June 16, 2005
The Smart Card
The idea that in medieval Europe, among Christians, the smartest people generally practiced celibacy, while, among Jews, the scholars and rabbis had big families, had occurred to me some time ago ("Are Jews Smarter?" June 10).
Another possible reason for Jewish intellectual achievement could be that with the rise of rabbinic Judaism and synagogues in the Talmudic period, Jewish men at least were required to learn to read in order to recite the Torah. This requirement for study and learning probably spilled over into the pursuit of secular learning.
In order to test the idea of smart genes connected with Tay-Sachs disease, a study of Sephardic Jews should be made to see if they, too, have a history of intellectual achievement and success. I have only anecdotal data.
For example, a good friend of mine is a Sephardic Jew from Peru. His father's success story parallels that of many Ashkenazim: He was born in Constantinople and moved to Peru where he started a fabric store in Lima and became wealthy. He sent his children to American colleges, where I met his son. In the Turkish empire, Jews held prominent positions in the court of the sultan, due to their ability. Bernard Baruch had a Sephardic background. In England there were prominent Sephardic families: the D'Avigdors, Montagus and Desola-Pools.
Therefore, it would be good if a study could be made to show whether Sephardim have a high intelligence level without the benefit of Tay-Sachs. By the way, I am not Sephardic, myself -- solamente en mi Corazon [only in my heart].
Reel Was Real
Several weeks ago, an old college classmate on the East Coast posted a rave review touting the cultural diversity lessons of "Crash" on the alumna message boards ("Reel Life," June 10). Against our better judgment, my husband and I went to see the movie. Since then, I have been trying to write her to tell of the negative feelings that "Crash" evoked in me. I also felt that I needed to describe and defend my "L.A." to her.
My struggle has ended. A few moments ago, I e-mailed your editorial "Reel Life" to her.
One of the reasons I have loved living in L.A. for the past 35 years is the cultural diversity that the city offers. Your "snapshots" are indeed reflective of the truth of Los Angeles, where we value differences for the positive outcomes and growth that are provided by a diverse population.
Your editorial is beautifully written and was the perfect answer I needed.
Marina del Rey
Left Out of Cannes
I am writing in response to the article, "Project Shabbat a 'Go' in Cannes," written by Carole Raphaelle Davis (May 27).
My first question for Davis is, "Were we at the same Shabbat dinner?" As an attendee of the event, I found the article to be too disingenuous. The false impression she presented was that this was just another schmooze fest. When in reality our hosts, with limited resources, succeed in creating an oasis of Jewish spirituality in Cannes.
Davis begins her article quite correctly in describing the 24/7 deal hustling that occurs in Cannes. The film festival is a marketplace where people spend time, energy, and money in order to secure a deal so they can return and repeat the cycle the following year. Scott Einbinder and Steven Kaplan diverted much personal energy to coordinate what turned out to be a beautiful community-building event. Do you know how hard it is to find a kosher caterer in Cannes?
Davis stated that Rabbi Mendel Schwartz flew in for the dinner. She failed to mention that Einbinder sponsored the trip.
I wish Davis had referenced my conversation with Schwartz about the beauty of creating a community and acknowledging, through ritual, how blessed we are.
Also she could have mentioned that a Jewish woman from New Orleans had her first experience of a formal Kiddush. She had such a meaningful experience and wanted to kiss the rabbi, but then understood that it would be improper (so she kissed the person next to him).
Instead, Davis chose to misquote a joke I made about the nature of Einbinder's film, "Velvet Side of Hell." This quote angered me because it slanderously portrayed Einbinder's professionalism as a filmmaker.
Yes, people did talk business during Shabbat, but it was not the primary focus of the dinner. I trust God will forgive some unconscious transgressions. I don't know why Davis considered that the "business chatter was predictably ridiculous."
Quite frankly I would prefer to work with people who make the moral choice to take time out for a Shabbat dinner then some other Cannes event.
Yet the fact that 40-plus people choose to celebrate Shabbat instead of going to a premiere or other event (and there were many alternatives to choose from) was lost in her narrow vision.
