Jewish Journal


May 17, 2011

Letters to the Editor: Israel Festival, Etta Israel, Dominique Strauss-Kahn


Israel Independence Day Fest Is Loved, Missed by Many

I was very moved and touched by Rob Eshman’s editorial last week (“I Miss Us,” May 13). I was born and raised in Los Angeles and, other than my years in Israel or New York, I spent every single Yom HaAtzmaut at a community Israel festival. Whether it was the 18K Walk for Life we had throughout the ’70s, culminating in a festival in Rancho Park, or Pan Pacific Park, or, more recently, Woodley Park, the festival is something that is a built-in part of my community identity as a Jew. I, too, loved to complain about the food, and I was always most anxious to go around to each booth and strike up a debate on an issue. I remember going to the JDL booth, and then to the Peace Now booth, and would love playing the “other side,” because the whole day felt like a living page of talmudic debates.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Director, Sephardic Educational Center

Rob Eshman is right — the absence of the festival is a great loss to the greater L.A. Jewish community and a reflection of a fracturing of our communal leadership. The Federation, the Israel Leadership Council and Yoram Gutman will, hopefully, get their act together (and maybe reach out to some other potential supporters) so we can gather at Woodley or some other appropriate venue next year. It’s a bit of a shandah that Irvine and Santa Barbara can put on impressive Yom HaAtzmaut parties while L.A. drops the ball.

Rabbi Gil Kollin
via e-mail

Sad about the festival at Woodley Park — so come up to Santa Barbara’s Oak Park and celebrate with us!

Judy Mannaberg-Goldman
Santa Barbara

For more on the Israel Independence Day Festival cancellation, click here.

Etta Israel Faces Financial Challenges

The article you published regarding Etta Israel group homes and what an important addition they are to the Jewish mosaic that is Los Angeles was so appreciated by all of us who are involved with this important organization (“Etta Israel Expands Programs,” April 22).

Although the article implied that we are expanding and growing, the sad fact is that the expense of caring for 18 adults with differing mental challenges is expensive. Monies from the State of California have been reduced every year since 2008 while contributions from concerned members of the Jewish community continue to go down. Even though we have a fourth home donated, we lack the funds to open it. We are struggling to keep the homes we have as we brace for another round of funding cutbacks from the state.

Etta Israel’s residents come from Orthodox, Chasidic, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated homes — they are a microcosm of klal Yisra’el [“oneness of Israel”]. I know of no other organization that serves all members of the Jewish community under one roof, figuratively and actually.

Tikkum olam, “repairing the world,” begins at home with our most vulnerable members. Our special-needs Jewish community members need help from all California Jews. All contributions are needed. If every person who reads this article could give just $18, we could continue our present homes and open the fourth.

Tikkum olam begins with one small action. I pray your readers recognize the need and contribute generously to Etta Israel group homes so we can grow and provide more homes for our most vulnerable citizens.

David Mayer
Board member, Etta Israel

Partnership Helps Further Day-School Project Goals

With interest and appreciation I read the Journal article reporting on progress toward a “first phase” day school endowment goal of $100 million and highlighting the role of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education in this initiative (“Tuition Grants, Endowments to Benefit Day Schools,” May 13). 

Any communal project of such magnitude cannot be achieved without the partnership and collaboration of many people who share a vision and work to realize it. The Jewish Federation shared in setting the $100 million initial endowment goal and has provided annual support toward funding BJE’s work to strengthen day schools. In addition, PEJE: Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education is playing a major role in the Leadership and Fundraising Academy, referenced in the Journal article as well as in the “Generations” endowment project.

It is through partnership with such institutions and with individual donors that important communal goals can be realized, and BJE is deeply appreciative of the contributions of each of its program and funding partners. Many thanks to Julie Gruenbaum Fax and The Jewish Journal for covering an important milestone in communal progress toward day school endowment development.

Gil Graff
Executive director, BJE: Builders of Jewish Education

Jews and Sexual Assault

Rob Eshman’s casually analytical blog on whether it matters that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is Jewish is a borderline apologetic comment on a gravely serious allegation, in particular coming as it does on the heels of the conviction for rape and sexual assault of Moshe Katsav, the former president of Israel (“Dominique Strauss-Kahn Is Jewish. So?,” Bloggish, May 15). Strauss-Kahn is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence, but both cases point to a base and brutal imposition of power and position.

Hopefully, as Jews, we are more than “embarrassed or appalled” at these circumstances, and, hopefully, this is seen as something more than a run-of-the-mill “scandal.” If we are mandated to be “a light unto the nations,” certainly it has to begin with behavior that is morally aboveboard. Yes, Jews are human and we have our criminals; we even kvell over our beloved gangsters – Lansky, Siegel, Cohen – but while any one of us might know someone who cheats on his taxes, doesn’t keep his rental property up to code or over-bills Medicare, it’s God-willing precious few of us who keep company with rapists.

This has nothing to do with what neo-Nazis or radical Islamists think. It has everything to do with how we think of ourselves, and if we’re not prepared to denounce this behavior in the strongest possible terms, we put our very birthright at risk.

