July 26, 2011
Letters to the Editor: Debt Limit, Flotilla Flop, Circumcision
Another View of the Debt Ceiling
So, now, after vilifying Republicans, do you feel better (“Beyond Raising the Debt Limit: What a Republican Government Would Be Like,” July 22)? Let’s answer just a few of your points.
When Pelosi, Reid and Obama passed their massive stimulus plan and health overhaul that ended up stimulating nothing and adding multiple layers of costs and government agencies, do you remember them asking for Republican input? I don’t. In fact, the legislation was passed behind the scenes without most representatives and senators seeing it till after the fact. A model of compromise, probably in your opinion only.
In the current debate on raising the debt ceiling, most Republicans and some Democrats are calling for spending cuts. With a huge federal deficit, [that] seems like a good idea. The states have started to do what the federal government is afraid to do — bring their budgets under control.
Everyone speaks of entitlement reform, but nobody had the guts to tackle the issue until Cantor and Ryan submitted their ideas. You don’t like what they said, great; but now at least everyone is talking about it.
If you have kids, do you let them spend more than they have? Do your college-age kids have carte blanche? Do you spend more than you have? Hope not. Perhaps on this debt ceiling debate, you should let the adults handle it, and get out of the way.
Kudos for Boyle Heights Story
We are thrilled to see The Jewish Journal recognizing the vital role Boyle Heights has played in the Jewish immigrant story of Los Angeles (“On Road to Renewal, Shul Gets Multipurpose Life,” July 15). In a city otherwise dedicated to the creation of new selves, remembering where we came from is essential to fully realizing who we are.
We hope also to remind your readers that Boyle Heights continues to serve as an entry point for many immigrants and that despite ongoing struggles, the neighborhood is home to tens of thousands of hard-working families who labor every day to make life better for their families.
One of the most visible and impressive community efforts is the Promise Neighborhoods — Boyle Heights collaborative that brings together residents, schools and a variety of neighborhood nonprofits led by Proyecto Pastoral, whose goal is no less than a revolution in outcomes for the children of Boyle Heights. Modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, our unique, community-led process was selected by the Obama administration to receive significant funding to develop a network of services and support to make sure that young people growing up in our neighborhood have the same opportunities to get ahead that our Jewish grandparents had when they came to this country.
As children and grandchildren of Boyle Heights, we welcome the participation of the Jewish community in these efforts to ensure that this amazing neighborhood carries on in its role as the launching pad of migrant achievement.
Proyecto Pastoral of Mission Dolores
The Many Benefits of Café Europa
My husband, Rik Howard, and I perform around the country for various organizations, and Café Europa is one of our favorites. We were very glad to see the article by Tom Tugend (“Café Europa Serves Up Discussions on Restitution,” July 15).
We were the entertainers for the event that day when Gregory Schneider, Claims Conference executive vice president, spoke to the group.
We noticed even more, as we often do, that the music helped alleviate the charged energy around restitution.
Having personally heard so many of the stories and memories of these survivors, we have gained some small understanding of what they’ve gone through. What they often convey to us is that music kept and keeps them going and is an integral part of one’s survival spiritually, physically and emotionally. We certainly see a spark in their eyes as they sing along, dance or even just listen when we perform for them.
Café Europa serves a very important purpose. Elinor Marks Gordon, John Gordon and the various volunteers create a wonderful, haimish place for people with this shared past to congregate and connect.
While no amount of money can replace what was taken from them, the Claims Conference can, hopefully, help make the rest of their lives easier.
Turkey-Iran Split a Welcome Change
For once, good news has arrived regarding Israel’s enemies. Rothstein and Seid’s analysis of the flotilla’s losing its steam overlooked an extremely crucial political wind-change: The honeymoon between former Israeli ally Sunni Turkey and its former rival Shiite Iran, has lost its romantic luster (“The Flotilla Flop: International Community Stops Provocateurs,” July 15). The alliance split between Turkey and Iran, the puppet masters of Hamas and Hezbollah, was a welcome wedge making the political theater of the left- wing Audacity of Hope crowd less likely to mount the PR disaster aimed at Israel the first time around.
