to any of us, instead of only talking to the deputies. But the seder he went to was not the one we experienced. We hope to be invited back again next year.
Farla and Hershey Binder
Credit Where Credit Due
As an Italian American growing up in an Italian American home and community in Brooklyn, I was greatly amused by [Tom] Teicholz's co-opting of my culture in his article "Raymond's End" [May 6].
Could it be that [Ray] Romano had some input here? After all, isn't the show based on the comedy? And his family?
Talk about chutzpah. Granted Teicholz's people invented God, but [Phil] Rosenthal worked with Romano and with Romano's material to create his show. Let's share the credits and cultural consciousness.
On second thought, those people are, except for their comic value, really quite appalling. You can keep them. File them away with "Seinfeld," another appalling group. Happily, the Jews that I know are utterly unlike the characters in either of these shows.
Jill Stewart's recent column about worker's compensation was so grossly deficient of facts that an informed response is warranted ("It's Time to Heal Worker's Comp," May 6). The most egregious inaccuracy concerns Stewart's statement that insurance "rates are plunging ... while the barely injured get less."
In fact, four days prior to Stewart's editorial, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi reported in his media statement, "The information I received today is very disturbing.... I have heard complaints from across the state that injured workers are losing benefits, despite the significant savings created by the reforms.... I have also heard from large and small employers who have not seen the reduction in premiums that the reform savings would lead one to expect." And "I can find no reason why the amount of premiums collected in 2004 rose by 11 percent, while the cost of claims fell by 15 percent."
Stewart's broad, sweeping categorization of injured workers as being either "severely injured," who "receive more money," or "barely injured," who "get less," is also inaccurate. By adopting the AMA Guidelines to rate disability without adjusting the disability schedule that assigns a monetary value to each percentage of disability, to compensate for the significantly lower disability ratings under the AMA Guidelines, all injured workers will receive less.
And with all injured workers' benefits slashed while insurance companies report record profits, the numbers don't add up.
Rob Eshman's four factors for Palestine's success missed the most crucial one: the fact that the PLO remains in a state of war with Israel, true to its charter, as established by the Arab League in 1964 ("Is It Good for Them?" April 29). Prime Minister Rabin, to his credit, insisted that the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction be changed as a prerequisite to any and all negotiations.
Well, it never was. Instead, the PLO charter remains at the rubric of the new Palestinian school system, where a new generation of Arab youth are inculcated with the idea that they must make war on the Jewish state.
Deny it all you want. The PLO is at war with Israel to win the 1948 war.
Rob Eshman cites four factors for Palestine's success. But my own feeling is that only re-engagement and integration will work. There has to be one entity who will rule and bring peace and prosperity. Glazer's good intentions and billions cannot undo blind hatred.
A Human Being
As one of Rabbi Karen Deitch's congregants at Temple Ahavat Shalom, I was insulted by the attack on the rabbi by Harry Finkel ("Single Rabbi," Letters, April 29). It is difficult to address Mr. Finkel as "Mr." because it implies a title of respect, as does the word "rabbi" -- which he chose to ignore.
The accusations made were not respectful, and were directed not only to my rabbi, but to all females who happen to be single and yet venture out of the kitchen. The comments made by Finkel were also insulting to the congregation who chooses Deitch to be our spiritual leader, and to the entire Reform movement of Judaism.
While Finkel obviously does not respect a Jew who does not worship in exactly the same manner to which he subscribes, the Reform community has enabled thousands of individuals to establish a personal relationship with God, and has given them a strong community in which to pray, to teach and learn, and to do mitzvot.
It is this thinking that Reform Judaism is somehow less that sends a rift throughout Judaism, and which can weaken us as a cohesive society.
If a woman, rabbi or not, sits at a bar to enjoy a beer and conversation, and regardless of whether she has a manicure or even (gasp) deigns to enhance her eyes with mascara, this simple act does not "debase" her. Is Finkel attacking the morality of a woman being in a bar, or is it because this woman is a rabbi?
It may be difficult for Finkel, but he must learn that a rabbi, although a learned teacher, spiritual leader and counselor for his or her congregation, is first and foremost a human being. A human being is entitled to take pleasure in conversing with others at a bar and having a drink or two without it being a disgrace to one's self or one's community.
A human being is a social creature, and the mere act of meeting another human to share conversation does not make one immoral, but creates community. Judaism is a communal religion. Does it not require a community, a minyan, for prayer?
Mr. Finkel, I assure you that the congregation of Temple Ahavat Shalom welcomes Rabbi Deitch, not only as a rabbi, but as a human being, and a great addition to our community.
[Robert] Hertzberg failed to reach the mayoral finals because leftists -- Jews and others -- persuaded too many other Jews to vote for leftist, once-Mecha member [Antonio] Villaraigosa. Apart from being a leftist, Villaraigosa waged a drab campaign, much less exciting and promising than gentle giant Hertzberg -- especially with regards to prospects of an educational renaissance in Los Angeles.
It's no sin for Jews to vote for a Jew, even if he's not Moses or Jesus. I suspect a lot are set to vote for Villaraigosa. He's good for illegal immigrants, but not for the American working class or even Angelenos and Jews. Jews have the balance of power if they get out and vote in large numbers.
Stated in this article is that the study for building a successful Palestinian state was officially released the prior week ("Is It Good for Them?" April 29). The focus audience of the study was England's Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is not known as especially friendly toward the Jewish state. In addition others not named were also included, such government leaders and such.
Wouldn't it been advisable to include Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the focus group. After all, those two Israeli leaders are directly invovled in whatever is planed to save a Palestinian state.
Responding to Robert Eshman's inquiry, Guilford Glazer the financial underwriter of the study, claimed the plan has yet received no criticism. Glazer may be a little naive, hoping that the plan he funded may still not be a security threat to Israel.
History has shown that the Palestinian Arabs, beneficiaries of the plan, have repeatedly been hostile toward Israel by many acts of violence perpetrated against innocent Israelis with suicide bombers and others. These various acts of terror have caused many deaths and wounded in the last four and a half years, as well as before.
The Arab population, unfortunately, grows up with a deep hatred of their Jewish neighbors along with their mother's milk. This hatred has continued to the present, and is so far unabated, inspite of the new Palestinian leaders.
There is not a civilized nation in the world with as much patience and perseverance as Israel, always hoping the violence would cease. Therefore, any such plan as described herein is highly risky for Israel to be the neighbor along side a Palestinian state.
Also adding to the pressure on the Jewish state will be the huge number of returnees to Palestine, estimated to be more than 500,000, as well as tens of thousands of so-called "destitute refugees" to be absorbed. Is it believable that this time the Palestinian leaders will be able and are willing to stamp out violent factions and corruption, action they have yet to take.
I share Eshman's concern regarding as to "why the Palestinians should heed a study largely funded by a wealthy pro-Israel Jewish businessman from Beverly Hills".
Glazer's reply was that he does not worry about that, but that "maybe the terrorists are tired of committing suicide and becoming martyrs." Is Israel therefore supposed to be playing Russian roulette?" Perhaps the corollary should be turned around to ask, "Is this plan good for the Jews?" Only the Israeli government can decide that.