Too bad Davis had not been with us after the "party" as we were carrying the leftovers home, looking for a cab, when behind us we saw the silhouettes of the three rabbis walking down the hill from the villa. We saw that as a sign and decided instead to walk back three kilometers home. The rabbis joined us, and when we got to the Croisette (the center of Cannes) the three rabbis and Einbinder started dancing in street celebrating the Shabbat. That alone is very newsworthy!
Perhaps if Davis were not preoccupied with her "handsome Corsican" friend, who gave her a ride to the party, she would not have missed the true meaning and beauty of the evening. Note that I was one of several non-Jews in attendance and the event helped deepen my appreciation of Judaism.
Peter M. Graham II
120 dB Films
Iraq vs. Israel
Regarding David Finnigan's interview with me in his article on Jews who've been to Iraq since the U.S. invasion ("Professor Sees Iraq War as a 'Disaster,'" May 27), I wish to make an important clarification to the quotation from me at the end of the piece.
In the midst of a discussion of the boycott call against Israeli academics, I am quoted as saying: "How can someone sitting in America or the U.K. call for divestment from Israel, when the occupation of Iraq has killed far more Iraqis and done far more damage to that society in two years than Israel has done to Palestinian society in more than a century? Or China: How horrific the occupation and the genocide of Tibet has been. Sudan?"
What I believe I said in that conversation -- or certainly intended to say, and I think was clear from our longer conversation -- was "How can someone sitting in America or the UK call only for divestment from Israel...."
The point being that focusing only on Israel when other countries engage in similar or even more extreme violations of human, political and civil rights is intellectually, morally and strategically shortsighted.
This is very different from arguing, as the quote suggests, that Israel should not face sanctions as long as other countries engage in even graver rights violations. Rather, one standard should be applied to every country, including our own, if real peace and justice are ever to be achieved in any country.
Department of History
Don't Knock Nixon
Once again your "rag" printed an outrageous piece of trash about "Deep Throat," intimating that President Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite ("Deep Throat: Not a Jew," June 3).
Just the opposite is true. I knew President Nixon and if you could read Golda Meir's biography you may learn something. Don't you just wish that someone would investigate something just as vile against President Bush? I bet you do!
A recent letter by Jacqueline Bassan makes the ridiculous claim that lyricist E. Y. Harburg was not Jewish ("Letters," May 27).
I direct the writer's attention to two books that abundantly state otherwise. The first is a memoir by Harburg himself, in the collection "Creators and Disturbers" (Columbia University Press, 1982). The other is by his son, Ernie, in collaboration with Harold Meyerson, in "Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz?" (University of Michigan Press, 1993).
"Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish"
More Than 'Special'
I am writing this because I was not satisfied with how we were portrayed in your 2005 graduation article ("A Special School?" June 10).
We at Ohr Haemet appreciate that Julie Gruenbaum Fax took the time to interview two of our students. While we are indeed a special school, there is far more about our school that makes it special besides not only measuring a student's success based on which Ivy League they got into.
We are a college preparatory, WASC accredited school. We offer honors and AP courses. Our classes are small, our teachers are available to our students. Our students go to the UCs, the Cal States and other private universities like USC. Our students are taught the beauty of our Torah with such warmth and love that they usually make the choice to observe Shabbat, kashrut and family purity (when they marry).
Who comes to our school? Girls who want individualized attention in the classroom, girls who want to focus on what it means to be a good Jew and a good person. We focus holistically on each student so they can leave our school feeling confident both academically and spiritually.
Our students become nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, writers and social workers. They have made very conscious choices in their education and careers so they can also marry and raise a family. They leave Ohr Haemet with their priorities straight. We are proud of every girl's accomplishments.
We measure our success by helping and encouraging every girl to use her potential to succeed. We are a viable option for the secular and Jewish education for many high school girls in Los Angeles.
General Studies Principal
Ohr Haemet Institute
Look for Local Brains
After reading Professor Aaron Ciechanover article ("Is an Israel Brain Drain Nigh?" June 10), I find it sad that Israel can't tap the resourses in Southern California of laid-off and unemployed engineers and technicians who would be willing to work as well as teach and train to increase Israel's technical brain power.