Soldiers, Scholars Must Be Partners
The Greenberg’s View cartoon (June 25) depicts an Israeli soldier carrying the “heavy pack” of a studious religious Jew. It is bothersome that The Journal would print this because our Torah says quite clearly that in any Jewish army one-third of the soldiers are to study Torah and pray, one-third fight, and one-third are logistical support. Without the religious Jews, the IDF would not be successful. In truth, it is a partnership of religious and non-religious Jews.
Circumcision’s Other Health Advantages
The article on the San Francisco circumcision ban by Jonah Lowenfeld (“The Great California Foreskin Fight of 2011,” June 24) thoroughly covered the characters co-sponsoring the anti-circumcision bill, but it failed to emphasize the multiple proven scientific lifetime preventive health advantages of newborn circumcision. During infancy and childhood, uncircumcised infants have a tenfold increased risk of getting severe kidney infections as well as being uniquely susceptible to foreskin infections, retraction problems (phimosis) and difficulties with genital hygiene. In young adults, circumcision helps prevent HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, HPV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as cervical cancer in female partners. In old age, penile cancer and difficulty maintaining genital cleanliness are foreskin-related problems. Emphasizing these proven lifetime benefits is more important than getting out the anecdotal anti-circumcision party line.
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Emeritus
University of California, San Francisco
‘The Arab Mentality’
Rabbi Laura Geller criticizes an article, “The Arab Mentality,” which relates the saga of a Palestinian woman burned and treated in Israel who later attempts a suicide bombing there, as unfairly maligning Muslims (“Silence Is Consent,” July 22). After doing some fact-checking because she could not believe such a story might be true, which it was, she blames the messenger since the reporter is a right-wing physician with “an agenda.” Could it possibly be that his agenda was alerting naïve ideologues like Geller who incredulously maintain we need not exercise suspicion or be diligent in security because such an Arab mentality is a mere mirage?
Leslie Fuhrer Friedman
Rabbi Laura Geller, in her Torah Portion column, speaks out against an e-mail labeled “The Arab Mentality” describing a Palestinian woman arrested as a suicide bomber even though, after checking the story, she found the story to be true (“Silence Is Consent,” July 22). One objection was the author was a member of a right-wing party. If the story came from a left-wing party member, would the story be OK? The author of the article ascribes a characteristic to a whole group (Arabs) and Rabbi Geller ascribes a characteristic to a whole group (right wing parties, not to be trusted even if what they say is true). What’s the difference between saying “The Arab Mentality” and “The Right Wing Mentality”?
Rabbi Geller is correct that we must speak out against something that is wrong even if it comes from a rabbi.
Rabbi Geller is certainly entitled to her opinion, however I beg to differ with her analogy. There is a big difference between comparing the suicide bomber woman in the article to “The Arab Mentality” and an anti-Semite titling a posting about Bernie Madoff “The Jewish Mentality.”
First off, I find it offensive that she speaks of the author—a medical doctor in Israel – as a member of Moledet, a right wing Israeli political party with an agenda. Excuse me? She wants us to believe that it is offensive to belong to a right-wing political party. The truth of the matter is, that suicide bomber woman was brainwashed by her society – and let’s not forget that. Rabbi Geller wants us to believe it was an isolated incident. It wasn’t! I believe that it had a great deal to do with the “Arab Mentality” period!
There were never several hundred Bernie Madoffs. There was just one—and the woman suicide bomber in Israel is just one of thousands of suicide bombers. Hello! How can you live in this world and not realize that the “Arab Mentality” is not one of love and peace. It is a hateful – unbelievably disgusting—mentality that the world finds offensive and was created by the powers that be in the Arab world.
