February 3, 2005
Letters to the Editor
As a teacher at Shalhevet, I was disturbed and saddened by Julie Gruenbaum Fax's article on Shalhevet in the previous issue of The Jewish Journal. I found the piece to be untruthful in much that it did say and unbalanced in terms of what it left out. Ms. Fax summarized the comments of parents who report that " the school was run so sloppily at every level that disorganization and flakiness dominated the operations and even some academic aspects of the school." Was that the impression of the author as she sat in Town Hall where an entire school community meets on a weekly basis to discuss a prepared agenda formed by an agenda committee consisting of students, teachers and administrators? Does that sound like sloppy organization? Does she know of the beautifully run advisory program in which students meet on a weekly basis with a faculty advisor who is in turn in regular contact with the teachers and parent of that student to ensure that each and every student gets what they need and that no student "fall through the cracks" as they do in so many schools? As a teacher, I wrote over 100 detailed notes to advisors over the last two weeks. And, as an advisor I am now reviewing the notes sent to me by my advisees teachers to prepare a clear picture of my students' progress for their parents. All of this accomplished with deadlines overwhelmingly met and on time. Does that sound disorganized? I am involved in a virtual whirl of faculty and departmental meetings with clear agenda to keep faculty and administration working together and developing as teachers and administrators. Again, does that sound disorganized?
How about a school day that includes a full range of Judaic studies at all levels: a college-preparatory general studies program complete with the full complement of A.P. classes, drama, sports and about a dozen independent student run committees and clubs? It's a very full day and it's a lot to juggle but I think we pull it off with a remarkable degree of order and organization. From the trenches, I can tell you that the academics at Shalhevet are not marred by anything like "flakiness." We work extraordinarily hard on our teaching and on our programming to provide students with a very rich experience. Our kids love the school. Anyone who knows us, knows that. They thrive. As any educator will tell you, kids don't thrive in a free-for-all. They thrive at Shalhevet because it provides them with a warm and caring, and yes, structured and secure atmosphere that's designed to meet every child where they are at and help them grow.
It's true enough that Shalhevet is undergoing some administrative restructuring as Dr. Friedman frees himself up from some of the financial responsibilities of the school. There is a new and active parents' board. I suppose Dr. Friedman is a colorful and interesting character in addition to being the consummate "man with a mission" but that whole treatment in the article seemed sensationalistic and unnecessary. What Ms. Fax does not note is that the upper levels of administration and the boards are not shrouded in mystery as they are in so many Jewish institutions. In fact, they are an "open book." Dr. Friedman's door is literally always open. She could speak frankly to everyone and anyone in the administration and get real answers. This article demonstrates the risk of that kind of transparency. I would encourage readers to also see the courage behind that risk.
That hint of sensationalism slid into the realm of Loshon Hara. The comments about Dr. Friedman's' purported "abrasive" personality were unnecessary. More troubling was the repetition of the comments attributed to a teacher in another school about the supposed promiscuity of Shalhevet girls. I stood in the halls of Shalhevet as girls read the story and were hurt and shocked. That someone ever made such a comment, shame on them. That anyone ever repeated it, shame on them. That you would allow that into print, shame on you. As Jews of many different stripes I think we can agree on the universality of the moral prohibition on Loshon hara and the importance of maintaining some communal standard on the ways that we talk about each other. To make matters worse, in this case you are talking about children! Repeating such a comment is both insensitive and ultimately immoral. Our "Jewish Journal" can and must live up to higher standards.
I was especially pained by the comment that Shalhevet "was the only school with a mission we believed in, but the problems overwhelmed the mission." It is not what I see at all. On the contrary, I see faculty and administration constantly striving toward the achievement of the mission. Again, its a lot to juggle. It's a complex mission to create halachically committed yet tolerant modern Orthodox Zionist Jews who excel in Jewish learning and secular learning, who are socially responsible moral thinkers and decision-makers. As faculty and administrators (and to some extent students too), our days are filled with constant discussion and sometimes debate as to how to pull all that off. That too is part of the mission, to learn how to have big ideas and big ideals and put them into practice. The life of the school rests in the sometimes difficult process of refining and achieving a vision. One of our students, Leor Hackel said in the article "Certainly it's not perfect and lots of kooky things go on in the school, but it really is a vibrant community where a lot of wonderful things happen." Imperfection and a degree of occasional disjunction (even "kookiness") are the very hallmarks of vibrancy, life, change and growth. Kooky things happen around folks with big missions. G-d chose a little band of expatriate Mesopatamians from the backwaters of the ancient near-east to be a light to the nations. You know the rest of the story.
