June 2, 2005
Letters to the Editor
Jewish Festivals of Yore
Rob Eshman does not have to apologize for sounding like a cranky old-timer in his lament about the Jewish festivals of yore ("A Bigger Sunday," May 27). Much has changed since I participated in the Rancho Park festivities with my children. If attendance at the Woodley Park festival was 90 percent Israeli, many in Los Angeles must share the belief that Israel today may not represent the Diaspora view of Jewish values or Judaism itself.
The actions of the Israeli state suggest a people marching to a different drummer than the communal spectrum of the '70s and '80s that gathered at Rancho Park.
Many thanks for the nice mention of Big Sunday in your recent editorial.
Big Sunday is a volunteer day whose mission is to bring diverse people together from all walks of life, all over the city. As such, finding a date that is convenient for everyone is like walking a minefield. Big Sunday is always on a Sunday in the spring, and once you eliminate Passover, Easter, school breaks and Mother's Day, the pickings are slim. One year we finally found a date, only to discover it was Greek Orthodox Easter. (Who knew?) This year we overlapped not only with the Israeli Festival, but with the NoHo Arts Fair, as well – and we happily sent volunteers to help out at both.
At Big Sunday our goal is to celebrate inclusiveness. Please tell your readers that any or all of them (and their congregations, schools, clubs and offices) are welcome to join us next May 7 for Big Sunday 2006.
David T. Levinson
As one of those cranky old-timers, I read, with nostalgia and great sadness, your description of the present-day festival. I'm afraid that the community of the '70s and '80s may be irretrievably gone. The Solidarity Walk of yore was organized and operated by The Federation as a communitywide event – not Israeli, Russian, Sephardic or any other single group – nor did we secularize it with "Mitzvah" programs on that day. We had and have other days for those programs.
It was truly an inclusive Jewish community day, demonstrating our solidarity with Israel and as a Jewish people. Organizationally, the only competition among ourselves was to vie for the honor of having more people participate, be they from the country clubs, the Jewish day schools, or from each and every synagogue in the city. The 30,000-50,000 people who participated – whether walking the 18 km, organizing the event, singing or dancing in the park 'til dusk, working the booths – all felt a sense of the total community that unfortunately doesn't prevail today.
You raised an issue that is, I believe, a sad manifestation of what our community has and is evolving to. Your plaintive hope that the future generations will somehow change this situation is, I feel, misplaced.
I feel the loss that you have articulated. Somehow, that sense of community must be recaptured. It does not exist today. What should we be doing about it and whose responsibility should it be to act? It won't happen by a laissez-faire approach, and that seems to be the present status quo.
I cannot speak for all Reform Jews, but I love the feeling of pluralism ("Reform's Reforms," May 20). If congregants choose to worship with us garbed in head-to-toe tallit, wearing tefillin and are comfortable sitting next to me with my bare, bald head, and having a young woman in a mini-skirt on the other side, they are more than welcome. Our temple, in the Conejo Valley, had a beautiful standing-room-only community prayer service after Sept. 11. Clergy and local residents representing every race, color and creed, sang, hugged and wept together. I have no problem if fellow congregants, or our rabbis, choose to become more halachic as long as there is no impact on my personal Jewish lifestyle or beliefs. That's the beauty of Reform Judaism.
Martin J. Weisman
Thank you for the wonderful article highlighting how far the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR) has come in just a few short years ("Student Rabbis, Cantors Take Next Step," May 20). The article and accompanying photo do, however, merit a clarification and correction. In addition to the nontraditional roles noted, our graduates are also becoming congregational clergy. Indeed, of our 2005 ordinees, five out of seven will be serving in synagogues, in California as well as Arizona and Iowa. In addition, five of our eight past ordinees are also serving as congregational rabbis and cantors. Finally, the accompanying picture stated that it was of the "AJR rabbinical ordinees." In fact, Paul Buch and Phillip Baron are being ordained as cantors.
Everyone associated with AJR has worked very hard to make the accomplishments noted in the article possible and we appreciate The Journal's recognition of those efforts.
Rabbi Stan Levy
Perhaps Micha Odenheimer of Ha'aretz has an excuse, but your editors have none. The principal architect and driving force behind the Pittsburgh Statement is our own community's Rabbi Richard Levy, then president of the [Central Conference of American Rabbis]. That was itself a tribute to his stature within the movement as he was then neither a congregational rabbi nor a full-time teaching one, but instead the long-time executive director of the Los Angeles Hillel Council. He is a major influence on the movement's return to tradition, not to mention author/editor of several of its prayer books, which reintroduced Hebrew to the liturgy. Your failure to acknowledge Levy's contributions in print is unforgivable.
