Jewish Journal


February 10, 2005

Letters to the Editor


Dear Rob Eshman & the Jewish Journal,

I am an involved member of the Temple Beth Am Library Minyan, graduate of Pressman Academy, senior at Shalhevet High and chair of the Israel Action Committee at my school. The article that Mrs.Greunbam Fax wrote and published about Shalhevet personally offended me. Shalhevet is a wonderful institution that teaches Jewish youth religiosity, Zionism, morality, and good citizenship. Our close-knit community allows for bonding and growth. Our strong academics yield bright students with outstanding college acceptance records. Most importantly, our devotion to the small Jewish community we see at Shalhevet on a daily basis and the larger Jewish community we feel worldwide inspire us to do great things.

One of those great things currently being taken upon by students is the organization and execution of a community-wide Israeli street fair aimed to raise money for Israeli Terror Victims and soldiers. Our three-year-old Israel Action Committee, which is led by seniors Eliya Shachar and Zach Cutler (myself), has had success in the past with a large community fair and hopes to be just as successful this year. We are securing vendors (such as Muzikal store and Brenco Judaica), restaurants (such as Nathan's and Jeffs Gourmet), musicians, and organizations (such as StandWithUs) to be a part in our event. The idea is to create an Israeli –like atmosphere in which Jews from all over the community can come to eat, listen to live Israeli music, and buy products; all of our proceeds will then go to Israeli charities (i.e. OneFamily Foundation, A Package From Home, and the North American Conference of Ethiopian Jewry).

This is the beauty of Shalhevet that the article failed to portray. As a concerned Israel Action Committee chair, Shalhevet student, and ultimately community member, I would like to ask you to please cover this event in the Jewish Journal so that people can understand what the amazing Jewish institution called Shalhevet is really about, and so that as many people as possible can come to and support this enormous, unprecedented teenage effort to raise both funds and awareness for Israel. Whether this letter itself is published, an interview with me is conducted and then printed, or simply a small story explaining this fair-y tale event appears in an issue, please help us help Israel and heal the wounds that were created with the printing of Mrs. Gruenbam Fax's article.

Please feel free to contact me any time. My number is 310-228-7939 and my email is apeopleguy@aol.com apeopleguy@aol.com. I hope to hear from you soon.


Zach Cutler

Dear 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

Drug Problem

In regard to the recent drug events involving American students in yeshivah in Israel ("Drugs? NIMBY," Jan.28; "Encino Boy Overdoses in Israeli Yeshiva," Jan. 28), I'm writing to let people know the seriousness of the drug problem in the Jewish community.

I should know. I am a recovering drug addict who grew up in the Modern Orthodox community here in Los Angeles.

I went through rehabilitation programs with observant Jews, nonobservant, Chassidim, rabbis, doctors and teachers. It is time for our community to open its eyes.

Our communities, especially the observant ones, want to hide their eyes from all that is happening and don't want to admit there is a problem. They are ashamed and full of fear. They are also worried about how they will look. This is only one of many things they hide from.

We shouldn't have to be ashamed of being recovering addicts, not keeping Shabbat, getting a divorce, etc. How have we come to this point? We have created it ourselves. We are no more immune than anyone else. These problems are blind to color, race, religion, age or community status.

There are those in the community who are appalled by these recent events and speak badly of the kids and the schools they attend. These are the same people who could care less for us when we were growing up and falling through the cracks.

I tell you to take a closer look at yourself. Before you start pointing fingers and creating conflict, you need to open your hearts, eyes and mind.

Speaking from personal experience, we need to stop acting out of fear and start acting out of love. If it was one of your own children, would you not do everything you could to help them? I would.

David (last name withheld upon request)
Los Angeles

Bus No. 19

Since the publication of the article, "Bus No. 19 Makes Controversial Stop," in the Jan. 28 issue of The Jewish Journal, concerning the exhibition of Bus. No 19 calling attention to the horrible price Israel has paid in victims of terror, The Jewish Federation has received a number of calls questioning why it had chosen not to be a sponsor of the event.

While recognizing the dreadful human toll in Israel, The Los Angeles Federation's reason for not joining as a sponsor was a reflection of its inability to become involved in every community program, rather than any political or ideological statement, as inferred in the article.

John R. Fishel
The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles

I take issue with how Rabbi Abraham Cooper used the metaphor of a sinking boat to explain why making coalitions in support of Israel with groups one disagrees with on significant issues is necessary during a crisis ("Bus No. 19 Making Controversial Stop," Jan. 28).

In this instance, Cooper is welcoming Jerusalem Connection International, a U.S.-based evangelical Christian organization whose leader proclaims that Sharon's plan for disengagement is not in accord with the Bible, and Jews must forever remain in control of the Gaza Strip, lest they abrogate their biblical covenant.

This faith-driven perspective is contrary to the Israeli government's plan to disengage from Gaza (and parts of the West Bank) this year, a plan backed by the majority of Israelis who are in essence proclaiming that the "hole in the boat" is continuing the military occupation and settlements of Gaza. The disengagement plan is an Israeli initiative to bring Israel closer to fulfilling the Zionist dream of a secure, Jewish and democratic state. All who want to come aboard that boat will be welcomed.

