Posted by Mark Paredes
I work in Santa Monica several days a week, and every time I’m in the city I grab the Santa Monica Daily Press newspaper first thing in the morning to see what’s going on. I mainly read the paper for three features: the “What’s up Westside” calendar on the inside page, the “News of the Weird” column, and the comic strip “The Meaning of Lila,” which usually has a humorous take on dating and relationships.
Last week “The Meaning of Lila” had a strip that I and many others found offensive. Here’s the brief dialogue:
Girl #1: Jdate.com? But you’re not Jewish.
Girl #2: It doesn’t say anything about having to be Jewish.
Girl #1: It’s implied.
Girl#2: So I’ll stretch the truth already. Is that so wrong?
Guy: Maybe she IS Jewish.
I don’t think that a serious argument can be made that the strip is not at least moderately offensive, as it implies that Jews are inherently dishonest. Substitute “Ldssingles.com” and “Mormon” in the preceding dialogue, and I would have been just as offended.
What I found interesting was the newspaper’s apology, issued two days later, which appeared below a letter to the editor criticizing the paper for running the strip. Here it is: “The Daily Press would like to apologize to anyone who was offended by the ‘Meaning of Lila’ comic strip that ran in the Sept. 23 edition of this newspaper. We regret publishing the cartoon and do not consider racism to be a laughing matter.”
I can think of lots of adjectives to describe the strip in question. Offensive? You bet. In poor taste? Definitely. Anti-Semitic? Possibly. Racist? Not at all.
Jews are not a “race” of people, and I don’t know of a Jew or Mormon who thinks of them as one. I know that it’s tricky to state with precision whether Jews are members of a nation, tribe, and/or religion, but I’m pretty sure that defining them as a separate race is probably as offensive as the Lila comic strip was.
I know what the Daily Press was trying to say, but newspaper editors more than most people should know that words matter, and even highly-charged words like “racism” have precise definitions. I will continue to read the Daily Press and The Meaning of Lila, but I was disappointed both by the portrayal of Jews in the offending strip and by the mislabeling of the offense by the newspaper. They can both do better than that.
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September 22, 2013 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
During the Sukkot holiday, I always take time to read the account of King Benjamin’s address in the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. Many Mormons believe that he gave this famous speech during Sukkot, and the scriptural evidence for this is pretty impressive.
Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is a historical and spiritual account of several groups of people, including Israelites who left Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah (around 600 BCE) and settled in the Americas. They brought the Torah with them and kept the Law of Moses until the coming of Jesus Christ.
About 124 BCE, a righteous king named Benjamin ordered that his people should be gathered together to their temple in order to hear his farewell address, which consists of four chapters of the most sublime and inspirational writing in scripture (e.g., “[W]hen ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God”). His subjects did so, bringing the “firstlings of their flocks” in order to “offer sacrifices and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses.” The second chapter of Mosiah also records that the people gathered together “that they might give thanks to the Lord their God.”
Both ancient and modern Israelites celebrating Sukkot would recognize the manner in which the people gathered in order to hear their king:
And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple,
they pitched their tents round about, every man according
to his family…
And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every
man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple,
that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words
which King Benjamin should speak unto them. [Mosiah 2:5-6]
I love exploring the many Jewish themes in the Book of Mormon, and appreciate the opportunity that Sukkot gives me every year to do so. Hag sameach to all of my Jewish readers.
September 16, 2013 | 12:48 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It was a memorable interfaith weekend for my LDS congregation in Koreatown. On Saturday we visited St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, whose dean, Fr. John Bakas, is one of the city’s leading religious figures. My wife was raised in the Romanian Orthodox Church, and retains a great deal of affection and respect for the Orthodox faith. I am a lover of icons, and enjoyed viewing the church’s impressive iconostasis. Our docent, church sexton Jimmy Karatsikis, was very informative and charming. He told us that in the 20 years that he has led tours of the cathedral, we were his first LDS group. Mormons who are familiar with LDS temples and Orthodox churches find many interesting parallels between the structures, and everyone in the group came away with a positive impression of the cathedral and Greek Orthodoxy.
During our sacrament service today, the last speaker ended early. I took the opportunity to stand up and remind the members of the congregation that this weekend is the holiest one of the year for their Jewish friends and neighbors. I then invited them to conduct a heshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul), asking for forgiveness from anyone whom they may have offended in the past year, month or week. Mormons fast every month, abstaining from both food and drink, so they’re not usually too blown away by the Jews’ annual Yom Kippur fast. However, the searching of one’s soul is a healthy exercise for any religious person. Several members of the congregation promised to do this.
This weekend was a fortunate denouement to a week in which I read that my friend Rabbi Jonathan Klein, co-founder of the group Faith Action for Animals, participated in a demonstration against kaparot ceremonies in an Orthodox neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a non-Jew, I don’t have an opinion on whether Jews should be twirling chickens around their heads and then slicing their necks as part of a religious ceremony. Although it sounds a little bizarre to outsiders, temple worship in ancient Israel did involve animal sacrifices, and there are certainly practices in every religion (including my own) that raise the eyebrows of non-believers.
That said, I was greatly disturbed by signs held by the protesters that included slogans like “Genocide is wrong whether against Jews or against chickens.” I grew up with three dogs and three cats, and hate to see unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals. However, there is no comparison at all between killing chickens in a religious ceremony and the gassing of millions of human beings. I don’t believe that Rabbi Klein supports the idea that Holocaust victims had the same intrinsic worth as chickens (if he does, he is unworthy of the title “rabbi”), and I regret very much that a rabbi has allowed his name to be associated with a group of fanatical animal rights activists. If they don’t want chickens killed, that’s fine. All I ask is that they not cheapen the sacrifices of Holocaust victims by comparing them to unfortunate chickens. As far as I know, Judaism teaches that human beings, not chickens, are created in the image of God.
