Jewish Journal


October 21, 2004

Letters to the Editor


In late May 1948, when faced with an embargo on weaponry in defending the new born State of Israel, Provisional prime-minister David Ben-Gurion received an offer of assistance from an unlikely source. Czechoslovakia, then under the firm control of Soviet Russia, offered the Provisional Government a small number of tanks, a handful of fighter planes and three bombers. Furious debate was entered in the Knesset, contesting the Czechs' motives and sincerity and questioning whether Israel would become a pawn of the Soviet Union in the fast unraveling Cold War. Banging his fist on the table, Ben-Gurion silenced the room. " We will all be dead by the time we finish this debate! We must have the arms now! "When one is drowning," he might have added proverbially, "only a fool questions the motives of his rescuer."

Although today Israel is no longer drowning or short of arms, the fact that the country has become isolated while a battle with a nihilistic campaign of terrorism rages, should become clear to anyone who regularly reads the European, Asian or Middle East press. Unfortunately what has happened to Israel in the court of world opinion is now being flagrantly transferred to Jews. The Israel Christian Nexus was formed as a response to this isolation. Neither a political nor religious organization, it has one purpose only: to consolidate and strengthen relationships with those in the Christian community who regard themselves as Israel's friends.

Attacks on our organization have come from variety of sources, but none quite as misinformed as that of Professor David Myers and Daniel Sokatch in last week's Jewish Journal. While proferring "evidence" of the Christian evangelical movement's intent to convert us all, they ignore entirely the extraordinary impact evangelical Christian lobbying and support can have in shaping American attitudes to Israel and the very necessity of allying ourselves with friends who offer invaluable moral, political and financial help while asking for nothing in return.

This being the case, their article does raise a genuine concern about Christian missionary work and it must be addressed. In this regard it should be made clear that missionary work has always been fundamental to the ethos of Christianity. Sharing their faith - whether it be with Jews, Buddhists, Bahai or Muslims has been the mission of Christianity for 20 centuries and should come as no surprise to anyone. The question for us all becomes what tactics will the Christian community employ to advance their cause and when do those methods cross a threshold that is unacceptable?

To this end it is vital to understand that the Evangelical community in the United States is reputed to be 70 million strong - is neither monolithic nor homogenous. It is splintered into ideologies and divisions as stark as those found in the Jewish community itself. There is similarly a marked difference in approach to missionary work in the Christian community. All of the Church groups with which we have been involved have shown clearly that they have no intention of missionizing to us either as individuals or as a community. Nor have we ever encountered a full scale program or campaign that announces an intention to convert Jews en masse to Christianity. We have never been engaged in a dialogue that has suggested to us that that there is anything but unconditional love for Israel and the Jewish people motivating Christian support for the Jewish state.

Our meetings have also been marked by regret for the centuries of Christian persecution of Jews and the utmost respect for Jewish practices and beliefs. In fact, when we hold lunches at churches, the churches themselves insist that not only should the food be kosher but it should attain the highest possible standard of kashruth. At no meeting, even those in churches, have we heard the name Jesus spoken by a Christian.

Skeptics may well argue that these displays of Christian sensitivity are simply a subterfuge, designed to beguile us into believing that we are safe from Christian theological influence. And while there may be a handful of pastors who have lent their name to more extreme efforts, it is spurious to suggest that this implies that they are themselves undertaking concerted, fully funded campaigns of their own to convert Jews or that they are attempting to either" eradicate Judaism" or " seek our disappearance as Jews." This is simply not the case and amounts to the kind of wild speculation the authors deny.

This does not obviate the need for scrutiny and caution. Simply put, if we were to discover an attempt by any of the groups with whom we are associated to missionize in our communities, we would immediately distance ourselves from them.

But of course no one needs to accept my judgments. Indeed, since Professor Myers and Daniel Sokatch have chosen to use the words and research of Shawn Landres, a fellow at the University of Judaism, let me now refer to them as well. On February 20, 2004, writing in the Jewish Journal about the forthcoming release of "The Passion," Mr. Landres declared that there is an alternative path to public criticism of Christians: "For most Christians," says Landres, " Jesus' message was about faith, hope and love, not fear or hatred (therefore) ask your Christian friends to introduce you to their religious teachers and leaders so that you can convey your concerns personally."

Avi Davis

Christian Allies

I read the information provided in the recent opinion piece written by my friends, professor David Myers and Daniel Sokatch, concerning speakers at the recent Israel Christian Nexus program held at Stephen S. Wise Temple on Oct. 14 with great interest ("Apparent Allies Might Not Be Our Friends," Oct. 15).

