April 21, 2005
As one of the people who helped start Joshua Venture I have gotten to know many of the program’s participants (“Failed Joshua Venture’s Serious Failings,” April 15). They are incredibly dedicated individuals who have chosen to give up opportunities in the private sector to work long hours for little money, solely out of a desire to make a difference in Jewish life. If these individuals are “spoiled,” then I don’t know what that means about the rest of us.
Gary Wexler bemoans the showering of “free trips, free conferences, free hotel rooms, scholarships, fellowships ... along with the awarding of cash, prizes and other untold privileges,” onto this generation. However, unlike Wexler and myself, who were fortunate enough to be sent to Israel for free and to stay at various resorts as recipients of the Wexner Heritage Fellowship, Joshua Venture Fellows attended retreats at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (while nice, hardly a five-star hotel). In addition, their $35,000 grant for each of two years was awarded not as a prize, but to fund the operations of their nonprofits.
Finally, he incorrectly suggests that the idea behind Joshua Venture was to create a new elitist class. In fact, the program was founded on an egalitarian notion rooted firmly in Jewish history — that it is often young people and those on the margins who create new ideas to benefit a changing world (think Theodor Herzl who at 35 wrote “The Jewish State” ). Joshua Venture Fellows proved that this notion still holds true. In less than four years, the 16 fellows created programs, which so far have impacted more than 700,000 people, many of whom are often overlooked by the traditional community.
While Joshua Venture’s board decided it was time to close its doors (due to issues dealing with infrastructure, not a lack of program success), the need for something like Joshua Venture still very much exists. I, for one, hope that rather than launch unjust personal attacks against those who are willing to dedicate themselves to improving Jewish life, we respond to their ideas and commitment with the respect and humility that Wexler so readily demands, yet himself seems to have forgotten.
Joshua Venture, the name and organizational infrastructure, may have been “put to death and buried,” but the collective of people who participated in the organization remain alive and well.
Gary wants to talk about entitlement? Living on $30,000 a year or less in some of the most expensive cities in America, sleeping on friends’ floors because we couldn’t afford hotel rooms where we had meetings or conferences, sacrificing jobs that came with medical benefits and vacation days, living and working on shoestring budgets because we believed we could add positive value to the Jewish world. We don’t believe any of these things are signs of entitlement. Working for and receiving a grant or a fellowship is now “the world on a silver platter”? Does that not undermine the entire field of nonprofit work?
Did Gary intend for this opinion piece to model appropriate, professional communication to the wayward Joshua Venture and general Jewish communities? Instead of speaking with those who offended him, Mr. Wexler waited a year and a half. He used this incident to make a disconnected point about creating elite groups in Jewish life, and then challenged that “there is a critical issue of respect missing” from Joshua Venture. We found a critical sense of respect missing from his diatribe.
In addition to presenting a factually inaccurate account of what happened that afternoon, Gary’s comments reaffirm the very need for something like the Joshua Venture. Our cohort sought to reflect and to cultivate a Jewish community committed to diversity, equality, creativity, openness and innovation. Gary resorts to name-calling to describe the day he spent with the Joshua Venture community. He makes it sound like a stifling, hyper-politically correct and thus closed environment, which it was not. For four years, Joshua Venture fostered an open environment where ideas could be freely discussed by young people who represent a wide spectrum of Jewish activism and thought. Gary was simply unprepared for a quintessentially Jewish conversation about what it means to be a Jewish leader.
Many of us found the day which Mr. Wexler described to be frustrating, but we didn’t feel compelled to publicly denounce his values or undermine his professional life and the positive impact he has had on many organizations. As many of our organizations continue or begin to do work in the Los Angeles Jewish community, we regret that he did not show the same restraint or professionalism.
Meredith Englander Polsky, Amy Tobin,
Sam Ball, Ronit Avni, Tobin Belzer
Gary Wexler responds:
I intended my piece to be an examination of the ways in which empowerment can sometimes lead to a sense of entitlement. I should have been more careful to point out that certainly not all, or even most, Joshua Venture participants fall into this trap. I sought to raise an overall communal concern, not detract from the good work of any group. I apologize for any pain I have caused.
Life and Death
Contrary to last week’s letters to the editor, which were marked by vitriol and inaccuracies, I found Judy Gruen’s essay (“Spiritual Help Can Benefit Hopelessly Ill,” April 1) thoughtful and poignant. Nowhere does she talk about the “beauty of suffering.” She does mention Peter Singer, who may be an “intellectual crackpot,” but apparently Princeton doesn’t think so. She does talk about the pain of watching a loved one die, about the value of caregiving, about the traditional Jewish view of the process of death.
Death is a process and has its own timetable. I have lost both of my parents, and so I speak from experience when I say that it’s difficult to react without emotion when we observe the imminent demise or prolonged suffering of someone we love. Emotions, and science, also complicate our decisions. That is why many people write “living wills.” For Gruen and for those of us who are Orthodox, the “living will” is the Torah. The Torah may not answer all our questions or spare us pain, but it does make those life-and-death decisions for us.
Certainly Terri Schiavo’s death has raised many emotions for many people, and many questions. My questions: Why, if Schiavo’s parents were willing to care for her, didn’t her husband allow them to do so? She wasn’t in pain. She was breathing on her own. Her husband claims that she told him she would never want to “live like that.” But can a healthy woman in her 20s anticipate what her wishes would be if she were suddenly robbed of that good health? Her brother-in-law tells us that she died with dignity and in peace. Her family says she starved to death. Where are the dignity and peace? Where is the compassion?
