March 14, 2002
Joel Kotkin's article on Gray Davis ("The First Jewish Governor?" March 8) truly hit the mark. It underscores the point that a number of us in the Jewish community have been attempting to make -- "Not all Jews look alike ... and they don't have to think alike, either."
The wooing of the Jewish community for its financial support was not invented by Davis, although he has taken it to a new level. This has led Jews to a false sense of security that if they just elect someone who purports to be a friend of the Jews, the other problems of our society will take care of themselves. Unfortunately, Davis is not the only beneficiary of such misplaced trust. There are a number of Jewish politicians who have likewise thrived on just such a misconception.
Now is the time for Jews to take a good look at their society, country and government, and support candidates for more reasons than just being friendly to the Jewish community. We need to be more selective. If not, we simply invite deception by those who purport to be our friends.
Jack Ballas, Pacific Palisades
After reading Joel Kotkin's recent story, one should feel ashamed and embarrassed if he or she is a Jewish Republican or centrist Democrat. Kotkin asserts that this may be the end of an era in which Jews support politicians who take seriously the idea "that the powerful should hope to help the powerless." He feels that Jews have lost the passion for justice and good government and, as such, "may be becoming just like the gentiles, only richer." What a smear. It's time for the Jewish community to look beyond the rhetoric and failed social policies of the left and see that the Republican Party offers a viable, vibrant alternative. Those Jews who believe in personal responsibility, limited government, lower taxes, education alternatives and a strong military should not be made to feel like pariahs in their own community.
Eddie Blau, Calabasas
No statement can truly reflect the deep revulsion we feel upon hearing of the barbaric slaying of Daniel Pearl ("A Voice Silenced," March 1). Losing one's life in the pursuit of truth reveals the enormity of terrorist danger. Reports of Pearl's last words, "I am a Jew..." evoke the haunting memories of the Holocaust when Jews, in the last moments of their lives, proudly proclaimed their heritage.
Brian Goldenfeld,Woodland Hills
I read Amy Klein's column ("Divided We Stand," March 8) about two hours after having a brief discussion with my 22-year-old son on religion. I summed up how I truly felt, and he was satisfied.
I told him that if every individual was allowed to practice his beliefs, or choose to believe in nothing, refrain from proselytizing, and most importantly, never self-righteously look down on anyone who felt differently, the world would be a nicer place. Simple? Yes. Prosaic? Yes. But think about the possibilities.
Karen Berrenson, Woodland Hills
I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the excellent article ("Justice Delayed and Justice Denied," Feb. 15) and wonderful work of Rep. Henry A. Waxman in regard to the disappointing performance of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). I believe that the problems pointed out by Waxman boil down to a simple proposition -- participation in ICHEIC by the insurance companies is wholly voluntary. Consequently, there is, in the end, absolutely no mechanism by which to enforce its rules, its purposes or its goals. Any insurance company can withdraw from ICHEIC at any time without any adverse consequence. Ultimately, then, all power and all decision-making authority is vested in the companies themselves.
At Bet Tzedek, we represent hundreds of indigent Holocaust survivors.
The only reality of note is that the only action over the past 60 years that has had a measurable effect on recalcitrant insurance companies has been the filing of lawsuits in American courts. It was not until these suits were brought that the companies even thought about launching an effort, albeit a toothless one, to create a vehicle by which claims might someday be paid. Nothing but their fear of American justice has ever had any significant effect on the actions of the insurance companies.
Waxman ponders how troubling the prospect of ICHEIC operating without oversight is, particularly since the operation of ICHEIC has become the cornerstone of United States policy on Holocaust-era insurance claims. In truth, Waxman is rightly troubled. There is now no viable oversight capable of protecting and preserving the rightful claims of survivors. The United States, if it is to exercise any meaningful persuasive authority in this arena, must add to its arsenal of influencing factors its support of access by survivors to American courts of law. Trust in the American pursuit of justice is what we all need. Indeed no more powerful tool exists and no other method of persuasion has ever worked.
Waxman urges the United States to "explore new forms of leverage that will compel the insurance companies to live up to their obligations." The newest leverage is the oldest -- American justice.
David A. Lash, Executive Director Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Harold Schulweis has read the Supreme Court properly -- as strengthening religious pluralism -- and the Jewish "moral and legal tradition" selectively ("The Israeli Supreme Court's Conscience," March 1). Schulweis correctly quotes the standard "Amidah" and Maimonides as sympathetic toward faithful converts. The crucial question is: Who is a faithful convert? On this the traditional sources are clear. Converts are expected to accept all of the commandments -- starting with kashrut, Shabbat and family purity -- as defined by those traditional sources. According to those traditional sources, converts who do not accept all of the commandments are not deserving of the sympathetic treatment due to faithful converts; according to the traditional sources that Schulweis cites, they are not Jews at all.
Schulweis and his fellow non-Orthodox rabbis have adopted alternative, nontraditional, conditions for accepting converts that they claim are consistent with the spirit of the tradition. Nevertheless, if Schulweis is going to quote traditional sources (the liturgy, Maimonides) in defense of the Israeli Supreme Court's decision, he should also note that the conversion standards he and the Israeli Supreme Court are advocating are clearly inconsistent with the conditions for accepting converts explicitly specified in the traditional sources he quotes.
Jacob Alex Klerman, Los Angeles
Thank you for highlighting the issue of non-Orthodox conversions of Israel. This historic ruling was the result of a united effort between NA'AMAT, Israel's largest family service agency, and the Masorati and World Union for Progressive Judaism.
The effort began in 1995, when a group of parents who had adopted children from abroad found that they could not convert these children to Judaism and, in desperation, turned to NA'AMAT, known as the place to go when families have problems. NA'AMAT arranged for Masorati conversions and, simultaneously, began the suit concluded last week.
NA'AMAT USA is proud to support this important legal work and will continue to work with our sister organization in Israel to encourage an open society that respects all streams of Judaism.
Miriam Hearn, Western Area Director NA'AMAT USA
I want to thank Abby Gilad for her interpretation of Parshat Terumah ("For The Kids," Feb. 15) I am a recent convert, landscape designer and avid Jewish Journal reader. I found it very interesting that the Israelites were commanded to build the ark out of shita (acacia wood) and cover the completed ark with gold, both inside and out. This is so fascinating because most acacia varieties at this time of year have golden yellow flowers covering their branches. One variety in particular is completely covered with golden flowers -- acacia baileyana.The acacia may be a reminder to us when in full bloom of the events that happened at this time of year according to Parshat Terumah.
Sonny Estrada, Los Angeles
Jewish Porn Star
I have seen Nina Hartley in action ("The Porn Star and the Rabbi," Feb. 15), which is precisely why I find her appearance within the sanctuary of Temple Beth Ami to be so very offensive.
The gimmick may be a brilliant publicity stunt, but it is also a complete desecration of all that is sacred to the Jewish faith. Judaism exalts physical intimacy between husbands and wives in a manner that reflects the sanctity of their union. With all due respect to Hartley's expertise, her profession negates the essence of Jewish teachings which instruct us to imbue our actions and deeds with holiness. Her self-proclaimed "spiritual" experiences hardly qualify as a model for Jewish enlightenment.
At the end of the Shabbat, we distinguish between the sacred and the profane with the "Havdalah" service. Surely this separation should apply to our conduct within our synagogues and temples.
Shula Levitch ,Valencia