It is a stretch to assume that participation in a program of this type is an endorsement by the Jewish participants of active evangelical proselytizing and conversion. Let's hope we can continue to broaden the group of Christian leaders who will support our desire for a strong, safe Israel without other agendas.

John Fishel
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

We share concerns raised by Myers and Sokatch regarding missionizing and the need to carefully scrutinize those with whom we associate. Our Christian friends know that we are concerned. StandWithUs has an interfaith coalition, and supports the work of the Israel Christian Nexus (ICN). And so, we greatly appreciate the lengths the ICN goes to in relationship building and educating, and the guidelines it has set for the gatherings with which we have been involved.

We have been pleased and relieved that at no time during any ICN gathering has there been any mention or hint by an individual or group targeting Jews for conversion. Rather, all pastors involved have simply expressed their solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. The Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation are to be commended for their support of the ICN.

If we look for groups of supporters who think as we do, politically as well as religiously, as suggested by Myers and Sokatch, we will be left standing alone. Using this litmus test, we would distance ourselves from one another, as Jews with differing political and religious views as well. Yes, we must keep our eyes wide open, reevaluate our associations as needed and proceed with appropriate caution. In this process, we have already found many friends of the Christian faith, including Presbyterians who disagree with the national decision to divest from Israel and will help to campaign against it.

We must appreciate that in this time of unprecedented anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment around the globe, Israel cannot afford to shun entire groups of active supporters.

Esther Renzer and Roz Rothstein

Israel and world Jewry have enough real enemies. We are hardly in a position to reject people who have demonstrated, in words and deeds, that they are our friends and allies.

There is scant evidence to support the contention that the true objective of evangelicals is to proselytize Jews. And if any Jews are converting, then shame on us for failing to instill a true sense of Jewish identity in our own people.

Ira Mehlman
Marina del Rey

Professor David Myers is concerned that these people are only trying to convert us Jews and could not possibly be in support of Israel for other moral reasons.

I wonder if Myers is aware that the Rev. [Jack] Hayford every year leads a group from his church to Israel. Even when many American Jews were afraid to go to Israel, his group continued to go. The Jewish National Fund has a forest named after him, and his church has become supportive spokespeople for Israel.

Next time, prior to criticizing a rally for Israel, it may be more appropriate to actually go to the rally and see what is being said.

Myers, keep an open mind.

Scott Howard
Woodland Hills

It is ironic that Daniel Sokatch and David Myers fear Christian support of Jews in Israel, rather than their own "progressive" left that abandoned Israel years ago. The discomfort of the writers on this matter can be seen in their careful use of terminology. They refer to the Presbyterian church that has urged divestment of Israel as "Christians of a different political persuasion."

The obvious truth is that the Presbyterian church is extremely left on the spectrum and ironically shares many similar views to Sokatch and Myers themselves. They should rephrase their article as: The political and religious left – are not our friends.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

Yom Kippur in Chad

I was deeply moved by Rabbi Lee Bycel's article about his recent trip to Chad ("Yom Kippur in Chad: Fasting a Way of Life," Oct. 8). I have known Lee for many years and have always respected his willingness not only to preach tikkun olam but to take action on his beliefs.

His trip to Chad is a moving tribute to the central tenet of Jewish ethics that we are more than a people of faith. We are, as Lee has shown us, a people of action.

Thank you for providing a forum for Lee's mission.

Jim Linden
Long Beach

Happy Campers

I agree with your article about Jewish camps being the most influential thing we can do to raise our children with Judaic awareness ("Happy Campers," Sept. 3). I attended Camp Ramah and learned so much more about Judaism there than I ever did at Hebrew school.

I actually had a unique experience that explains why I love Camp Ramah. During the summer when I was 15, I had a crush on a boy named Matthew in my edah. We were close friends, but he never knew I wanted him to be my boyfriend. After camp, we kept in touch over e-mail.

Three years ago, he needed a date to his company's party, so he invited me. Of course I accepted. I never forgot about his beautiful singing voice when he would lead morning tefillot for our edah or about his intelligent opinions during ethical debates.

Three months ago, Matthew and I got married. For our Saturday night rehearsal dinner, we included a camp-style Havdalah under the stars.

We are planning to raise our family to be very aware and active in Judaism. Thank you, Camp Ramah, for providing me with activities, Judaism and the place where I met my husband.