Lee A. Weissman
Jewish community leaders are fierce in immediately denouncing even a hint of anti-Semitism, urging abandonment and renunciation of political or religious leaders who make even the slightest negative comment about Jews, Judaism or Israeli policies ("Bus No. 19 Makes Controversial Stop," Jan. 28).
Our leaders can't help but lose credibility when they then ally themselves with organizations such as the Jerusalem Connection, a group known to vilify Islam and facilely dismiss criticism of the alliance, because of the greater need to fight terrorism and suicide bombers.
Our people have been blessed to live and thrive in the United States. It would behoove us to be considerate of our neighbors here and not ally ourselves with those who publicly insult another faith, and it is certainly a disservice to Israel, situated in a region surrounded by millions of Muslims, to have American Jewish leaders condone and ally themselves with those who vilify Islam.
Millions of Jews have been murdered throughout the ages because of anti-Semitic beliefs, so we should well understand and appreciate the consequences of stereotypical thinking. And since our earliest beginnings as a people, we have been admonished not to bear false witness.
Let us not support those who bear false witness against Islam. We know that innocent lives could be lost.
We read your Jan. 21 story about reconstructive surgery with great interest ("Making the Cut"). However, we find the choice of wording on that week's cover to be inappropriate. It is improper to draw a parallel with the Reconstructionist movement and plastic surgery.
The real Reconstructionist movement promotes a progressive, vibrant Judaism. We find Judaism to be the entire cultural legacy of the Jewish people.
Reconstructionist Jews precisely seek to engage with Judaism's depth vs. its surface characteristics. Today, with more than 100 affiliated congregations and havurot, the Reconstructionist movement is a growing, dynamic presence in all corners of North America.
In the future, we urge you to choose more tasteful and thoughtful ways to promote your stories.
Carl A. Sheingold
I am writing to correct contributing writer David Finnigan's misinterpretation of "88" in "Two Teens Arrested in Vandalizing of Menorah" (Jan. 7).
I've spent many years collecting information on neo-Nazi skinheads and trying to purge them from the Central Coast (of California) punk rock scene. "Eighty-eight" is actually a reference to "The Eighty-Eight Precepts" penned by white supremacist David Lane. Though the precepts are really nothing more than weak apologetics and cheap slogans, they are regarded by most neo-Nazi skinheads as a definitive manifesto and considered as authoritative as "Mein Kampf" and Ragnar Redbeard's "Might Is Right."
The term "88" is often accompanied with "14" in "14/88." "Fourteen" represents the 14 words ascribed to Lane: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children." This is the cardinal slogan of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement.
I must implore your readers not to judge the entire skinhead youth culture harshly because of these ignorant neo-Nazi pretenders. While they might dominate the skinhead scene, thanks to the sensational press they get, they do not represent the core philosophy of skinhead at its inception: solidarity of working-class nationals, regardless of race or religion. Some of the first English skinheads were, in fact, black, and there are plenty of non-white skinheads today – even observant Jews like myself!
The skinheads that are adhering to that aforementioned core philosophy (called the spirit of '69) fall into two camps: the conservative Traditionals, or Trads for short, and the more liberal SHARPs or Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.
Rejecting the nationalistic aspects of the spirit of '69 but staunchly anti-racist are the Red and Anarchist skinheads or RASHs. Neo-Nazis live by their precepts not by the cooperative spirit. They are fundamentally un-skinhead. I'd like to thank David Finnigan for not confusing neo-Nazis with skins in his article.
Name withheld by request
Burden of Incest
I want to thank The Jewish Journal for publishing the article "Shouldering the Burden of Incest" (Jan. 28). It is an extremely important article, and one that I know will help other incest survivors who have to deal with the same issues as the journalist who wrote the article.
Please let the author know how much The Awareness Center honors, respects and thanks him/her for giving the courage for being open and honest about her experiences.
This article allows other survivors out there to know they are not alone, and that there are people out there who have had similar experiences, care and want to do something to help.
Rabbi Haim Ovadia tells of his father's perilous flight from Iraq and how he was saved from being arrested through an unusual coincidence ("Divine Protection," Jan. 14). The rabbi implicitly agrees with his father who attributed his rescue to Divine protection.
Interestingly, my father had a somewhat similar experience when he was fleeing the new Soviet Russia in 1920. He was arrested and placed into a jail room with 20 other young men. After a while, the soldiers started taking the young men out, one by one, forcing them to face a firing squad and killing them.
Like Ovadia's father, mine was also saved through an unusual coincidence (a dramatic story, which I have told elsewhere). But I find it difficult to look upon it as Divine protection, because what of the 20 other young men who were slaughtered?