Jewish Journal

LETTERS: September 18-24, 2009

Posted on Sep. 16, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Wagner’s Legacy

Three cheers for Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ conscience and courage in his article in defying political correctness by refusing to insulate Richard Wagner’s music from his virulent anti-Semitism (“Let Wagner Be Heard?” Aug. 28). For you music lovers who would sanitize Wagner’s works from his expressed bigotry, let me ask: If Hitler were a renowned artist, or Charles Manson an accomplished sculptor, would you support and attend an art show promoting their works? Or, as an alternative, would you at least insist that the program notes include specific reference to their non-artistic “contributions” to society?

Murray Geller
Woodland Hills

Even if Rabbi Schulweis’ column was not totally accurate, LA Opera board member E. Randol Schoenberg misses the real point (Letters, Sept. 4). Schoenberg admits that Wagner’s anti-Semitism is “abhorrent.” The real question is why should any Jew attend a concert, opera or anything else composed by any anti-Semite — or, for that matter, support any organization that promotes works by such an anti-Semite?

Paul Jeser
Los Angeles

In response to E. Randol Schoenberg’s “Letter to the Editor,” Sept. 4, written in response to Rabbi Harold Schulweis’s opinion article, “Let Wagner Be Heard?” (Aug. 28), with reference to Schoenberg’s cover story, “Why Wagner’s Music Deserves a Second Chance,” Feb. 20 — It doesn’t really matter if Wagner personally knew Houston Stewart Chamberlain or not. Wagner was an anti-Semite who advocated genocide of the Jewish people. His widow Cosima echoed his views and befriended Chamberlain who married Wagner’s daughter and became a close ally to Adolf Hitler. If anything, this shows the direct line from Wagner to Hitler, and it shows that the Wagner family could have cleaned up its famous relative’s legacy but chose to taint that legacy for eternity instead. Wagner was, therefore, no “ordinary” anti-Semite as Schoenberg contends.

And who is E. Randol Schoenberg to rate Wagner’s genius as a composer anyway? Schoenberg may be the grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg, but that doesn’t make him a musician, musicologist or expert on music. He is an attorney, and the arguments he made in his “Letter to the Editor” are those of an attorney.

To bring “Here Comes the Bride” from “Lohengrin” into the argument is preposterous. There are distinct ties between Wagner’s writings and his characterizations, librettos and music. He created Jewish caricatures like Beckmesser in “Die Meistersinger” and Alberich and Mime in the “Ring.” He incorporated his feelings of Aryanism and German nationalism into Hans Sachs’s final aria in “Die Meistersinger” when Sachs asks the German mastersingers to keep their art pure, free of foreigners, meaning Jews.

Wagner, the man, and Wagner, the composer, are one. He often said that he was creating a “total work of art.” The man and his music are linked together no matter how much Mr. Schoenberg wants to compartimentalize them. And we in a civilized society do not honor such troubled individuals with celebrations.

Schoenberg is so brainwashed by his lust for Wagner’s music that he has lost touch with reality. I think that Schoenberg needs to return to this earth and become a Jew again.

Carol Jean Delmar
Via email

Heath Care Reform

As always, my teacher and friend, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, was able to provide a sound, compassionate and wisdom-filled Jewish argument for a pressing social issue of our time (“Why We Must Support Universal Health Care,” Aug. 28). Through the use of sources, and with the gentle approach that has become a hallmark of his career, Rabbi Dorff gave me the moral backing and support for universal health care that I needed to preach in my own congregation. By not taking sides on the policy, but rather on the overall principle, Rabbi Dorff called on all of us to recognize the lack of humanity that currently exists in our broken health care system.

I plan to be leading a vigil for health care reform in our Pasadena community in October, and urge my rabbinic colleagues around Los Angeles and beyond to do the same.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater

Rabbi Dorff’s attempt at advancing a politically controversial agenda like Universal Healthcare (“Why We Must Support Universal Health Care,” Aug. 28) by tying it to Jewish tradition is despicable.

Admitting there is no mention of anything resembling Universal Healthcare in the Torah, Dorff then clouds the issue by referencing unrelated laws, like the redemption of captives. Dorff speaks of the Jewish rule listing priorities for whom we are responsible: ourselves first, followed by family, community, etc.  But Universal Healthcare removes the power from the individual to make important decisions for himself and gives it to bureaucrats, which is why so many Canadians and Europeans come to the U.S. for life-saving operations denied them by their own governments. He also doesn’t explain where on that list falls the twenty million citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, and elsewhere that the left includes in their number of forty million uninsured “Americans”.

Finally, he raises the issue of Judaism’s objection to preferential treatment of the individual over society. Yet, the politicians pushing Universal Healthcare will continue to retain their excellent health insurance.

