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Jewish Journal

Rabbi Wolpe fights cancer battle; Terror victim becomes advocate for others

September 21, 2006 | 8:00 pm

Salman Rushdie: Pro-Israel Muslim

Salman Rushdie: Pro-Israel Muslim

Rabbi Wolpe Fights Cancer Battle
 
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple informed his congregation by letter this week that he was recently diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
 
Although his doctors "have every expectation that the cancer will be put into extended remission or cured," Wolpe wrote, "nonetheless, this is a shock and it has begun a new journey for me and my family."
 
Wolpe told The Journal that he plans to maintain his regular work schedule "as best I can," taking a day or so off, if needed, during chemotherapy treatment. Since assuming the pulpit of the large Conservative congregation in Westwood in 1997, Wolpe has earned a reputation as one of the city's most visible and innovative rabbis.
 
In addition, he is a prolific writer and frequent commentator on television. He is the author of six books, including the 2000 national bestseller, "Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times."
 
In November 2003, Wolpe underwent surgery to remove a brain lesion after he suffered a seiziure at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was speaking at the dedication of a new Hillel house. He returned to the pulpit two months later.
 
In his letter to congregants, sent out on his 48th birthday, Wolpe wrote, "Throughout my life, I have believed that God promises us not ease but meaning, not perfect health but reverence, connection and love."
 
As the rabbi himself noted, "This has been an eventful year." Last month, he led a large mission to northern Israel, which disbursed $1 million in aid. During the spring, he was considered a lead candidate for the chancellorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, but opted to stay in Los Angeles.
 
Wolpe and his wife Eliana are the parents of a 9-year-old daughter.
 
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
 
Terror Victim Becomes Advocate for Others
 
Anna Krakovich is the victim of a suicide bomber, but a lucky one. She survived the terror attack to become a response team leader for SELAH -- The Israel Crisis Management Center, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for new immigrants in Israel who are faced with crises. Krakovich spent the latter part of her summer touring Southern California.
 
Krakovich immigrated to Israel from Ukraine with her 9-year-old daughter in 1992, and now lives in Haifa. On April 6, 1994, she was seriously wounded and 70 percent of her body was burned in a terrorist car bombing. She spent 11 months in hospitals, underwent corrective surgeries and continues today to follow a rigorous course of physical therapy.
 
A SELAH volunteer visited her every day while she was in the hospital and provided her and her young daughter with extensive support throughout her recovery. Now Krakovich -- a former English teacher -- has become a devotee of SELAH's cause, which she describes as providing the kind of family that vulnerable immigrants lack and long for in times of crisis.
 
"Loss and pain are not a bit easier when tragedy happens to the Israeli-born," she said, "but those cases have means to cope with tragedy, including immediate family and friends. On top of the fact that the immigrant doesn't have any social or cultural know-how, he is in no situation to refer to help."
 
In addition to facilitating immediate financial, medical and personal relief in a variety of forms, from help with costs for care to visits at home or in the hospital and psychological support. It has reached out to those victimized by the summer's violence in northern Israel even as it continues to provide long-term support for survivors of past turbulence.
 
"Tragedy doesn't end when the spotlight goes away," Krakovich said. "Crisis stays, and neither the efforts of our wonderful volunteers and the rest of the country nor the donations of our friends here would ever fill the gap for people who lost a loved one. What we can do with our efforts and money is relieve some pain in terms of organization, to make this kind of situation a bit easier to cope with."
 
-- Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer
 
Rushdie Speaks Out as Pro-Israel Muslim
 
The evening's speeches were punctuated with harsh denunciations of Islam as "the religion of the permanently outraged," as a "collapsed culture," as murderous and fascistic -- all voiced by Muslim speakers.
 
Author Salman Rushdie, once under sentence of death by Iran's religious leaders, criticized the Quran as illogical and disjointed, and probed the motivations of suicide bombers in surprising ways.
 
