Jewish Journal


June 21, 2011

Letters to the Editor: Domestic workers, extremism, the pro-Israel divide


We Can’t Afford the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, AB 889, is a good idea; unfortunately there is no money to fund it. The state [of California] is broke, and asking private citizens to fund this while exempting government programs is not equitable or right. Domestic workers primarily provide personal care services to the disabled and senior populations. These services are paid for by a variety of government programs. AB 889 was amended, before the bill passed out of the State Assembly, to exempt government programs from the provisions of AB 889. Programs like In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) and providers of services to the developmentally disabled population supported by the Department of Developmental Services will be exempt from AB 889. This would then leave those people who have just enough income not to qualify for government assistance to pay the increased cost of AB 889. It is for this reason that AARP has expressed opposition to this bill, as it would place an additional burden on seniors who need to pay for personal assistance in the home.

Jonathan Istrin
executive director
Alternative Home Care

The Real Danger Is Any Extremism

Dennis Prager believes that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything and therefore produce foolish or dangerous movements (“My Jewish Credo,” June 10).

Dennis, some would argue that a belief in God is also a belief in anything and can also produce foolish or dangerous ideas and results.

In antiquity, the refrain “In the name of our God” was often preceded by the sword and cannon, as believers felt entitled to inflict evil on those who did not believe in God or who did not believe in God exactly the same way they did.

And today, Arab religionists pose serious dangers not only to their own people but also to the peoples around them.

But one does not need to go too far astray to find such foolishness and dangers relating to religion. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a “true believer,” and to this day, Yigal Amir claims many supporters who admire what he did.

The danger doesn’t lie with those who believe in God or those who choose not believe in God; the problem lies in unbridled and unchecked extremism by any group or individual, be it extreme devotion to God; country; a company; yes, feminism; and even a family.

And instead of constantly berating, chastising, ridiculing and castigating as foolish those who choose not to believe in God, you might want to consider emphasizing instead what the wise sage Hillel once said: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go and learn …” 

Elliot Semmelman
Hungtington Beach

Eshman Is a Keeper

To the editor-in-chief: You’re no “bastard” (“The Pro-Israel Divide,” June 17). You do a great job of explaining your positions, and The Jewish Journal should not fire you as editor-in-chief. The problem is with your critics and their narrow “über-right” Israeli perspective, as if only they know what is best for Israel.

I’m a Zionist, and I passionately support the State of Israel. But I am sick and tired of publicly defending my right to express policy preferences for Israel that are different from the current prime minister’s.

What I want to do with other pro-Israel folks is to discuss what policies will be best for Israel’s continuing existence. But if some of them only want to talk about my right to hold a different opinion, then I am delegitimized and our discussion goes nowhere.

You and The Jewish Journal provide a public space for weekly discussion of issues in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Of course we Jews have our differences of opinion. Your paper treats all the advocates with respect. I say that’s an important part of what Judaism is supposed to be about.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
via e-mail

Since arriving as a rabbi in the Los Angeles area, I have gotten to know Rob Eshman through his brave, challenging, insightful and sharp commentaries that appear each week in his column. Eshman is not afraid to ask hard questions, to probe beyond surface, status quo assumptions, be they on intermarriage, homosexuality, union organizing, and of course, Israel. I, for one, am not part of the hundreds of Jews calling for his firing; in my opinion, he should get a raise!

When it comes to Israel, there is no question that the conversation here in America is deeply stifled. From the halls of Congress, where we saw an absolute lock-step ogling over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s very abrasive and uncompromising speech to the joint session and his disrespectful and agitating interactions with President Obama, to the streets of our city, where my friends David Pine of APN and Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR were drowned out by boos last year at a pro-Israel rally as they tried to articulate a position of peace, to the sanctuaries of our synagogues, where groups like J Street, with whom I proudly affiliate, are often not offered a platform to address congregations because the rabbi or board won’t permit it. 

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
National Advisory Board and Rabbinic Cabinet Member, J-Street

Web letters – 6/24/11

Domestic Workers Deserve Better

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s essay on domestic workers (“The Forgotten Population: Domestic Workers in Our Homes,” June 17) was the first article I have seen in The Jewish Journal that addresses important issues pertaining to the way Jewish families need to treat our employees. I showed it to Magda (not her real name), who comes to clean our house once a week. Magda barely finished high school in Mexico before coming to search for a better life in the U.S. For Magda, part of that better life means cleaning houses for a living, and most of her clients are Jewish families in the Pico-Robertson area.I   showed her Rav Shmuly’s article, and the headline caught her attention immediately. Magda doesn’t speak or read English well, and I gave her time as she slowly read the entire article quietly to herself in my kitchen. When she finished, she asked me for copies to bring to some of her friends to read. Thank you, Rav Shmuly, for starting this important conversation in our Jewish community.

