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Jewish Journal

Annapolis, Chanukah, Jerusalem, Not So Weird

December 13, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Annapolis and Jerusalem

Last month, Rob Eshman wrote, "Many of us are willing to let half of Jerusalem go so that the idea of Jerusalem can be saved" ("Annapolis and Chanukah," Nov. 30). I'd like to respond with two points:

First, if, God forbid, East Jerusalem were handed over to the Palestinians, it wouldn't be "ideas" they'd be firing onto the homes and institutions of West Jerusalem.

Second, no portion of Israel, especially Jerusalem, is the sole possession of the prime minister, to be traded for even a legitimate promise of peace. The state may be sovereign, but the land upon which the Israeli government presides is unique and distinct from any other parcel of land on earth.

Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, everywhere: those of us who pray every day for its safety, teenagers visiting for the first time through Taglit-birthright israel, grandparents who buy Israel Bonds for their grandchildren, Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fought to protect and reunify the city and their families and friends who grieved when they paid the ultimate price.

Although we've been scattered around the world for the past 2,000 years, our hearts were always in Jerusalem. Seeing the city divided now would break our hearts.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles


I want to thank Rob Eshman for his insightful and honest piece about Annapolis. I am heartened that the parties met and that the Arab world seems ready to move in the direction of making peace with Israel. The hard work is yet to come.

And it is so true that the story of Chanukah, the spiritual side, which the rabbis highlighted through the haftarah of Zecharia, can inform us in how we go forward in this new round of talks. We must all be truthful, hopeful and courageous of spirit in our desire for peace.

Jerusalem can be shared, as it is already, and the holy sites will be open to all people.

The naysayers are out in force, but I am choosing to stand with those who believe in hope and a future of peace. The realities will be hard to swallow, but with a healthy dose of spirituality, a belief that tomorrow can be different from today, we can be the generation that makes peace a reality. Not by might but by spirit.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center,
Brit Tzedek V'Shalom National Secretary


'New Kind of Mikveh'

There are many beautifully designed mikvehs throughout California ("New Kind of Mikveh Washes Off Ritual's Negative Image," Dec. 7). This new trend started some 30 years ago with the Long Beach Mikveh. Its establishment was prompted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Since then, mikvehs have taken on a new approach to design and sensitivity to femininity. For instance, the recently constructed mikveh in Agoura is a prime example of this trend.

In our community of Yorba Linda, the Orange County mikveh is slated to open in just a few weeks. The mikveh was constructed with great attention to detail. It is a haven of holiness and purity. Many in the community will benefit from it.

For more on mikvehs around the community, visit www.mikvah.org.

Rabbi David Eliezrie
North County Chabad Center


'Wandering Minyan'

I must confess that it was with special delight and pleasure I read David Suissa's Pearl Harbor Day column titled, "Wandering Minyan" (Dec. 7).

There are three reasons I was thrilled by your explication. First, the dynamic writing style offered a cerebral joy associated with pleasure of experiencing fine craftsmanship. Secondly and more importantly I shared an experience with Young Israel of Santa Monica, and your words were true and familiar. What reverberated deeply was your prophetic call to act as a true guardian and trustee of community assets, to act benevolently and righteously, to act as a brother to a brother.

My encounter with this little congregation was similar to yours. My wife and I sauntered into the Levin Center and encountered an eclectic group, unified in their respect and warmth toward guests and each other.

I wish I could share your optimism that with a new voice in The Federation, there can be exhibited a breath of kindness to engage Young Israel.

I ask all like-minded folk, especially Young Israel congregants, to make a small amendment to their annual gifts to The Federation. Make their checks payable to Young Israel of Santa Monica Rent Trust (Negotiable when Young Israel resumes residency at the Levin Center).

If enough dollars are earmarked for Young Israel of Santa Monica, The Federation will yield to economy, if not brotherhood.

David [Suissa] keep up the good work in keeping our community leaders accountable and humane.

David Stauber
Santa Monica


Kabbalah

If Phillip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, is "trying to keep young Jews from cults," then why is he discouraging them from taking pride in their Judaism ("Not So Weird," Dec. 7)?

In his review of Jody Myers' book and his own visit to the centre, Rob Eshman states that the Kabbalah Centre denies that it is Jewish (except when doing so would benefit its coffers). He also explains how centre regulars abhor the idea of converting to Judaism or even using the term Jewish.