Mitch Paradise
Los Angeles

More Than Apologies Are in Order

The Brooklyn-based Der Zeitung owes more than apologies to the White House for its “digital removal” of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from the situation room photo of U.S. officials watching the raid on bin Laden (”Chasidic Paper Apologizes for Cutting Hillary Clinton From Photo,” May 13). Such revisionist media manipulation requires apologies to the two women. The editorial staff of Der Zeitung would do well to offer apologies to their mothers, wives, daughters and to all women in their ancestry whom they continue to “write out of history” using a misguided rationale of “piety.”

Judith Levitt
North Hollywood

School Is in Session Concerning Documentary Film

I am writing with respect to Jason Ablin’s opinion piece (“Waiting for Nowhere,” April 15) in which he offers a baffling review of the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” which I produced and co-directed. In the piece, not only does Mr. Ablin not even attempt to support any of his opinions with fact-based research, he also misinterprets my intention as a filmmaker; misstates the movie’s message; and, perhaps most surprisingly, does not seem to recognize or acknowledge the many areas in which he and I agree.

I set out to make “Race to Nowhere” to better understand the impact of America’s pressure-cooker culture on our children. In so doing, over a period of two years, I spoke at length with hundreds of students, parents, educators and school administrators on myriad topics, such as the benefits and detriments of AP courses; the time spent preparing for, and value placed on, standardized testing; the amount of homework typically assigned, and whether it was purposeful or relevant and supported by research; the over-scheduling of students’ time (including sports, extracurriculars, jobs and community service); the encouragement of resume-building (which prioritizes the appearance of achievement over the true mastery of academic subjects or passions); and the seeming emphasis on rote memorization over actual learning. I spent a significant amount of time with renowned pediatricians, psychologists and clinicians who specialize in adolescent issues, both mental and physical, who explained to me the potentially devastating health consequences of stress-related responses, including sleep deprivation, cutting, eating disorders, binge drinking, performance-enhancing drug (Adderall) abuse, depression and extreme anxiety to the point where a child might simply “give up,” whether that manifests in quitting school or quitting life. I even approached some of our country’s most famous and famously demanding colleges and universities — those that some might argue serve as the “source” of these issues — some of [whose representatives] acknowledged, either on camera (in an interview) or behind the scenes (in tears) their complicit “contribution” to the mess of a situation in which today’s students find themselves.

So while it is true that it was my concern for my child that provided the impetus to create the film, in exploring this issue more deeply, I discovered an epidemic of stressed-out, exhausted and disengaged young people across the country, many of whom are, quite simply, unprepared for college or the workplace. Since its premiere in September 2010, “Race to Nowhere” has been screened in over 1,800 locations across the United States and in more than 20 countries worldwide. The film has proven popular through word-of-mouth because students, parents and educators recognize themselves and their lives in the compelling testimony of those on screen. Unlike “Waiting for Superman,” another documentary on education that Mr.  Ablin clearly prefers, and which received its backing from large corporate donors, “Race to Nowhere” has supported itself via a nationwide grass-roots movement, building a democratic community of concerned citizens who are committed to improving our education system for all students. In order for these improvements to be made, we must change the current performance-based system, which stifles intellectual development, diminishes critical thinking and creativity, and compromises the health of our children.

Incidentally, in voicing his support for “Waiting for Superman,” at the same time that Mr. Ablin inexplicably attacks my parenting skills, he also betrays a real lack of understanding of how the education system is failing our children. Describing “systemic and philosophical problems in the public school system that are a threat to our democracy and, ultimately, to our commitment to human freedom,” he decries how our nation has lost its sense of community, how children are “being molded, designed and programmed,” and yet, in so doing, he is agreeing with a fundamental precept of the message behind “Race to Nowhere.” The mistake Mr. Ablin makes is that he advocates holding parents primarily responsible for this problem, rather than indicting the larger system of enforced accountability designed by politicians and underwritten by businesses.

In my view, the true threat to democracy and human freedom that Mr. Ablin warns about is one he appears to support, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act — a top-down education regime imposed by legislative mandate, where the curriculum is governed by state-approved standardized testing, and educators fear that their funding will be pulled or their schools shuttered if student test scores are not up to par. Perhaps in a follow-up piece, Mr. Ablin can explain how students can “free their minds from the possible tyranny of others” under such a system. I know I’d be interested in reading it, as, I suspect, would countless others.

In sum, I agree with Mr. Ablin that parents and teachers both need to do a better job at helping children understand why they are learning and what their larger purpose is, but as the 500,000+ students, parents, educators and administrators who have seen “Race to Nowhere” and continue to support its message can attest: This cannot be accomplished in a system where teachers are forced to teach to the test, where curriculum is stripped down or eliminated in order to ensure funding, where children are hurting themselves (deliberately or not) for fear of not “measuring up.” This can only be accomplished by students, parents and teachers banding together, taking a stand and making changes, large and small, in our homes and in our schools, changes that will foster creativity and promote education as the path to personal evolution.

By taking these positive steps, and modeling responsibility to one’s community and to the world at large, we will at last succeed in “raising” the kind of children of which Mr. Ablin can be proud.

Vicki H. Abeles
via e-mail

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