I wish all of my Jewish readers a hatima tova and a meaningful heshbon nefesh.
September 10, 2013 | 12:06 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Once in a while I set aside Jewish and/or Mormon themes in order to address pressing issues of the day (e.g., whether Lionel Messi plays soccer as well as Diego Maradona did). Such an opportunity now presents itself with the upcoming congressional votes on Syria. Every serious writer in this country needs to take a position on the proposed U.S. response to the latest atrocities allegedly committed by the Assad regime against its own people, and I am happy to do so here.
Unfortunately, there is no good option for the U.S. following the Sarin nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus. If Assad ordered the attack, it clearly crossed the “red line” established by President Obama a year ago as a game-changer for an administration that has been understandably reluctant to insert itself into the fratricidal civil war in Syria. As the President attempts to persuade an increasingly skeptical Congress to authorize an attack on Assad’s regime, we commoners need to consider what the best course of action would be for this country. Although this is primarily a blog about religion, theology does not inform my analysis.
There can be no doubt at this point that the U.S. is on a collision course with some awful, despicable men. Bashar Assad is definitely his father’s son when it comes to brutality, and the mullahs in Iran who are propping him up have been sponsoring terrorist groups for decades. However, lots of countries are headed by despicable men who exhibit a depraved indifference to human life, and they don’t face the threat of U.S. missiles raining down on them. In strictly humanitarian terms, is Assad’s use of chemical weapons more objectionable than North Korea’s prison labor camps, which have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of hopeless prisoners over decades? As much as we may object to the use of nerve gas by Assad to kill his enemies (and innocent civilians to boot) within his country’s borders, I don’t consider that a justifiable reason for the U.S. to go it alone in an attack on Syria.
I’m glad to hear that countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey think that we should use retaliate militarily against Syria. However, if they think that it’s such a great idea, why don’t they do it themselves? I’m sick and tired of wealthy Middle Eastern countries using the U.S. military as mercenaries (anyone remember Kuwaitis partying in Cairo and Europe while U.S. soldiers were dying in Kuwait and Iraq?). We supply the Saudis with plenty of planes and other military aid, yet every time they want a leader in the neighborhood taken out, they ask us to do it while they write checks. The only competence that Saudis have shown in organizing attacks is when 15 of them hijacked planes on 9/11. If they want our soldiers to do their dirty work again, they should be told in Quranic Arabic to put up or shut up.
I initially supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban were sheltering Al-Qaeda, which had just killed thousands of people in this country in horrific terrorist attacks. I did not support the war because the Taliban treated women abominably, mutilated their enemies, or blew up priceless Buddha statues. Once the Taliban fled to Pakistan, I thought that we should have left Afghanistan, with a firm warning to future rulers of the country not to harbor terrorists who would harm our country. I have no doubt that following our withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan next year, the Taliban will soon retake power in much of the country. I also have no doubt that they will treat their subjects horribly. However, as long as they don’t harm this country or offer material support to those who do, we should not seek a military solution to their barbarity.
Ditto for Iraq. I initially supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein because I believed that he was harboring WMD and planned to use them to harm our country and its interests. However, after he was captured, I thought that we should have withdrawn as soon as possible and let Iraqis run their own affairs. The daily body counts from sectarian strife and bombings in Iraq are disheartening to those of us who hoped for the best from the U.S. occupation, but in the end we can’t have our soldiers remain in countries because their people can’t stop killing each other.
President Obama was foolish to establish a “red line” with Syria over chemical weapons, and it would be even more foolish for Senators and Congressmen to vote to support his proposed military actions just so he can save face with the rest of the world. Attacking Syria now would simply compound Obama’s initial mistake, with unpredictable consequences for the region. I have heard many commentators state that we need to make good on the President’s threat so that Iran and other rogue states will take us more seriously. Well, anyone who believes that Iran will give up its nuclear program after missiles rain down on Damascus is dreaming. Iran’s mullahs are not as impressionable as Moammar Gadhafi, the late Libyan leader who reportedly abandoned his nuclear program after the U.S. attack on Saddam Hussein.
I have never thought of myself as an isolationist, but in the 21st century, following two long wars conducted by this country in the Middle East, the only compelling reason for me to support our involvement in the civil war in Syria is to defend America and/or Americans from attack. I was going to include Israel, but Israel can defend itself perfectly well against anything Assad sends its way. Given that an undetermined percentage of anti-Assad fighters are anti-American jihadists and even Al-Qaeda supporters, it makes no sense at all for us to help them topple Assad.
In the end, if Assad’s actions really are so objectionable that the President of the United States feels that his country should be attacked, then the only military objective here should be regime change. Limited surgical strikes would be as effective as Bill Clinton’s attacks on Al-Qaeda targets in Sudan were at discouraging the 9/11 attackers from carrying out their nefarious plots. The only reason to lob missiles at Assad is to encourage others to take him out. Given the composition of the anti-Assad coalition, I’m not sure that this is a wise course of action.
I am optimistic that Congress will follow the lead of the American people and reject the Obama Administration’s well-intentioned but imprudent plan to lead us down the well-trodden path to war in the Middle East without a clear objective. I join with my thoughtful Jewish friends in praying that the year 5774 will bring lasting peace, not unnecessary conflict, to the Middle East. Shana tova.