Robin Kaufman
Los Altos

Comfort Converts

The recent article on the Embracing Judaism Shabbaton ("A Retreat to Comfort Converts," Oct. 8) was a thoughtful piece, made even more so by highlighting the comments of our own Lorna Lembeck, a cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Lorna's deep commitment to and love of Judaism, combined with her tremendous talent, should serve as an inspiration to other Jews by choice, as well as those of us born into the faith. We are proud that Lorna has chosen the academy to pursue her dream of serving the Jewish people.

Hazzan Nathan Lam
Cantorial School
Academy for Jewish Religion

Jewish Wasteland

Liel Leibovitz laments that there are "only a handful of characters ... openly and identifiably Jewish" on television ("Fall Season's New Jewish Wasteland," Oct. 15). Her concern is that Jewish characters this season, such as Jason Alexander's Tony Kleinman are "far from being a complex and layered adult." Memo to Leibovitz: If you've never met a shallow and boorish co-religionist, you don't get around much.

What Leibovitz and others want is idealized, politically correct Jewish characters, never mind the reality of human nature, Jewish or otherwise. After all, "The Sopranos" portrays a Jewish gangster named Hesch. As a Jew, I'm not proud of him, but then again, I'm not proud of denial, either. And what about the Emmy Award-winning show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," starring Larry David? Jewish, but not Leibovitz's kind of Jew?

And by the way, programming note: Far from "being no more," "Seinfeld" is shown in reruns three or four times a day in Los Angeles alone; "Friends," "Sex and the City" and "Law and Order" are seen maybe only twice a day in this market.

There is no danger to the portrayal of Jewish characters on television, only the danger of Jewish provincialism.

Leopold Rosenfeld
Beverly Hills

Go West, Young Couple

I would like to thank you for your acknowledgment of the new couple who will be serving as Torah educators for Jewish students at the UCLA campus ("Go West Young Couple," Oct. 8). The Orthodox Union is very proud of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus and the opportunities it opens up for Jewish students to engage in sophisticated Jewish learning and exploration.

However, the announcement overlooked the strong partnership with Hillel that makes the placement of a couple at UCLA possible. At UCLA, the Kaplans [Rabbi Aryeh and his wife, Sharona] serve as fully integrated members of the Hillel staff, and, indeed, the program would not exist at UCLA without the encouragement and support of Hillel.

Moreover, the program marks a conscious decision on the part of Hillel to enhance the resources available for Orthodox student life on campus. It is no small thing when disparate Jewish organizations join together in partnership for the greater good of the Jewish community, as Hillel and the Orthodox Union have done with regard to the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus.

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President
Orthodox Union

Breast Cancer Tips

I enjoyed reading Wendy Madnick's article on breast cancer ("Breast Cancer Tips Doctors Don't Share," Oct. 15). I was one of the 217,440 diagnosed in 2004. I have finished chemotherapy, am halfway through radiation and look forward to my hair growing back long enough to wash.

A few things worth mentioning: Chemo makes you lose not only your hair and sense of taste but also your fertility. Depending on how close you are to natural menopause will determine whether it returns.

Jewish women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and are premenopausal should contact Sharsheret, an organization of young Jewish women living with breast cancer, for invaluable peer support and information. They can be reached at www.sharsheret.org or (866) 474-2774.

Also, The Wellness Community provides free support to all types of cancer patients and their families through a variety of support groups and programs. The West Los Angeles group can be accessed at www.twc-wla.org or (310) 314-2555.

Name withheld by request
Via e-mail

Gaza Claim

Mort Klein's column on the Jewish history of Gaza cites several biblical references to make his point ("Rich History Backs Claim to Gaza," Oct. 8).

But there is one I discovered a few years ago that he overlooked. Ezekiel 47:13-23 not only supports his view, but in fact it goes much further. As near as I can tell, it accurately describes the boundaries of the State of Israel immediately after the Six-Day War.

Michael Lifton

The Mamaloshen

For the record: I am the daughter of the Zylbercweigs who were the creators of the "Yiddish Daily Program" ("Behind the Mamaloshen," Oct. 8). They did not conduct their broadcast from the garage but from their studio in their home. The program ran from 1948 to 1968. Their 50,000 listeners – of middle age and older – enjoyed their daily programs with music, guest speakers, actors, composers, authors, poets, personalities of the Jewish stage, rabbis, politicians and the like. All the programs were conducted in Yiddish, their mamaloshen. The program was loved, admired and respected by the entire community.

My late mother, Celia Silver, was also a noted Jewish actress; my father, Zalmen Zylbercweig, was the sole writer of seven volumes of the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater" and many other books.

