Former President Jimmy Carter has implicitly accused the Simon Wiesenthal Center of "falsehood and slander," after the center mailed Carter some 25,000 signed petitions protesting his book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
In a brief but stinging note to Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, Carter wrote, by hand, "I don't believe that Simon Wiesenthal would have resorted to falsehood and slander to raise funds."
In his response to Carter, Hier noted that after reading the book, "It is incredulous to me that, after your historic achievement of brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, you could write such a book."
After noting that the United States would react in the same way as Israel if exposed to terrorism and suicide bombings, Hier concluded, "To his last breath, Simon Wiesenthal believed that the only reason there is no peace in the Middle East is because of Islamic extremists who refuse to compromise, not because of the State of Israel."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor Pro-Choice Groups Warn About Complacency
Twenty-three new pro-choice representatives have just been elected to Congress, and California has an A-plus rating in reproductive rights legislation. This sounds like good news, and indeed it is. But, warned Amy Everitt, director of National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice California, these gains can lead to a complacency that is scarcely warranted.
Two days after the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe v. Wade, Everitt, addressing a gathering at the National Coalition of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW) headquarters, emphasized that even with the victories of the last elections, there is still not a pro-choice majority in Congress, and anti-choice forces have been working steadily to erode reproductive freedom. The meeting was co-sponsored by numerous groups, including the City of West Hollywood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Hollywood NOW.
Joyce Schorr, founder and president of the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRAPP) underscored how difficult it is for many women to get the care they need.
Despite its excellent rating in legislation, 41 percent of California's counties have no abortion facilities, while nationwide, 87 percent of counties have no abortion providers whatsoever.
In 1991, Schorr, as an NCJW activist, created WRAPP as a national safety net for women and families. Last year, by raising and distributing funds for medical and travel expenses, WRAPP helped 1,687 women in 48 states obtain abortions.
In discussion after their presentations, Everitt and Schorr rooted their commitment to reproductive rights for all women in the tenets of Judaism.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis has affirmed the "right of a woman or individual family to terminate a pregnancy," and opposes any amendments or legislation that would abridge that right.
"One of the reasons I started WRAPP as an NCJW project was because the Torah tells us to give of ourselves," Schorr said. "Poor women needed a mitzvah project and WRAPP provides for their needs."
-- Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer
StandWithUs Distributes 'Israel 101'
StandWithUs, the L.A.-based Israel advocacy organization, has released a primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group prepared "Israel 101" in response to what it says is a "pressing need" for an easy-to-use resource for students engaged in Israel advocacy on college campuses. The 44-page, full-color primer offers a condensed history of Israel and brief introductions to hot-button issues, including the peace process, the Palestinian refugee problem and last summer's war with Hezbollah.
-- Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Interfaith Understanding Starts Young
Jewish, Muslim and Christian students in Orange County spent the fall in a dialogue and art exchange program, producing poetry and artwork based on the new understanding they gained.
The Jerusalem Sky Project, run by the World of Difference Institute of the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach office, brought together 75 fourth- to eighth-graders from Morasha Jewish Day School and St. John's Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, and The New Horizon Elementary School in Irvine.
The program used the recently published "Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents," by Mark Podwal, to inspire the students to teach each other and to get to know one another.
The schools each hosted the group once during the semester-long interfaith project, and late in November the group gathered for a final meeting and exhibition of their artwork, which was on display at the Rancho Santa Margarita Bell Tower through December.
"Our hope was to start the process of exploring that there are others out there," said Melissa Carr, special projects director for the ADL's Orange County/Long Beach office. "A lot of times in private religious school settings, the students don't have much opportunity to interact with others in the community."
Carr said all the schools want to continue the relationship and are now working toward putting together a continuing program.
The kids met for the first time at New Horizon, a Muslim elementary school. A parent gave the students an "Islam 101" recap. When the Muslim students shared their traditions for prayers, holidays and holy books, the other students realized how, as religious people, they have a lot in common, said Robin Hoffman, Judaic studies director at Morasha.
Morasha hosted the group on Sukkot, but it was also during Ramadan, and out of respect for the Muslim students no food was served. The Jewish students invited their friends to morning prayer services, where they took out the Torah and explained to their peers the traditions and history of Judaism.
At St. John's Episcopal school, students went through the 14 stations of the cross to learn about Christianity, and heard about Christian theology from the school's vicar.
At the final meeting, facilitators from the ADL's World of Difference Institute led exercises about appreciating and respecting other ways of life.
But such abstractions were already becoming a reality for these students: By the time they met for their last gathering, students were exchanging phone numbers.
In her poem for the exhibit, Iman Labanieh, a fifth-grader at New Horizon, wrote:
"We are from different parts/Our faiths are still in our hearts/Black, white, or brown/We are same way deep down/No matter what our feelings are/From each other we're not so far."
For information, call (714) 979-4733 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor
Pluralistic Program Fills the 'Gap'
Jewish students have long used the year between high school and college -- known as the "gap year" -- to spend some time growing intellectually and spiritually in Israel.
A new program, SIACH, takes that experience out of its usual denominational specificity with a coed, pluralistic learning experience in Jerusalem that is open to students of different academic and religious backgrounds.
"We want to provide the essential tools to help students find their personal path to Jewish commitment, recognizing that there are many paths and many expressions of Jewish identity," said program director Rabbi David Harbater. "They are free to make their own connections and develop at their own pace without any preconceived notions."
In addition to the academic study -- much of which is accredited by the Baltimore Hebrew University -- SIACH will organize opportunities for students to volunteer with projects such as building and renovation, helping protect Israel's environment, visiting the elderly and disabled and tutoring English in neighborhood schools.
The program also aims to help students understand the pressing issues facing Israel, and to explore the relevance of modern and traditional Jewish texts through drama, the arts, dialogue with Israeli peers and field trips.
For information, visit www.siach.org or call (866) 572-7913.