August 28, 2008
Saving by remembering, first impression
Saving by Remembering
A little more than a month ago, Rabbi Levi Meier, died after a yearlong battle with brain cancer ("Rabbi Levi Meier, Whose Pulpit Was Hospital Rooms, Dies at 62,"). He was a man who cut a broad swath through the Los Angeles Jewish community, as captured by David Suissa's eloquent obituary in The Journal on July 16.
Levi was a gentle man. He suffered with his cancer and with his treatment and was not reticent about saying so. He wondered aloud to me not just why this was happening to him and, more than once, whether or not he was going to make it -- meaning not whether or not he was going to beat the disease but survive the chemotherapy, the radiation and the operations. That was also Levi -- a man who had comforted thousands at their most vulnerable, unafraid of being vulnerable before a friend.
Post-diagnosis, the first thing Levi said to me upon my first visit was to ask my forgiveness for any slight he may have ever dealt me. There was, of course, nothing to forgive, and instead, I urged him to fight. Fighting -- for I reasoned one must fight -- gave one a better chance at survival, and I wanted desperately for him to win and survive.
I first got to know Levi in our Avi Chai Torah class, a unique monthly event for nearly eight years. In class, Levi had a way of bringing out the best in all of us. We became something of a family, bonding through the emotional camaraderie of study.
Later, because I worked nearby, I also sat in a weekly class in the Cedars-Sinai chapel, where we would sit in pews and study. I would often just stop in to see him. One day he might say, "Take a walk with me," and we'd wander the hospital complex, more often than not to visit a patient, which, of course, was such a vital part of his daily work.
Perhaps as well known as any line of Gemara is the one that says saving the life of one Jew is like saving the entire Jewish people. But what does "save" have to mean? Must it mean rescue or preserve from harm or death, or can it mean, as well, to keep and preserve for the future.
And if we can save one person that way, is there a limit as to how many people we can save? Can we not then save the entire people? Do we save someone when we keep him or her alive in our hearts and our thoughts?
I think we do. I think we must. And that's how I think of Rabbi Levi Meier.
Rob Eshman asked [Umar] Cheema, the journalist from Pakistan: "Who is more popular in your country, George Bush or Osama bin Laden?" ("First Impressions," Aug. 22.)
Cheema answered after a long silence: It's not that Bin Laden is popular, just that Bush is so unpopular. "People only like Osama in reaction," he said.
Then Eshman went on: "It's a question I've been asking for five years, and the response is always the same, always sobering. It leads me to wonder -- putting all blame aside -- how far the image of this country has fallen in the world's eyes, and if we can regain the ground we've lost."
I wonder if Eshman had asked Muslim journalists before five years ago what was their impression of America? The World Trade Center has been attacked more than once. Was America more popular in the eyes of the Muslim world before Sept. 11?
I think it can be safely said that Israel is perceived as an extension of America in the Middle East by the Muslim world. I recall Abba Eban, that great statesman, of blessed memory, from Israel who represented Israel in the United Nations saying not too long after the Six-Day War: "If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13, with 26 abstentions."
I wonder if Eshman were to ask Daniel Pearl Fellows who is more popular in your country Bin Laden or Jews? Are Jews, in their eyes, self- interested, unilateral, bullying? Is all this a post-Sept. 11 phenomenon?
If any aspect of George Bush's policies are perceived by the Muslim world enabling Israel, as the lone democracy in a dangerous neighborhood, to survive, perhaps, the real reason for Bush's unpopularity in the Muslim world has more to do with the Jews and Israel than with America.
Anti-Semitism on Campus
"Thank you for Brad Greenberg's informative article on anti-Semitism on college campuses ("Quiet War on Campus," Aug. 22).
Here in Pasadena, away from the mainstream Jewish community, we know firsthand the pressures that face our young adults as they head off to their college careers.
Anita Brenner, Peter Brier, Ahuva Einstein, Marty Levine, Edie Taylor
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
Brad Greenberg is right.
Anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism remain a serious problem on American and international campuses. Some Jewish leaders have been lulled by the decreasing volatility of anti-Israel demonstrations, but like Greenberg, we have found that the problem is even more insidious today, with anti-Israel misinformation spread by mainstream figures like Jimmy Carter and professors whose students are captive -- and often intimidated -- audiences.