Shirley Fair

While I found "Behind the Mamaloshen" nostalgic and informative, I feel that there were areas that could've been expounded upon even further and others that were omitted entirely.

When speaking of Mickey Katz, why was there no mention of his talented son, Joel Grey, who received an Academy Award for "Cabaret"? And Billy Gray's Band Box, besides featuring Katz on occasion, was the only semblance of Borscht Belt-Catskills entertainment on the West Coast, particularly with the show, "My Fairfax Lady," which had a record five-year run. And I loved Katz's Sunday night radio show in the 1950s, where one of the sponsors was Canter's.

Last week I enjoyed the play, "The History of Fairfax, According to a Sandwich," on the Fairfax High campus.

Still and all, Naomi Pfefferman did a good job of "bringing me back"... nu?

Eddie Cress

Liberal Academics

Ari Davis' "Liberal Academics Blind to Terror Threats" article (Oct. 15) hit very close to home. I may not have attended Harvard University, but I did recently graduate from a California university with professors who projected a very "liberal" attitude.

California's campuses are becoming increasingly anti-Israel. By the time I was a senior in college, I had been approached by every type of anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian group on campus. Even American Jewish kids were preaching about what a "disgusting Zionistic program Birthright Israel is."

How did this happen? How did American universities begin producing such liberal academics so quick to forget the past?

Muslim extremists are not portrayed as terrorists but instead as poor, innocent human beings with no choice left but to blow themselves up in order to save themselves and their families.

It's a disturbing thought that many of today's professors don't see the similarities between Hitler's war against the Jews and today's intifada, as Davis explained.

Davis is definitely not the first person to have seen the disgraceful level that many intellectuals that teach in universities has clearly fallen to. Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel are more crucial now than ever before. As Jews, as Americans, as students, we must clearly define our cause – and never stop fighting for it.

Lindsey Lache
Valley Village

Beyond Israel

I would like to respond to Bill Boyarsky's essay urging Jewish voters to look beyond Israel in the presidential election ("Look Beyond Israel," Oct. 1) and Dina Adler's rebuttal saying that Israel is the only true priority for the Jewish voter (Letters, Oct. 15).

Despite the tradition and wisdom of our tribe, I find it simply astounding that so many Jews are so shortsighted. After 5,000-plus years in the Diaspora and a more than 50 years in modern Israel, one would hope the Jews would have studied Jewish history and learned from it.

As a child, I remember asking how the Holocaust could have happened. No one, except my dear Aunt Ida, could really answer that question. She brilliantly explained the Shoah in terms that a 5-year-old could understand.

She said, "Anti-Semitism is a monster. It goes to sleep for a long time. And everyone forgets it's there. But once it wakes up, there's no stopping it. It's a giant fire monster that burns up everything."

I trembled. "Why does it wake up? Why can't we make it go back to sleep?"

"Money," Aunt Ida said. "The money doesn't work anymore, and once the money doesn't work, nothing works. And that's when they blame the Jews. That's when the monster wakes up."

Whether you are a Jewish Republican, Democrat or independent, a vote for George Bush is a quiet nudge at that sleeping monster. Of course it's thrilling to listen to George Bush tell those barbarians at the United Nations to stuff it. It's gratifying to watch a maniac like Kaddafi beg for forgiveness. Who didn't enjoy seeing that fiend Saddam Hussein come crawling out of his hole? But these are short-lived pleasures.

What is our country going to be like after another four years of Bush deficits? What is the United States going to be like once the dust settles after a possible eight-year reign of Bush-Cheney? How does the United States pay for this worldwide fight against terror without taxing the people that this fight is supposedly protecting? What are our dollars going to be worth if Bush and Cheney are given another term in the White House?

My fear is that this divisive administration is tearing the monetary fabric that holds our society together. Once those ties that bind us are torn apart, all hell will break loose. The monster wakes up again. Chaos is never good for the Jews. Study history – and then vote for John Kerry.

Ellen Switkes
Sherman Oaks

In almost every issue of The Journal there are one or more letters indicating that the welfare of Israel transcends that of America. They proclaim that the most important issue in the election for president is who is better for Israel, not who is better for the United States.

We Jews have been accused of having a "dual loyalty" when it comes to Israel. Sadly, it's very true in too many cases. And, in some cases, the primary loyalty is for Israel.

It's understandable that Jews should be concerned about the welfare of Israel. But, I feel very strongly that all Americans' primary concern should be for what's best for America and should vote with that in mind.