Luis Lainer
National Chairman
Americans for Peace Now

Freeing Prisoners

You reported that Israel will soon release 900 Palestinian Arab prisoners after demands were made by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ("Palestinian Prisoners Freed," Dec. 31). If Abbas were sincerely committed to peace with Israel, he would not wish to see these prisoners released, because those involved with terrorism, directly or indirectly, could return to their illicit actions and cause harm to serious peace negotiations.

In fact, Abbas should be putting more individuals in prison by capturing, arresting and convicting those involved in terrorism. But not only does Abbas demand release of these prisoners, he refuses to go after terrorists, regularly stating that "I will not use guns against my own Palestinian citizens."

But isn't that what every police force in the world does? They use guns against their own citizens who are criminals or killers. Until Abbas finally fulfills the Oslo promises of 11 years ago and the "road map" promises of two years ago by dismantling and disarming the terrorist groups, arresting the terrorists, closing the bomb factories and ending the incitement in the media, schools and mosques, peace will remain elusive.

We should heed Winston Churchill's words: "Those who appease the crocodile will be eaten last.

Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America

How Many?

As I was reading about Dan Attinger, the young Israeli conductor of "Aida" ("'Aida's' Not So Tragic for Israeli Maestro,' Jan. 28), about him being a son of Holocaust survivors, I could not stop thinking, "Oh my God, oh my God, how many Dan Attingers were slaughtered by the Nazis?"

How many scientists and composers and artists of all arts, how many professors and educators and philosophers and poets were cut down for the crime of being Jewish?

And at the end of the day, Germany needs to import this Jewish talent to enrich its pathetic thin air, the air that lost its oxygen when the Jewish talent was lost in the gas chambers. This is not an easy world to live in.

Batya Dagan
Los Angeles

Shabbat on Slopes

I found your article in The Journal on Shabbat services at Deer Valley condescending, silly and ill informed ("Shabbat on Slopes Takes Wrong Turn," Feb. 4). The author himself acknowledges that the link between nature and spiritual sentiments, yet somehow he finds something wrong with Jewish skiers taking some time out from their ski runs to attend tefillot.

I actually think it's a beautiful sign of acting on Jewish spiritual sentiments, even in an unlikely setting.

As for Levinson's complaint that the services at 3 p.m. were "not even on Shabbat," he simply shows his ignorance of Jewish law. In fact, it is always permissible to begin Shabbat and pray kabbalat before Friday night candle-lighting time.

I would venture to guess that during ski season in Utah, candle-lighting time is no later than 5 p.m. So holding services two hours earlier for the convenience of the congregation is simply not a halachic issue.

In fact, during the summer months, when candle-lighting time can be later than 8 p.m., it is common practice in Orthodox congregations to hold a kabbalat service and usher in the Sabbath at 6 p.m., a good two hours before Levinson would think Shabbat begins.

The reason for the early beginning of Shabbat: pure convenience. It is an accommodation for those congregants, particularly those with young children, that don't want to have their Shabbat dinner as late as 9 p.m., when people return from Shabbat services held at what the author thinks is the only appropriate time.

At the end of the article, Levinson gives his real objection. The service on the slopes is too "tacky" for him. Apparently, a short time out for some Jewish skiers to acknowledge the Shabbat is more tacky than blithely continuing to ski or heading off to an après ski cocktail.

I strongly disagree. And as for tacky, I suggest he peruse the back cover of The Jewish Journal and some of the ads for various Passover locales.

Not that I really care, but what does Levinson think of Jews that choose to spend thousands of dollars to celebrate the liberation from Egypt by having their seder at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico or Italy or Hawaii, etc., instead of at home or in Israel?

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

Birthright Israel

I think Shawn Landres and the Birthright Israel Alumni Association are missing the point of the article by Gaby Wenig ("Do ISM Activists Exploit Birthright?" Jan. 21). They are failing to see the potential danger by the ISM advocating the use of Birthright to perform anti-Israel activities.

This concern is not about how many have already abused the system, but how many more will potentially abuse the system and the potential danger this presents. I have attended and gone to training courses on not only how to get into the PA territories via Birthright, but how to convince the students on the bus that the lies they hear by "Zionists" are not the true history, and they are now using these tactics to recruit members -- who innocently went to Israel for the glorious experience -- to go into the PA territories to "help dismantle the apartheid wall."

This article was a wake-up call to Birthright and has nothing to do with right or left issues. There is a potential danger to the integrity of the program if we allow such members and programs to go unchecked.

If this article and my experiences at Rutgers and Duke by International Solidarity Movement/ Palestine Solidarity Movement members who are conducting courses in how to lie from the Birthright application to entering Israel at Ben Gurion are considered inflammatory, then we become part of the problem and not the solution.

Allyson Taylor
Western Region Associate Director
American Jewish Congress


There is a lot to do about the "Champion of Democracy," Anatoly/Natan Sharansky, who set down his noble ideas in a book read and admired by Bush himself.

But when Israel's Attorney General Menny Mazuz recently prevented a very undemocratic thing from happening, the same Sharansky protested a lot. Mazuz didn't agree to the taking from the cupboard of the most dark law in Israel's history, the "absentee property law applied to absentee presentees."

Thus he overturned a secret ministerial decision to embark on mass theft of East Jerusalem lands. And, indeed, Sharansky had been one of the ministers on the committee.

But one would expect of a man of Sharansky's stature that if he already lowered himself by participating in a dirty decision, he would at least have bowed his head in shame after the attorney general spoke.

Beate Zilversmidt
Holon, Israel

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