Deborah Schmidt
via e-mail

Liberal Bias?

Dear Rob Eshman,

You simply don’t get it. Time and time again you have decided to take what the pro-Israel crowd are saying as a personal issue and have a terrible time accepting and understanding opinions that differ from your own, to paraphrase you.

So let me help. You are a nice and likable person, we have met before, so I can talk from personal knowledge.

Your problem, and that cuts across most of the [Jewish Journal], stems from believing you are mainstream and therefore center and neutral in the left-right divide. You are not.

Look at this issue of the JJ. for example. Excluding David Suissa, there is nothing that would be considered as centrist or right in the entire paper, and I read almost all of it. Even the letters to the editor were not balanced. In the news, I found a report on Klein Halevi’s lecture which I attended and, while stating only facts it found a way to concentrate on the ‘67 boarder issue and miss the main point of the lecture which is the delegitimization of Israel by the left and the press, among others. So this may not be statistically representing the paper, I challenge you to show that it is less than 70%-30% left-oriented.

Now let me explain what our gripe is about. The way the JJ and most mainstream media frame the Israel Palestinian issue is misleading and basically is an act of delegitimization. Israel and its actions are being displayed on the world stage and dissected in full view while the Palestinians are considered the victim. The Israeli-Arab 1,400-year-old conflict has become irrelevant for you, only Israel is the issue, and in that reference when we feel like the punching bag of the world, we refuse to hear opinions with only grievances against Israel.

When this sinks in and the JJ will provide a forum that will explore and discuss the full issues of the conflict, I am sure that much of the criticism against the JJ and you, Rob, will dissipate.

Your attitude to date reminds me of the impartial British treatment of the Jews and Arabs in the days of the British Mandate. When fights and gun battles broke out between Jews and Arabs (there were no Palestinians then) the British would intervene and confiscate what weapons they could find on the Jewish side, hand them over to the Arabs and leave. This is the kind of even-handedness that you have chosen to display by discussing what Israel does and provide by omission almost complete support to the Palestinian narrative. This is also done by all those pro-Israeli groups like Peace Now, J Street and the new Israeli fund. Did this sink in, just a bit maybe?

Ethan Teitler
via e-mail

Dear Rob,

I am a great fan of yours, and was very sorry to read your last editorial, but it did expose the bigotry of the conservative Jewish minority. When I retired, I chose to become more active in Jewish organizations. I am a bleeding-heart liberal who was attacked by rednecks, who would not tolerate my outspoken views, which led to my leaving the regional board and Speakers Bureau of the ADL, and my B’nai B’rith unit. I consider it their loss, and found other causes for my time and money. I wrote the following letter to the Jerusalem Report, which they may not print, but I believe relates to your situation:

The Jewish community in the U.S. is indeed split into 80% liberal and 20% conservative.  The liberals consider themselves American Jews, the others consider themselves Jewish Americans. This latter group is made up of a combination of the powerfully affluent and the ultra-Orthodox who want Israel to hold on to the West Bank, and be a Jewish republic rather than a true democracy. Equality for all Israeli residents, as proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is not on their agenda.

Martin J. Weisman
via e-mail

The Circumcision Issue

Why are some of the highest-achieving, healthiest, sexually adjusted and fulfilled, “cutting edge” boys, Jews by circumcision, now being advocated for by people who may not come up to these boys’ knees.

It’s a bit like the “protection” the Germans gave Jews by keeping intact the Torahs and other religious and cultural items in a Prague museum they perversely created during World War II.

Some outraged Jews are advocating civil disobedience, but it seems our first tactic is political and then to bring out our numerically strong second string, Jewish lawyers, who are eight times the national proportion in their field.

This issue leaves me truly perplexed as an American Jew.  Is this a non-normative, repressed, anti-Semitism squirting out from a mantle of edgy political correctness?  Why don’t they take on infant ear piercings?