If the centre and its adherents are so ashamed of being Jewish or being associated with something Jewish, then why did they steal the name of an ancient Jewish practice? Is it any wonder that the centre rubs many Jews the wrong way?

Real Jews take pride in their Judaism. They don't try to appeal to the masses or blend in with non-Jews, and they certainly don't try to coddle spoiled movie stars and pop singers like Madonna, who are made sick by the very idea of being Jewish.Kathy Hallgren
Hermosa Beach


Rob Eshman's revisionist assessment of the Kabbalah Centre asserts that Judaism in its traditional form is elitist and not accessible to American Jews.

Aside from the fact that the commercialization and distortion of complex ideas by the Phillip Berg contingent has created a completely alien hybrid of New Age religion, self-help ego-driven psychology and reductivist versions of Jewish mysticism, this notion that Judaism itself is not enough for American Jews needs to be seriously addressed.

While Orthodoxy has proven to be incompatible with the strictures of modern American life, and the other denominations have eviscerated much of the traditional halacha, there is little discussion about the scholastic traditions of Spain and the Middle East in the debate.

The Sephardic tradition -- bastardized and transformed beyond any rational understanding by this new Kabbalah scam -- has maintained within it the seeds of what my teacher, Rabbi Jose Faur, has called "religious humanism," a blending of the parochially Jewish with the secular sciences and humanities. Such a religious ethos may be found in the writings of Maimonides and his many heirs.

An American representative of this Sephardic tradition was Rabbi Sabato Morais of Philadelphia (1823-1897), a man sadly unknown to young Jews who could use him for a model. With the devaluation of Sephardim from the Jewish dialogue, a figure such as Morais has been set aside.

Rather than looking to the fad of the moment, we should be looking for models within our Jewish tradition that speak to the needs of a generation that has been victimized by New Age scams like the Kabbalah Centre and its ilk.

David Shasha
Center for Sephardic Heritage
Brooklyn, N.Y.


'Chanukah and Adult Faith'

Have these "rabbinic" students nothing better to do than to flop out the book of Maccabees to prove how the Hasmoneans were actually war criminals ("Chanukah and Adult Faith," Nov. 30)?

After reading her inaccurate understanding of our history and our holiday of Chanukah, one could only conclude that she would have gladly joined the ranks of the Hellenists, had she lived back then, and then the religion she would need to come to terms with would have ceased to exist.

Perhaps this is the main reason Danya Ruttenberg finds the holiday so troubling. For it is not a holiday that commemorates a victory on the battlefield, nor even a holiday about freedom of religion. The holiday of Chanukah is actually God's practical joke on Ruttenberg and her coreligionists.

How ridiculous she must seem to be lighting a menorah, when she is one step away from assimilation, despite her rabbinic aspirations, and miles from authentic Jewish thought. Indeed, it is revealing how she never questions the Book of Maccabees, but yet our Talmud to her is rife with historical revisions and half-truths.

If she would have been taught that Chanukah is actually an anti-assimilation holiday, about rededicating oneself to our Torah and fulfilling the precepts therein, her confusion may have been remedied. But her knowledge is devoid of this simple fact because she has actually abandoned the Torah, choosing to follow only what she deems right in her eyes. If she ne eds dedication to honesty, surely she could admit this.

Her insights included the dubious idea that the eight-day miracle was invented for purposes of diverting attention from a Jewish victory on the battlefield, so that our new rulers would not feel threatened by another uprising. This ridiculous notion she swallows whole from scholars she neglects to name and spews back at us to further confuse, demoralize and misinform the people she intends to enlighten.

She has turned our beloved sages into liars; no wonder she has no respect for them. In her eyes, our sages have done the near impossible -- convinced an entire people for over two millennia to light candles for eight days to commemorate a miracle that never occurred. These sages are masters of conspiracy, having also convinced everyone to eat matzah for eight days to commemorate another historical fairy tale: the Exodus.

It is sad to think that some day she will be a rabbi, will be teaching a new generation to accept her rendition of history and compel them to take responsibility for the Hasmonean crimes.

I suggest she institute for herself and them a public pelting of themselves with latkes, followed by a three-legged footrace up the hill to claim the moral high ground. Afterward, they can gather by a Chanukah bush to sing carols and relate tales of childhood woe, of having to grow up with nothing to celebrate.

Benjamin Broitman
North Hollywood




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