Bette Hirsh Levy
I am taking Rabbi Geller’s admonition — that silence is consent — to take issue with her. We don’t need Rabbi Geller or anyone to tell us that not all Muslims who receive treatment in an Israeli hospital will return with bombs strapped to them in order to blow up as many people as they can. She is also evidently wrong to say that this is not representative of the mentality of the Arabs. If so few of them did not have this mentality, where are all these suicide bombers coming from?
I find it offensive that she would attempt to smear the doctor — our Israeli brother — who lives with this tension by discounting his point of view because of his political affiliation. I’d like to remind those who can’t seem to remember this that it is only whether or not something is true or not that matters. Open up your hearts to those on the right, ask yourself what arguments they might make and see if you might find some empathy for their point of view so you can stop attempting to smear them.
The Redistricting Puzzle
The fundamental premise — that Jewish political power increases when we’re clumped into a single district — is flawed (“Berman vs. Sherman?,” July 22). It is equally likely that when a Jewish neighborhood is split into two or more political districts, two or more politicians can be made to pay attention to our concerns. That doesn’t dilute our political clout; it strengthens it.
Remember, Republicans enthusiastically embraced “majority-minority” districting in the South because, while it increased the number of black representatives, it decreased the total number of Democratic representatives. How? By bunching blacks, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, into fewer districts, thereby creating more majority Republican districts.
When it comes to political influence, building relationships with officeholders and coalitions with other voters is a better strategy than huddling together.
Of Dubious Fame in Boyle Heights
No article on Boyle Heights would be complete without mention of Mickey Cohen, the heir apparent of Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegal, and the head of L.A.‘s “Kosher Nostra” in the ’40s and ’50s (“The Nickel Pickle,” July 15). He began life as a humble Boyle Heights newsboy (probably his most —“only” — honest work), never realizing his name would dominate newspaper headlines for decades to come. Mickey Cohen was many things to many people, but to an enterprising teenage parking lot attendant like myself at Billy Gray’s Band Box, a Fairfax Avenue nightclub where Cohen conducted business, Cohen was simply a “dapper dresser” and a “generous tipper” (which gave him problems with the IRS), with a bonus for keeping an eye on his bulletproof Cadillac and walking his dog.
The European Jewish Experience
My husband and I had the same feelings as you when we visited Barcelona last year (“The Rough Guide,” July 22). Although it was difficult, we managed to find the Sinagoga Mayor de Barcelona. It was dark when we arrived and the neighborhood wasn’t comfortable. However, it was a mixed feeling of sadness and joy to be there. We took the train to Girona and after asking people where the Jewish area was and finding that no one knew, we managed to get there and went through the museum. When I asked the man in the bookstore about the Jews, his response was “there are no Jews here” in an unfriendly tone. We have traveled in many countries and except for the ‘shuls’ in Budapest and Prague, we have had very little luck in getting in. So many have been under lock and key with guards all around. We did manage to get into a tour of the synagogues in the Venice Ghetto. Wherever we go, we look up synagogues and visit. In Morocco, on a guided tour, we did see a beautiful synagogue, but there are no Jews there to worship.
We have lived in Leiden and went to Amsterdam many times. Same story. Locked. Guarded. We were finally able to get someone on the phone in the synagogue in Leiden and spent the first seder with the congregation, hearing many stories of survivors. Visiting the Anne Frank house was very difficult emotionally and I wept upon entering the hidden space.
We were on a Baltic riverboat cruise a few years ago, and although there were many Jewish people on board, there were no synagogues included in the tours. However, I did my homework before we left and my husband and I managed to find a few and walk to them.
