November 24, 2005
Tookie: Live or Die?
I was really quite shocked at the noose on the cover to illustrate the articles on the [scheduled] execution of Stanley Tookie Williams ("Should Tookie Die," Nov. 11). Pairing lynching imagery with a discussion about the controversial impending death of a black man is quite crass and inappropriate.
I understand that as a publication you have to try your darndest to put interesting pictures on your covers to attract readership or some type of attention to your magazine. But this is just ignorant and obnoxious.
Seeing this cover does not make me want to read The Jewish Journal; it just makes me question the integrity of it.
Your latest issue, in which a large noose is shown with the words "Should Tookie Die?" is highly offensive. In a city as racially diverse as Los Angeles, I expect more from a publication about Jewish issues. Your cover is insensitive and shows a callous disregard for the feelings of African Americans in your city.
It never ceases to amaze me how people will fight to save the lives of convicted murderers. As it is, the death penalty in California is practically a joke. Letting Tookie Williams live would do nothing to change this. I have no doubt Williams has changed and repents his former life as a gangbanger, and founder of the most notorious street gang in Los Angeles -- too little too late. The fact that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize means nothing. After all, Yasser Arafat was awarded this very prize! In addition, the death penalty is not meant as a deterrent. No murderer thinks he will be caught. Executing Williams is the only way to assure justice for the victims, their families, and Californians; so, my answer to Daniel Sokatch's two questions is a resounding "Yes."
Larry Greenfield argues, obliquely, that the execution of convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams is justified by "the wider evil [Williams] brought into the world" -- that is, the "Crips super-gang." Talk about chutzpah.
Many Los Angeles residents have long averted their eyes to the unpleasant realities of life in neighborhoods such as "South Central." Unlike my siblings, I chose to attend "neighborhood" public schools: Audubon Junior High and Crenshaw High. I saw firsthand the conditions that give rise to "gang activity." I also witnessed "gang activity" long before 1971 (we called it "juvenile delinquency" back then). Certain teachers worked tirelessly together with parents to break up "proto-gangs" as they coalesced; such little-known efforts delayed the onset of the "Crips" phenomenon by several years. But it is so much easier to blame it all on Williams.
Williams deserves severe punishment for the brutal murders he committed. The families of the victims also deserve to see justice done. "Life without possibility of parole" sounds about right. But that's not enough for Greenfield: "This just execution will dry some of their tears -- and offer some closure and peace."
The State of California -- that is, all of us, collectively -- should not take the life of Williams just so that others might feel better.
Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
Bainbridge Island, Wa
Where Credit Is Due
In the article "Rescued Souls and Torahs Meet at Shul" a very important fact was missing (Nov. 18). Beth Chayim Chadashim, the original gay and lesbian shul, now an inclusive community, organized the entire event, housing it at Leo Baeck.
Temple Beth Am member
Rabbi Tucker's Death
We wish to offer our sincere condolences to the family of Rabbi Steven Tucker and the members of Temple Ramat Zion. ("Car Crash Claims Beloved Northridge Rabbi," Nov. 18). Tucker's death is a profound tragedy as well as a loss to the Jewish community.
Tucker's untimely death reminds us of the importance of educating ourselves regarding suicide prevention. To this end, we would like to remind the Jewish community about Project Tikvah: Jewish Youth Suicide Prevention Program. This program teaches Jewish educators, clergy, parents, and students to recognize the warning signs of suicide, identify at-risk youth and take effective action toward suicide prevention.
For more information about Project Tikvah, call (310) 446-6625
Project Tikvah Co-Directors
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Rabbi Steven Tucker. I was further shocked and terribly disappointed when I read in The Jewish Journal the article regarding Tucker and publicizing facts that should have been kept private with the family. In such a difficult situation regarding a community leader, it was of no benefit and served no purpose to readers, his congregation and especially his family to have made public that he committed suicide and his contract was in question. I found this reporting totally irresponsible. Maybe The Journal should change its name to the Jewish Enquirer.
Instead of task forces and "obesity coordinators", why not fight the fat with old-fashioned personal responsibility and accountability ("Wanted: A General in the Obesity Wars", Nov. 18)?
OK, coordinate this: Eat a salad, go for a long walk.
The article "Car Crash Claims Northridge Rabbi" (Nov. 18) included an incorrect date. The funeral service for Rabbi Steven Tucker was held Nov. 15.