For example, UCLA professor Gabriel Pieterberg refused our offer to bring a mainstream speaker to his classes, which are obliged to listen to the anti-Zionist ideologues he typically invites, such as Ilan Pappe. Such practices are irresponsible, anti-intellectual and a method of indoctrination.
Unfortunately the message of the many professors like Pieterberg is further amplified by the hundreds of well-funded anti-Israel speakers and groups who annually tour campuses. We need to empower students with information so they can confidently challenge the one-sided views that denigrate Israel.
We are pleased that we have helped empower so many students, and Greenberg's article underscores how much more we all need to do.
As a 24-year-old graduate of UCLA, I could attest to the very anti-Israel attitude that lurks around the campus atmosphere. However, I can also attest that there is an even greater danger, which is the loss of our fellow college-age Jews to non-Jewish boyfriends/girlfriends and Jews-for-Jesus movements.
These problems will continue to grow as we send our kids to public schools, thus ensuring the great ignorance of many in our community to the Jewish religion.
Another player at fault is the religious community here in Los Angeles, which seems more concerned that their slurpees are indeed kosher than the fact that their secular Jewish neighbors don't know how to recite the Shema.
We Jews should be more responsible for each other. Let's invite more of the nonreligious to our homes and help spread our wonderful Jewish values. And please, if your child will be attending college this year, please be less concerned that they will be exposed to anti-Semitism and more concerned that they will be further separated from the Jewish way of life.
I want to thank you for your well-researched article regarding campus anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that is prevalent on college campuses. This troubling scenario has gone on for over eight years, with no let up in sight.
Due to the large amount of monies funding the Muslim Student Association by Saudi Arabia, it is a hard act to follow in these hard financial times.
One thing, however, troubled me. It was the lack of attention given to StandWithUs. As a local organization that has been on the ground floor dealing with the issues of anti-Semitism at UC Irvine, it has been in the forefront of the campus since the beginning of the Second Intifada.
As a former member of the organization, I witnessed, along with Roz Rothstein and Gary Ratner of the American Jewish Congress, the beginning of the tidal wave. And seeing how StandWithUs has taken the initiative and lead, it was disappointing not to see more credit given to an organization that is not only in your own backyard but has been the inspiration for other organizations on other coasts to follow the model of StandWithUs.
The amazing amount of materials and workshops have inspired not only students to become vocal and proud of standing for Israel, it has also brought parents, teachers and others into becoming active. StandWithUs deserves more recognition for being on the front lines.
Unfortunately, the need for such amazing organizations has not diminished due to the tensions in the Middle East and undue focus on Israel. StandWithUs has continued to rise to the occasion and be there for the students and faculty 24/7. This is something The Jewish Journal must acknowledge.
Allyson Rowen Taylor
In the July 25 cover story, "Hard Times," writer Brad Greenberg overlooked a politically incorrect factor in the banking crisis: illegal immigration.
Before you accuse me of immigrant bashing, the Los Angeles Times chronicled the aggressive efforts of mortgage lenders to reach out to the immigrant community in a front-page story headlined, "Mortgage Lenders Help Illegal Immigrants Become Homeowners" (Aug. 9, 2005).
Are illegal immigrants solely to blame for the current crisis? No. But why would any mortgage broker write a loan for a prospective homeowner with little or no credit, unreported income or, worse, a fraudulent Social Security number?
Well, ask your friends in the mortgage business how an unscrupulous lender can transform a low-paid gardener into a horticultural specialist with a six-figure income -- and do it with the stroke of a pen.
In his column, "Strange Love" (Aug. 22), David Suissa notes the behavior of a Christian missionary who approached him while in Boulder, Colo. While I certainly have no problem with the natural and inherent tug and pull that inevitably occurs from such encounters, what concerns me is the visceral reaction David had as a result of the missionary's style and tactics and misconception of the message the missionary was trying to deliver that resulted from his reaction.
Clearly there was a communication gap. On the one hand, the missionary failed to communicate his message through his overwhelming and impassioned style, while we can see that David clearly missed the message from how he chooses to close his piece:
"No, indeed, they don't want your money, I thought to myself. They want something more valuable.
"They want your soul -- because they love you."
The truth is that they don't want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.
The lesson here: to be extremely careful when encountering impassioned zealots, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and not to confuse the message being delivered with the delivery of the message itself.