I have said for many years that Europe is the graveyard of our people. The soil is full of our blood. My parents and their siblings came to the United States before the war. They spoke about the suffering. My father was 6 years old when the Bialystok pogrom took place, and he always remembered it. I was born in 1940 in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. A bit of history here — my father always delighted in telling me that I was conceived the night of my older brother’s bar mitzvah and so I considered myself a love child and a religious experience. I have strong memories of the war as all my male cousins fought in the Battle of the Bulge and D Day and my cousin, Kalman, was killed in January of 1945 by a German sniper. Interestingly, of all my aunts and uncles and cousins, he and his mother were the most religious and he was the one who didn’t return. My memories are vivid of the liberation of the camps and, at the age of 4, I knew that those skeletons in the stripped pants were my people. I refuse to go to Germany, Austria and Poland. Yes, I know, most of the countries of Europe were and continue to be anti-Semitic, but those three are particularly offensive to me.
I love my religion, although I am not religious. I do light Shabbos candles when I’m home on Friday night because it reminds me of my childhood, my parents, living in an immigrant Jewish neighborhood, and all my aunts and uncles. I’m not sure why I decided to write this e-mail, but something in your column reached me. Thank you for writing it.
As a Jewish history buff, Rob Eshman’s column “The Rough Guide” was quite moving, particularly at the end. Rob hit the nail on the head in one sentence, summarizing the European Jewish experience. “There are a jillion cathedrals and paintings to see of one Jew – Jesus – but the stories of the other millions have disappeared.” Actually, thanks in large part to many Los Angeles/Hollywood Jews, some of those millions of stories have been told. However, that other Jewish story, of that one Jew, is not going away anytime soon. That story is a part of Jewish history. Thankfully some recognition of this was made here. Of course Jewish history is greater than 2,000 years old, and so are its problems. These past 2,000 years have been one very long chapter. This chapter needs to be closed, in order to determine the problems of the previous millennia.
Then maybe solutions can be found. Unless we are fine with these 3,000-plus years of Jewish history, and I know some are.
Richard S. Levik
In your recent article about Israel’s new anti-boycott law, you state that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) opposed its passage. ZOA initially stated that before making a final determination, we must carefully “examine the law” (“Jewish Groups Join Voices Against Boycott Law,” July 14). Now, after careful examination, the ZOA strongly sympathizes with its passage, as it helps protect Israel’s security and economic interests.
We must understand that Israel is under an existential threat. Israel is enduring an organized worldwide campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state. Israel is also watching with deep concern as its neighbors are undergoing dramatic change, which could bring even more radical Islamist, anti-Israel governments into power.
The ZOA believes that American Jewish organizations should be conspicuously cognizant of the fact that enemies of Israel are using the words of Jewish organizations against this boycott to promote their own external boycott, delegitimization and sanction efforts against Israel.
We, in America, thankfully do not have to worry about these kinds of threats. When other countries have felt these types of substantial threats they have frequently gone so far as to have invoked martial law, suspending certain rights that citizens normally enjoyed.
Remember, even the U.S. anti-boycott laws written to protect Israel from the Arab League and other Muslim countries are much stronger than this Israeli law.
Morton A. Klein
Zionist Organization of America
Raising the Debt Ceiling
We all know The Jewish Journal is, by and large, a left-leaning publication, but this a blatant hyper-partisan political article that is frankly, quite offensive to us Jews who believe in and support limited government and personal liberty (“Beyond Raising the Debt Limit: What a Republican Government Would Be Like,” July 22). Why would you choose to alienate a substantial portion of your readership?
Suggestion to JJ: Why not stay out of politics and stick to Jewish issues?
I can just imagine the tons of vitriol you will receive from Jewish Republicans, after Sonenshein’s scathing article about the Republicans’ views on the nation, the economy, women’s rights and voting rights of the poor and students. “We’re the party protecting Israel,” they will tell you. “Obama’s foreign policy is wrong; he is bankrupting our country,” and on and on. Of course, for my money and vote, Sonenshein is right on. The GOP is a domestic disaster waiting to happen, which won’t be long. Here’s another thought: In the budget deals, the GOP has slashed spending for all the poverty programs, including Medicaid, school lunches, etc. How about sharing the burden by cutting congressional salaries, say 50 percent? This would save the nation some $40 million per year. They are mostly millionaires anyway, and they would hardly miss the piddly $75,000. Next, to save $1 trillion this year, just bring all the troops home from Afghanistan by November, so they’ll have Christmas at home.