Religion has nothing to do with this issue and Dorff should not use his position as a rabbi to promote his political agenda.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

I wish to give a different perspective on the brilliant and well-written article by my colleague and friend, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff. The United States of America was created upon the concept that the very foundation of human dignity is the ability to make choices about the things that affect our lives.

We all agree that the present state of affairs in health care delivery is simply not defensible. The debate is over the solution to the problem. We need to preserve a situation in which the patient can be an aggressive consumer with choices. We do not need a Canadian or British system in which the patient is a supplicant who is supposed to be humbly grateful for any miserable breadcrumbs thrown his/her way.

We are witnessing the largest grass-roots rebellion in American history. Citizens are telling politicians, “Hey, you work for us!” Our citizenry wants a government that protects its people not one that preys upon them.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

Leadership Training

The Jewish Journal featured two stories reflecting on the unfortunate closing of the Professional Leaders Project (PLP) (“A Break in the Pipeline” and “Face of a Crisis,” Aug. 28). This is indeed a loss, not only for the L.A. Jewish community but for the broader Jewish communal eco-system, and it is a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of even well-supported Jewish start-ups.

While PLP had a unique vision, the depth of the L.A. Jewish community suggests that at least some of its programmatics might be continued by other organizations, including The Federation’s NextGen program, the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California’s mentorship program, Jumpstart’s support network for young and innovative Jewish entrepreneurs, and, of course, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) School of Jewish Communal Service, which specializes in the training of Jewish professional leaders.

It is particularly relevant that the new strategic plan of HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Communal Service calls for the creation of a Center for Jewish Communal Leadership that explicitly responds to the impending “leadership deficit” noted by Shawn Landres. In cooperation with the above organizations and others, and mobilizing the resources of the executive management programs at USC, the School of Jewish Communal Service will be launching a number of new initiatives over the course of the coming years to upgrade the skill sets and leadership talents of Jewish professionals and lay leaders in the L.A. area. As we build the Center for Jewish Communal Leadership, we hope to work to insure that PLP important work continues even after the project officially closes its doors.

Richard A. Siegel
Los Angeles

Nazarian’s Philanthropy

Writer Danielle Berrin and The Jewish Journal editors missed a crucial opportunity to inform its readers about the charitable works of Sam Nazarian and his family’s foundation (“Drive, Daring and Family Legacy,” Sept. 4). While describing Nazarian as a hard worker born into wealth, your story left me and other readers with a one-dimensional portrayal of a vapid, money-hungry, deal-seeking, expensive-car-driving, jet-setting, 34-year-old bachelor, and I am wondering if that is actually the case or just the intent of The Jewish Journal’s story. Do you and Berrin think a story of wealth is what we are seeking as readers? I was far more interested and gratified to read Susie Kopecky’s article about a Jewish education program for special needs adults (“Judaism Through Arts for Adults With Special Needs,” Sept. 4). Why not use your precious space to inspire and motivate us to help others?

Ellen Brown
via e-mail

Iran Talks

What a coincidence! On the very day I read The Jewish Journal, which includes editor Eshman’s outrage about Vahidi being appointed defense minister for Iran (“Marking Outrage,” Sept. 11), the Obama administration announces it will talk to the Iranians. Thus, the administration has achieved a victory. The Mullahs will talk (yippee)! Heading the Iranian side will be undoubtedly Ahmadinejad and Vahidi.

My suggestion for the American side is Jimmy Carter (of course) and maybe one or two of your columnists and maybe that rabbi from Tikkun Magazine. It is time to wake up to the danger facing the Israelis from this amateur and naive bunch in Washington 80 percent of the Jewish people voted for.

Mark Steinberg
Los Angeles

Neve Gordon

The letter titled “Tolerance for Dissent?” (Sept. 4) is misguided on so many levels I hardly know where to begin to break it down.

Neve Gordon is not just a simple professor, as he wants us to believe, who has come to his homeland-bashing honestly and after much handwringing — so much so that his conscience just won’t let him refrain from speaking out against Israel’s atrocities. Neve Gordon, along with other heinous acts, is the same man who holed himself up in protest together with Yasser Arafat, the mass-murderer of so many Jews, during the siege of Ramallah. Not only should he be dismissed from Ben-Gurion University, he should be tried for treason. Israel’s Declaration of Independence and its inherent freedoms only go so far, as does America’s and any other democracy. No, professor David N. Myers and friends, this kind of subversion should never be tolerated, even in the most open of democracies. 

Myers, Gordon and other educators, including the other signers of this letter, need to be advocates for Israel. We desperately need them. Yes, there are injustices on both sides and even if you don’t agree that the Arab/Palestinian abhorrent behavior is over-the-top disproportionate in rhetoric and action, there are plenty people all over the world jumping all over us. We need you, as Jews and teachers, with access to young, impressionable minds, to advocate and campaign for your own people.