Pini Herman,
president, Movable Minyan, a lay-lead independent minyan

Equal Time for Republicans, Democrats

I’m not a Republican, and I don’t mind Raphael Sonenshein’s columns that constantly bash the evil Republicans and pimp for the virtuous Democrats, but I do mind the lack of balance.  If The Jewish Journal is going to allow one side to propagandize, it’s only fair that the other side get an equal opportunity.  Hard as it may be for some to believe, Jews are not morally compelled to vote the straight Democratic ticket, nor is FDR a secular god before whom all decent Jews must prostrate themselves.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Reader Takes Issue With Grammar, Headlines

I generally do not read dailies, and your publication is the only weekly I read consistently. I enjoy it: It covers global, national and local issues; offers varying viewpoints; raises important questions. Still, I must remark on a couple of choices The Journal made in the cover story last week (“Kid Stuff? Hardly.” June 10). Clearly, adding a colon after “going to” should not be acceptable because it propagates a bad writing habit. Secondly, juxtaposed with the piece about Ms. Sapire, an element in the title of the bit about Mr. Hirsch — “Humble” — is loaded, insofar as “Out of Africa” is provocative with regard to her. In the spirit of promoting unity among a diverse readership, which should get pride from the remarkable stories of these individuals, I hope The Journal stays away from insinuations about college admission in future features celebrating exceptional graduates. 

Alex Melamed
Los Angeles

Rabbi Boteach, maybe your article, “Anthony Weiner and Healing The Broken American Male” article might have something to do with that in this country, men’s weiners are damaged at birth by the cutting off of 28,000 to 100,000 penile nerve endings and up to 1/2 of the penile skin, with the permanent removal of the protective component of penis (foreskin) permanently externalizing the delicate internal organ of the glans.

I love your debate with Hitchens and your love for babies, “a little embryo will be born with 19,000 taste buds in it’s mouth, some 12 trillion nerve endings will form in the baby’s nose to help it detect fragrances of odors in the air, more than 100 thousand nerve endings will be devoted to react to Beetoven’s symphony, a piano is is 240 strings but a baby’s ear will 240,000 hearing units, by the way, the million nerve endings of the optical nerves of the eye which connect to the brain is so vast that if mapped, the entire world’s telephone cable system would be only a small fraction of it. . .this vast complexity could never have come about spontaneously and those who believe it did, are guilty of cognitive dissonance—afraid of a truth so great—they are forced to deny it.”

If you care about a divine plan concerning babies’ other sets of nerve endings don’t you also care about the divine plan for a baby’s nerve-laden foreskin and frenulum which contain 28,000 to 100,000 highly specialized nerve endings?

Do you deny these nerves exist or that they are the right of the baby’s to keep? Did G-d make a mistake with those baby nerve endings but not with the other baby nerve endings? Would you be so willing to carve out your baby’s optical nerves or auditory nerves as unapologetically as you carve out your precious baby’s penile nerves?

No of course not.

Every intactivist I know including myself are both pro-Israeal AND pro-baby-nerve-preservation—you are going to have to reconcile the two for yourself because they are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are synonymous with preservation of what is right and good.

Standing up for a baby’s right to all their nerves is not anti-semitic—one isolated fringe comic book cannot and does not represent the idea of the human right to bodily integrity nor does one stupid comic book mean antisemitism is taking over—that notion is a red herring to distract from the issue that baby nerves are being severed from their bodies without their consent—and for over a million babies per year in America without any valid medical reason and without any religious reason at all.

The foremost intactivists in the movement are themselves, mothers, fathers, regular people who are neighther anti-semitic nor sexually repressed, and also many are famous Jewish doctors and scholars: Dr. Dean Edell, Dr. Leonard Glick, Mark Reiss, M.D., Paul M. Fleiss, M.D., Richard Lieberman, M.D., Ronald Goldman, Ph.D, and www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org and Rebecca Wald from www.beyondthebris.com.

Circumcision is baby-nerve-reduction-surgery, plain and simple, are you really ok with reducing a precious baby’s nerves from his nervous system? If, as you claim, G-d doesn’t make mistakes then isn’t the foreskin not a birth defect, not an extra part, and in fact, part of a divine plan? . .“such vast complexity could never have come about spontaneously, those who believe it did are guilty of cognitive dissonance, afraid of a truth so great they are forced to deny it.”

Rabbi, respectfully, if you argue the perfection of G-d’s creation then argue in favor of cutting off parts of this “perfection,” are you yourself, not guilty of cognitive dissonance? [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnMYL8sF7bQ (34:25)] Finally, this argument is not a religious one, it is a nerve one, AND it hits on many nerves because the issue deals with sex, religion, politics, and parenting. While at the same time denying a man of his right to all the nerves G-d created him to have and that he was born with, Judaism stands for repairing the world, how do you reconcile this dichotomy Rabbi?

Are you for nerve removal from babies or are you for preservation of G-d’s creation? This is not a religious debate because we are completely aligned our belief that G-d’s creation is perfect. . .this debate is about a baby’s right to his own G-d-given nerves. Jews are an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, and principled people and have earned a disproportionate number of Nobel prizes to prove it. It is no doubt that Jews and others who are holding onto the tradition of circumcision can understand why some of their fellow Jews and others are protecting their own children and babies from genital cutting and de-nerving.

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