Robert E. Green
In Mr. Sonenstein’s column, he warns about the Republican Party’s agenda to bring the government of the country to a standstill. He is absolutely right, but I would ask him and your readers to log on to the American Legislative Executive Council Web site, alec.org. It is an organization formed a number of years ago by most of the largest corporations in the country, Its purpose: they came to a conclusion that they could not succeed in changing Washington, so they decided to go to the states. They have elected right-wing school boards, city councils, judges and state legislators (i.e. The Tea Party) They are succeeding in taking over the country, and probably will within the next 10 or 15 years. In a statement made by Carl Rove a few years ago, that he is hoping for Republican majority for the next thousand years (his words). Adolf Hitler was going to implement the “Thousand Year Reich”! In such a government, it will be (as in past history) Jews who will be the first to feel the wrath of another dictatorship!
Syd H. Hershfield
More on Israel vs. Palestine
I read David Suissa’s piece and what surprises me is that there are so many people who seem to be so naïve about peace between Israel and the Palestinians (“Why Isn’t J Street Supporting Bibi?,” July 15). Abbas has spent 90 percent of his time this past year and a half traveling to every country that would listen to him, to acquire their support for his cause. Every other day he threatens to go to the United Nations to establish a state and then the following day he retracts that plan. Even with the help of their Arab (friends?), Abbas cannot form a cohesive agreement with Hamas. There could not be a one Palestinian state without Fatah and Hamas totally unified, and as long as Hamas exists and holds Gaza they will never give up their plans to somehow destroy Israel. Knowing all of this, how could anyone, of sound mind, expect a real peace agreement?
Israel gave up so much blood to defend against the Arab attacks and the only thing they got for it was land, which the international laws of war clearly says belongs to Israel! What did giving them Gaza do for the peace process? The Palestinians never had rights in any land that Israel held and still don’t, unless Israel chooses to give it to them.
These are facts and to expect peace is truly naive! Eventually things will get so dangerous with Hamas that Israel will have to give more blood to re-acquire that ground and completely eject all Palastinians and Hamas, by force of arms, from Gaza and their part of the West Bank! There will never be true peace and the whole world will have to accept that, as a fact of life!
Franklin N. Hanock
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
Mr. Prager’s religious commentaries are becoming more off base and irrelevant with every issue (“Adults Who Do Not Speak to a Parent,” July 22).
For example, he writes: “I became aware of something that, as a parent, I view as a nightmare: children who voluntarily disappear from a parent’s life.”
The phrase turns on two realities: his perception and his alarm, both of which are unfounded.
I believe that the Torah teaches: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
It is normal and understandable for children to reach a point in their lives when they leave home. If they want to be gone once and for all, that is there choice.
When the Lord commanded through Moses “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12), the understanding is that we would recognize that we did not make ourselves. We are not obligated, however, to undo our lives to incorporate abusive or distant parents. Sometimes, the best way to honor one’s parents is to stay away.
Moreover, parents have to be more than parents. Their lives simply cannot revolve around their kids (or grandkids), who will (and should) grow up and move on with their lives.
Besides, the alarming number of adult children who still live at home and depend on Mommy and Daddy — that is the greater nightmare.
Arthur Christopher Schaper
Kudos to Dennis Prager on his courage to emphasize the importance of keeping the commandments, which pertain to our relationships with one another, even over our relationships with God.
I personally know of “community leaders” who are sticklers when it comes to keeping the commandments between God and man, yet are doing a very poor job when it comes to keeping those which concern the relationships between themselves and members of their community, which is actually not doing what God has asked of them.