Cynthia Lawrence thinks Judy Gruen is out of her depth when discussing matters of life and death (Letters, April 8). Certainly there are reasonable arguments for supporting Michael Schiavo’s decision to end his wife’s life. But if depth means that, as Lawrence claims, existing human life must be sacrificed in order to preserve abortion rights and stem cell research, then I am happy to wade with Gruen in the shallow end of the pool.
What Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said about Social Security is what many have said, what I’ve felt, and I’m sure others have also (“The Social Security Fix: Pay Back Funds,” April 15). One has to wonder why the Democratic National Committee hasn’t pointed out this dichotomy.
Patrick R. Mascaro
What a disingenuous article Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) wrote. There has never been any dollars in the so-called Social Security Trust Fund since Congress and presidents, Democratic as well as Republican, have been raiding it for decades. It’s shady truths like this, with Democrats “accusing” Republicans of doing things the Democrats have been doing for years, that just perpetuates the bad name associated with politicians.
I was concerned to see the cover story on wine (“Let My People Merlot,” April 15). Although Jews have less alcoholism than some other ethnic groups, there are still many Jewish alcoholics. A Jewish physician friend of mine died of his alcoholism because he lied to his doctor due to his shame. I’ve helped two other physicians get sober. Wine and other sources of alcohol are not innocuous drinks, and I was concerned to see it promoted.
Dr. Marsha Epstein
Kudos to James Besser (“Presbyterians Won’t Budge on Divesting,” April 15). He describes with consummate accuracy the experiences of us working in interfaith relations in our efforts to work with the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) on divestment. Indeed, we are quite disillusioned by the PCUSA’s systematic refusal to hear the views of any representative of the moderate Jewish community with any seriousness.
Whatever the motives of the leadership of PCUSA, the dialogue has proven to be dishonest.
However, this experience contrasts with our experiences of talking to local Presbyterian clergy and laity. Across America we consistently find understanding of Israel, Jewish feelings and willingness to maintain balanced and just attitudes toward the tragic Middle East conflict.
Official polling data confirm our anecdotal experience: A plurality of Presbyterian elders and laypersons oppose divestment. The problem is with the Presbyterian ideologues in Louisville who have lost their moral compass and fair concern for Jews, not with the vast majority of the Presbyterian faithful throughout America.
Rabbi Eugene Korn
Director of Jewish Affairs
American Jewish Congress
What if, Soriya Daniel’s aunt reached out her hand to her deceased husband’s brother and said, “Join us in our loss, we are all family, let us begin to heal (“In Death Still Not Parting,” April 8)? I do not believe her dead husband would rise from the grave to chastise her, quite the opposite, if possible she would have hastened his soul — uplifted his soul — to wherever souls might go.
Judith Ornstein Kollman
High Tech High
Once upon a time, as Roberta Weintraub was exiting the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board (LAUSD), she also had a brainstorm to integrate technology with the L.A. Library, and so the Electronic Information Magnet High School was born for LAUSD (“A Brave New High School,” April 15).
In the early stages, an arrangement with the downtown library was established and some classes were held there. But an overall vision and continuing support for a new way to deliver education in the 21st century was never fulfilled. Weintraub had little to do with the school. Nobody seemed to understand its purpose. Few people had an interest in its mission. Perhaps not attracting the funding of a charter school operation, it has languished. Even with today’s new emphasis on “small learning communities,” very little is electronic or informative at the school. In fact, the relationship with the library is almost nonexistent today.
The creation of this magnet has been a very telling example of why schools within LAUSD fail. And who is to blame? Not the original teachers, who are long-since gone. Not the students, some of whom think they are there to learn to be electricians. Not the parents, some of whom only want a safe environment for their children. It is people like Weintraub and the magnet office at LAUSD who might have a good idea, but actually have no idea. They don’t wait to see if their idea is appropriately funded, housed or led by visionary educators. I hope High Tech High does not get the same treatment. Something tells me it will not.
The “Social Security Fix,” Rep. Henry Waxman’s hyperbole belies any semblance of truth and strengthens his credentials as a class warrior. His arguments are vacuous on several levels (“The Social Security Fix: Pay Back Funds,” April 15).
First, his portrayal of tax cuts as an expense is an example of both the tortured logic and the misleading rhetoric that cost Democrats their majority. Waxman would have us believe that tax reductions that primarily benefit those that pay the bulk of the taxes (the upper 1 percent of income pays 34 percent of total income taxes) are an expense rather than what they really are — a reduction of revenue. By mislabeling tax cuts as expenses, Waxman can then take the rhetorical leap and argue that Republicans increase spending and worsen the deficit. Thus, no tax cut is ever justified.
Second, Waxman somehow contends that there is a zero-sum game between tax cuts and the solvency of the Social Security “trust fund.” He must know that Social Security is funded by payroll taxes and not by general income tax revenues. The size of any income tax cut has no bearing whatsoever on the viability of Social Security. To suggest otherwise is to intentionally mislead.
Third, Waxman argues that Democrats honor the lockbox concept. This is a crock. The lockbox, as originally conceived and promoted by Democrats during the 2000 election, was described as a place to park Social Security revenues. The funds were to be used to pay current Social Security obligations, and the surplus funds were to be diverted to pay down the debt. IOUs of the U.S. Treasury would have replaced these surplus funds. In as much as surplus funds were to be diverted to finance the debt, the lockbox was an intentional misnomer. Fourth, his suggestion that only Republicans use the Social Security surplus to fund government spending is dishonest. Historically, Democrats as much as Republicans have diverted the Social Security surplus to finance the national debt. This is nothing unique to the last four years.
Waxman’s rhetoric is such a distortion of the truth as to amount to nothing more than an ad hominem attack against Republicans. His cause would be better served by honoring three simple words: “Tell the truth.”
Dr. Stephen Levinson