July 6, 2006
Letters to the Editor 07-07-06
In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b'nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.
In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.
Stephen F. Rohde
Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these "for profit" groups -- this is America after all -- shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools' budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!
Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.
As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose -- vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can't we get some credit?
I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman's article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors' questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.
The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut "mysterious and obvious ... the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God." In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to "set us apart and elevate our souls."
Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that "the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it."
In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.
So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can't be both.
Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the "blood libel" which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?
Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.
Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.
A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.
This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.