The article "A Major Reason to Study at CSUN" (Nov. 18) incorrectly stated that UCLA does not offer a Jewish studies major.
IRS vs. All-Saints
Rabbi Leonard Beerman speculates that the IRS investigation of the Rev. George Regas and Pasadena's All-Saints Episcopal Church is a "selective application of the law" ("All Saints' IRS Fight Gets Jewish Support," Nov. 18). He couldn't be more right.
While going after All-Saints and Regas, the IRS repeatedly overlooks brazen violations by a number of clergy on the right -- even when those incidents are brought to the attention of the IRS again and again. This selective prosecution --and persecution -- of Regas is just the latest scary example of the Bush Administration's un-American tactics in attempting to silence its critics. Whether, rather than challenging content, it's making ad hominem attacks on a newspaper that editorializes against the war; whether it's calling elected officials who criticize the war unpatriotic or telling citizens who protest the war that they are hurting the troops; whether it's implying that those who would protect separation of church and state are somehow ungodly: This concerted attempt to squelch debate, this tyranny of Bush and Cheney is just more of the same from the folks who brought us the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay prisoners and is most certainly the greatest threat to the American Way.
One last thing: Regas made himself vulnerable to the IRS when he did not stick to the issue of the Iraq War itself, instead focusing on a rather subjective comparison of presidential candidates, two short days before the election. Because he did not explicitly say, "Vote for John Kerry," or "Don't vote for George Bush," does not get him off the hook. Even a cursory reading of his sermon (at www.icujp.org shows it to be unmistakably about whom to vote against (and tacitly for), even ending with "When you go into the voting booth on Tuesday."
If asked, objective separation experts would certainly have told The Jewish Journal, that whether we agree with Regas or not, whether he's on the left or right, whether he's right or wrong isn't at all relevant. What is, is that as a nation we have decided to give tax-exempt status to religious institutions, and while they are allowed within that nonprofit status to sermonize on issues, they are expressly prohibited from endorsing -- even in veiled terms -- candidates. Once the line between issues and candidates is crossed, as in this case, the religious institution's tax-exempt status is at risk. And Regas, as much as I admire him and agree with him, clearly crossed that line.
I am proud of the left, especially the Jewish left, for coming to the defense of the wonderful Regas. At the same time, I worry that we are erring by focusing on whether he did it or not, rather than on the ominous pattern of intimidation that's behind the IRS investigation.
Joan H. Leonard
Tookie: Live or Die?
I appreciate the balanced, if polarized, coverage you gave the tentative execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. I also appreciate seeing the Jewish perspective on both sides of the capital punishment issue. Not being Jewish myself, I would have never imagined the Jewish community cared one way or the other about Tookie's execution.
What I do not appreciate is the lengths the publication went to get my attention. Admittedly, the cover was a successful eye-catcher, but using a noose to illustrate the execution of a black man, regardless of whether it is justifiable or not, is historically insensitive and tastelessly sensational. As a people who deal with terrorist assault to this day and have a history of genocidal efforts taken against them, one would think the Jewish community would be empathetic with the Black community's own struggle against the same evils.
I am troubled by Daniel Sokatch's substance and style.
He campaigns against lawful state execution of even "the most wicked" because "the divine spark always contains within it the potential for change." He gets to this conclusion by making up his own religion ("my Jewish values convince me that the capital punishment system... is beyond repair").
This is illogical. If the legal system were repaired, he would still oppose executing even the most wicked.
He then plays the race card, also disingenuously. If the system were proven to be unbiased, he would still not support capital punishment.
Finally, he states we cannot know if a potential killer might be deterred by the death penalty, yet he claims to know the heart of an allegedly rehabilitated murderer? I call this selective reasoning.
This is a classic case of ideological liberalism, using (poorly) religious and sociological arguments to support his personal preferences. I am unimpressed.
Don't Fault Sharon
You reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressured Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to ease Israeli controls on the Gaza border ("Sharon Feels Heat From Home, Abroad, " Nov. 18). Rice's goal is certainly to increase the likelihood of peace, but in fact, this move may only lead to more weapons being smuggled into Gaza, increasing the likelihood for more terrorism.
To move toward a real peace, pressuring Israel on border issues should not be Rice's priority. Instead, she should concentrate on pressuring Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, to honor his commitments to the Roadmap, to disarm and dismantle the terrorist groups, arrest the terrorists, and end the anti-Israel incitement in the government-controlled schools and media. If that were achieved, it would be a real step toward a real reconciliation.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America