Melvin Reier

Mordechai Gafni

It was with great sadness that I learned you chose to publish Gary Rosenblatt's article in The Jewish Journal about Rabbi Mordechai Gafni ("Unforgiven?" Oct. 1).

As his student, I have learned so much and grown so much Jewishly. He is a brilliant and energetic teacher who has enriched the lives of all his students.

What possible purpose could there be to this article other than to bolster Rosenblatt's career? His article was all about accusations from the distant past, and nothing has happened to justify revisiting this subject.

It is destructive to Gafni and hurtful to all those associated with him. Imagine how upsetting this was to me when my grown son called me with concerns, because he read the article. Does Rosenblatt realize how many people he is hurting? Does he care? He should just leave it alone.

Jeanette Perkins
Slingerlands, N.Y.

It is expected that in the political arena, opponents of great men will dig up old dirt and throw it around. However, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni does not traffic in the political arena but in the spiritual arena.

One hopes that in the Jewish world, we would have a greater awareness of shmirat lashon and conduct ourselves accordingly. An attempt by a third party to damage the reputation of another through innuendo and rumor is the greatest of sins.

Indeed, as editor Gary Rosenblatt has previously written, there is only one valid reason to air such private accusations in a public arena, and that is if continued silence would create a clear and present danger to others. Since that is clearly not the case with Gafni, it was very wrong for The Jewish Journal to publicly air these ancient allegations.

Hazzan Sunny Schnitzer
spiritual leader and kol bo
Bethesda Jewish Congregation
Bethesda, Md.

Recently, I learned of some unfortunate comments about my respected teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni. From my own experience and observation, I know that in addition to being an overwhelmingly inspiring teacher, Mordechai exhibits all of those characteristics that our sages have told us constitute a full human being.

I have personally witnessed Mordechai working with those in need into the early hours of the morning, difficult as that is for the cynical to comprehend. He truly loves the Divine spark in all of his students.

And yet, even when he overflows in love – hugging all around him men and women, young and old – he is scrupulous about boundaries, meeting people only in public space. As he has told us time and again, hurt by old false accusations, he does not take on women for long-term counseling.

In my personal encounter with him, I, who am not easily trusting, have found his character, trustworthiness and integrity above reproach.

Dr. Maury Hoberman
West Chester, Pa.

Christians and Israel

Dr. Wayne Grody dismisses the fundamentalist Christian right by asserting, simply that their "entire world view is antithetical to ... mainstream Judaism" (Letters, Oct. 8).

How so? We both believe in the Ten Commandments and capitalism. Most Jews are more socially liberal, but many Orthodox Jews think like conservative Christians on social issues – are they antithetical to mainstream Judaism?

Our parents' generation resented Christian America (remember "goyim" jokes), and many of us reflect that resentment, even though Christian thinking has changed.

Unlike their European counterparts, American Christians made a conscious effort after World War II to rid themselves and their liturgy of anti-Semitism (skinheads aren't Christians) and give absolute support to Israel.

They comprise nearly 80 percent of the majority of American voters who consistently support Israel's multibillion dollar foreign aid allotment, as well as America's unfailing defense of Israel in the United Nations. They visit Israel in comparable percentages to Jews and seldom cancel their trips when there's trouble.

For some reason, this support makes many Jews so uncomfortable they've sought to delegitimize it. They accuse Christians of basing it on the Book of Revelations, hoping to convert the Jews or see them destroyed at Armageddon, which is nonsense. Revelations is as strange and undecipherable to most Christians as it is to Jews.

American Christians support Israel today because it's a holy land to them, too, and most have evolved a sincere respect for Jews, and especially Israelis, in their David vs. Goliath battle against the Muslims. Dismissing them as anti-Semites and fools is unfair, insensitive and beneath us as Jews and Americans

My girlfriend is a devout Christian who regularly prays for Israel, as do her fellow congregants at the Vineyard Church in Van Nuys (we're past child-bearing age and both my daughters from previous relationships are Jews). She attends Jewish functions with me, lights Shabbat candles and helps me serve seder dinners, and occasionally I've accompanied her to church and chatted with her Christian friends.

No one has ever tried to convert me or even hinted at it, and I've never heard Revelations discussed.

We of all people should avoid judging others on generations-old prejudices. Without American support, Israel might perish, and despite the gravitas of the Jewish community, our outsized political contributions and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in this majority-ruled nation, that support rests on the shoulders of 60 million dedicated Christians.

If they abandoned Israel, so would America, but rest assured, they won't. Why are Jews contemptuous and dismissive of them? We should be grateful.

Rueben Gordon
North Hollywood

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