The occasion was Sunday's dinner organized by the Western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which honored five Muslims for their courage and friendship toward the Jewish people.
 
"At a time when Israel is at war and the Jewish people are under attack, we must honor our friends in the Muslim community who give us hope for a better future," said Gary P. Ratner, executive director of the host organization.
 
Recalling his pleasant childhood as an Indian Muslim, Rushdie lamented the "deformation" of Islam over the past 50 years, blaming "a culture that will not question itself" and the failure to subject the Quran to scholarly analysis.
 
Peppering his talk with anecdotes, Rushdie said he was still trying to understand the phenomenon of well-educated and middle-class Muslims in Europe who choose to become suicide bombers.
 
He blamed partially the radicalization of young Muslim men in their schools and mosques, and the attraction to terrorist groups by people "who are thuggish by nature," but also cited a psychological basis.
 
"We live in an age that spotlights glamour," he said. "Al Qaeda attracts boys who will never be 'stars,' but who are seduced into viewing their insane acts as glamorous."
 
The four other recipients of the Stephen S. Wise Humanitarian Award, and their quotes, were:

     
  • Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-American psychiatrist practicing in California, who grew up believing that "the Jews took my land and were behind everything evil." She thanked the 300 guests, for "helping to bleach my soul free of hatred."
     
  • Nonie Darwish, daughter of a high-ranking Egyptian army officer killed in a border skirmish with Israeli forces.
     
    "Israel deserves our respect, not our hatred," she said.
     
  • Tashbih Sayyed, a U.S. government advisor on terrorism.
     
    "I would not be able to live in a Muslim state as a dignified, human person," he said.
     
  • Salim Mansur, born in Calcutta and now a Canadian political science professor and journalist.
     
    "Redemption will only come when Muslims reconcile with Jews," he remarked.

 
Other speakers included Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Dr. Steven Teitelbaum of the AJCongress national governing council, Rabbi David Baron, and Allyson Rowen Taylor, AJCongress associate director.
 
Rushdie concluded the evening with an appeal to the West to pay more attention and respect to the efforts of moderate Muslims.
 
During the Cold War, he said, Western media widely quoted the views of Soviet dissidents, but "we do not receive the same recognition as authentic voices of our people."
 
The event came under criticism from some Muslim representatives, who told the Los Angeles Times that three of the honorees --Rushdie, Sultan and Darwish -- had left the Muslim faith years ago.
 
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that attempts by Jewish groups to promote "friendly" Muslim leaders was "a slap in the face" to mainstream Muslims. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
 
A Song for Israel, Love Camp Newman
 
In response to the violence in Israel this summer, Israeli and American staff and campers at the Union for Reform Judaism's Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, collaborated on recording a song titled "Kol Yisrael (We Are All Connected)."
 
The song was written and arranged by Camp Newman summer faculty members Rabbi Josh Zweiback of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and Rabbi Ken Chasen of Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, following the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev along the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 12. Zweiback had just returned from a congregational trip to Israel, and he wanted to convey the sense that "when Israel is experiencing a difficult time, we feel it here," he said.
 
The song's lyrics reference the text in the Talmud, Shavuot 39a, which states: "It is written in the Torah, 'They shall stumble one upon the other.' This means that if one sins, the other will stumble. It teaches us that all Israel is responsible for one another."
 
The Camp Newman vocalists present the verses in the style of a conversation between Israel and the Diaspora, alternating between Israeli and American singers.
 
"This song provided an important opportunity for the entire camp community to learn the ultimate content of our tradition, which is the responsibility we have to one another," Chasen said.
 
"Kol Yisrael" is now moving beyond the immediate Camp Newman community to the World Wide Web, where it has become available for listening and downloading on its own blog as well as on the websites of Camp Newman, Babaganewz and Congregation Beth Am.
 
"Our hope is that a lot of people will hear it and download it," Zweiback said of the song.
 
-- Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer
 
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