Immanuel I. Spira
Yip Is a Yid
Whatever her credentials may be, Jacqueline Bassan, author of the letter on May 27 denying Yip Harburg's Jewishness, is simply wrong. Yip Harburg was born Isadore (or Isidore) Hochberg in New York City (Letters, May 27). His work is repeatedly referenced in "Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish: How Yiddish Songs and Synagogue Melodies Influenced Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood" by Jack Gottlieb (State University of New York Press, 2004).
Eric A. Gordon
Given his passionate and quintessentially Jewish concern for the underclass, not to mention his literary genius, I confess I would have been crestfallen to read that E.Y. "Yip" Harburg was of some other persuasion, had I not known better. In fact, he was a product of both Russian Jewish immigrants and the Lower East Side. I'm quite sure the Christian lyricist the writer had in mind was Johnny Mercer, one of the very few non-Jewish songwriting giants of that era.
Lost Parking, Lost Temper
On my return to my car after attending the Israel Independence Day celebration in Woodley Park, I could not help but notice on the other side of the street a young man wearing a kippah in his early 30s arguing with another young man of similar age about a parking spot ("L.A.'s Big Sunday," May 20).
He was so enraged, this young man wearing the kippah, he couldn't let it go. Soon some people passing by saw what was going on and tried to extricate the two men from a soon-to-be fist fight or worse. The young man wearing the kippah had left his young wife with a baby in tow and kept going back and forth to the man that aced him out of a parking spot. The anger was so evident you couldn't help but notice. I feel sorry for this observant young man; he obviously had a problem that it ticked him off so bad. I'm sure this is what the media calls "road rage." But still, how can you ruin a lovely Sunday afternoon for yourself and your little family all over a lost parking spot? How will we ever achieve peace in the Middle East if young men here fight over a parking spot on Israel's Independence Day?!
Platform for Extremist
Why are Jews so self-destructive? In response to an ad in The Jewish Journal, I attended a forum run by UCLA Center for Jewish Studies on May 22 ("Is Israel Jewish, Democratic, and Western? And What Should It Be?" May 20).
One of the three speakers was Israeli Arab Nadim Rouhana, who rejects Israel's right to exist. That he's not tried for treason is proof that Israel is indeed "liberal, democratic and western." The question I have for the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies is why provide a platform to this extremist so he can reach impressionable students and Jewish Angelinos? Surely there are other Israeli Arabs with whom a rational dialog is possible. Why buy the bullets for someone who wants to kill you?
Harriet P. Epstein
Stand With Sudan Refugees
Almost four years ago, Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, and I brought out Francis Bok, a Sudanese slave who escaped after 10 years of being held in captivity to speak in Los Angeles prior to Pesach 2002 ("We Must Work to Free Today's Slaves," April 9).
We made calls not only to synagogues and Jewish schools, but to many African American Churches to hear the horrific account of what happened to him as a 7 year old when he lost his entire family and became a slave for the next 10 years. His account of violence and slavery was not unusual and continues to happen to his people, the Dinka tribe, and the people of Darfur.
Four years ago, we were sadly met with a strange sense of indifference by the First AME Church where the Pastor Cecil Murray asked us, "Why should blacks in America care about slaves in Africa when we are still slaves here?" Although Murray did have Bok tell his story at the First AME, only about 150 of more than 400 members were interested enough to show up and listen.
To their credit, Francis was welcomed at UCLA, B'nai David, Beth Am and Stephen S. Wise to tell his tragic story. The most touching and heartwarming event was when Bok spoke to the Stephen S. Wise eighth-grade classes, which had been studying and doing a project on Sudan over the year. They welcomed him as if he was a rock star! This class had more knowledge of what was going on than their adult counterparts, and the Stephan S. Wise administration is to be congratulated for that.
Every year after that, Roz and I tried to again bring this issue to the Jews in Los Angels and were met with very little interest. More than 2 million human beings have died, and we are happy to see Los Angeles waking up. We need to show support and hope that this urgent message is brought to the attention of thousands if not millions of Jews. Jews can certainly identify with slavery and genocide and should play an active role in helping to stop this horrific atrocity. It is never too late to step up to the plate.
Allyson Rowen Taylor
Throw Book at Quran Flushers
Rob Eshman's article makes good sense in reporting on religious stories; writer treat them sensitively ("Articles of Faith," May 20).
I take exception to his questioning Newsweek's story on the flushing of the Quran. They do indicate it was done by American interrogators. They are the guilty parties and need be tried by a military court.
Another Jewish D.C. Museum
Most visitors to Washington, D.C., are aware of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ("Learn to Remember," April 29). Yet for Jewish visitors there is a little-known museum that should also be seen: the National Museum of American Jewish Military History at 1811 R St. N.W. (free admission). Exhibits include a section on Jewish military involvement in the liberation of the concentration camps and a section on Jewish women in the military.
Phyllis Zimbler Miller