Allan Kandel
Los Angeles

Neve Gordon, Rabbi Leonard Beerman, professor David N. Myers and their academic colleagues are frustrated that “every Israeli government has continued to build settlements since 1967 in defiance of international law.” Question to them: Arab countries started aggressions against Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1972. Were they acting according to the international law?

Israel captured the territories in self-defense, in response to aggression by Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It also significant that U.N. Resolution 242 does not require complete Israel withdrawal from territories. The Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The notion that there is an illegal Israeli “occupation” is a myth. But why are you using this falsehood? I think, in spite of your education, you simply do not understand who is the aggressor and who is a victim.

Boris Blansky
West Hollywood

Regarding “Professor” Neve Gordon. I consider Gordon’s comments calling Israel an “apartheid” state not freedom of speech, but a lie. What next? A “Nazi” state? I think one appropriate answer to him would be to deduct all lost donations from his salary!

Cecilia Rosenthal
Santa Monica

Kill Wilhelm

Even 12-year-old Jewish girls have Holocaust revenge fantasies (“Kill Wilhelm,” Aug. 28), especially growing up in Austria with a mom who survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. So now, at 58, driving with my family from Amsterdam through Germany and Poland, I was sure to have outgrown those childish impulses.

We were on our way to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday in Krynica, a small mountain resort about two hours from Krakow, three hours from Auschwitz. The restaurant she picked was newly remodeled, very rustic and clean, in the middle of the forest. The food was delicious and fresh.

Someone in our group noticed a big wooden plaque in the entrance hall. The words were in Polish. My mom translated: “When a Jew enters, hold on to your pockets.”

We took the sign off the wall and told the waiters that we were all Jews and found it offensive. I don’t know if our broken Polish made any sense to them, but just to make sure, we drove by again a week later, on our way home. The sign was gone.

Dwora Fried
via e-mail

Two Cities

David N. Myers (“Jerusalem 2009: A Tale of Two Cities,” Aug. 14) may be a professor of Jewish history but he is biased; he is pro-Arab, thus will twist the truth and the facts on the ground about Israel’s position in Jerusalem so he can earn a point with the position he takes.

There is a lot more property in Jerusalem the Arabs stole from Jews and it must be returned to its legal owners; one case at the time.

Jerusalem is not “A Tale of Two Cities.” From 1949 to 1967 Jordan illegally occupied part of the city and created the grounds for Israel’s Jerusalem and the ‘other’ city under Jordan’s occupation. Since 1967, it is one city, the capital of the State of Israel.

The Semitic root of the name Jerusalem, or Yerushaláyim means peace, harmony or completeness. The city’s history goes back to the 4th millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem is the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people.

The expression, “Judaize” Jerusalem, an expression the Arabs use, is most insolent and borders on Anti-Semitism. More so, where does Myers dig the unfounded claim that Israel is making efforts to rid Jerusalem of its Arab residents?

Jerusalem does not need to be “Judaized.” Jews built the city as their capital and since its inception Jerusalem has been and is part of the Jewish Nation’s history. Throughout history Jews lived in the city. Jews like Myers. Arabs and their ilk who want to deny the Jews’ claim or right to Jerusalem parrot the Arabs’ malicious expression, “Judaizing” Jerusalem.

What is annoying the most is that a paper named the “Jewish Journal” constantly publishes anti Israel articles.

Without Jerusalem there is no Israel! There is no Jewish people!

Nurit Greenger
Los Angeles

Boycott Israel

Just read your article about boycotting the Arabs (“Boycott Israel” Nope: Boycott the Arabs,” Aug. 20).

How about not boycotting anyone along group lines? The would be a move towards no longer thinking of people in terms of a dichotomy - but rather in terms of who they are: humans.

There are good Jews and bad Jews. Good Arabs and Bad Arabs. Good….and bad… and so it goes on. It is the thinking in terms of groups that perpetuates this endless conflict that will never end until people refuse to think in such terms.

People were horrified by the recent hero’s welcome afforded the bomber who returned to Libya recently. Does one put this down to genes? I.e. the Libyans have bad genes that cause them to think in such a way? No it boiled down to nothing other than group think - and anti-Western at that. Anti-Arab thought breeds anti-Western thought and vice-versa. The hero’s welcome was because of a hatred for the West and the way it has “group-treated” the Arab world.

Your suggestion means simply more polarization. Boycott bad people. Not groups.

David Watermeyer


Due to an error at our printers, a portion of “Portrait of a Fashion Diva as Human Being,” by Naomi Pfefferman, did not appear in the Sept. 11 print issue. The full article appears at jewishjournal.com.

In “Economy Forces Tough Dues Decisions for Congregants, Synagogues” (Sept. 4), the membership of Beth Jacob was incorrectly stated. Beth Jacob has approximately 750 member families.

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