Celebrating L.A.’s ‘Grand Dame’ Synagogue
Thank you so very much for your column about the rescue and restoration of Wilshire Boulevard Temple — the “grand dame” of synagogues in Los Angeles (“Wilshire Boulevard,” Aug. 2).
I am one of the fortunate who attended religious school and confirmation at the Wilshire Boulevard campus. Every religious memory I have from childhood emanates from that building — be it standing in the sukkah in the courtyard, sitting in the small auditorium viewing the first Holocaust film I ever saw, or continually staring at the unbelievably beautiful murals that captivated our attention at services.
I compliment Rabbi Leder and the congregants who funded this restoration. In a city that rarely respects the old and tears down quicker than it builds, the restoration of this landmark is not only courageous and forward thinking; it is respectful as well. Buildings like this are not just tents that can be erected and broken down at will. They are living, breathing structures that can modify and mold to the changing needs of their inhabitants.
Leslie Aranoff-Hirschman via e-mail
On Peace Talks
David Suissa thinks Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory might be legal (“Why Peace Talks Will Fail,” Aug. 9).
He should think again.
In 2004, the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, issued an advisory opinion. All 15 judges sitting on the court agreed that Israel settlements are illegal. There was no dissent or disagreement. It happens that two of the judges, Rosalyn Higgins and Thomas Buergenthal, are Jewish. (Buergenthal is also a Holocaust survivor.)
Unless the judges are suffering from mass psychosis, the legal question would appear to be resolved.
Norman G. Finkelstein via e-mail
David Suissa responds:
Mr. Finkelstein missed something important. The international panel he quotes is littered with members from anti-Israel, anti-democratic countries whose positions tend to stay loyal to the foreign policy of their respective regimes. To cite just one example of its bias, in reaching its conclusion, the panel used the work of U.N. “expert” Jean Ziegler, the man who created the Muammar Gadhafi human rights prize. If Mr. Finkelstein were interested in a serious advisory opinion, he could have cited the legal scholar who headed the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Stephen Schwebel, who wrote in 1970 regarding Israel’s legal case: “Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title.”
The Western Wall as an Emotional and Religious Barrier
Either Leah Aharoni is unaware of or hostile to the democratic ideal of separation of church and state (“Women of the Wall’s Collateral Damage,” Aug. 9). That is what Women of the Wall is attempting to achieve; gender equality is its ultimate goal. It is disingenuous for Ms. Aharoni to suggest that gender equality in civil matters such as marriage and divorce, among others, is the law of the land. In Israel, it is not. Gender equality should be a guaranteed civil right, not a religious beneficence.
We are forbidden by the second commandment to worship symbols. While the Kotel is a holy site, we may only pray at it, not to it. But, among many ultra-Orthodox Jews it seems as if the latter holds more sway than the former. Any Jew should be allowed to pray anywhere along the length of the Wall without fear of obstruction, intimidation or arrest. Bear in mind, those women arrested were detained by civil authorities.
Finally, don’t make waves in front of the world? Pathetic. Acknowledge the problems, address them, and fix them. They are real, undemocratic, inhumane, painful and shameful.
Robert Barash, Los Angeles
There is more reason for Diaspora Jews to feel disconnected. On my first trip to Israel, about two years ago, I went to the Western Wall with a dear friend. We were dressed appropriately in long skirts and arms covered and were not wearing tallit or yarmulkes. There were Orthodox women seated in front of the Wall sitting on white plastic chairs. We politely asked to be able to touch the Wall and gestured our wish in case they didn’t understand English, as neither of us spoke Hebrew. We tried several times in several places. No one would let us in. Finally, we just pushed our way in. It was hard to pray when I was angry.
On the other side, my husband and a friend who isn’t Jewish but wore a yarmulke were allowed at the Wall and into the study rooms.
The wall is not exclusively for the Orthodox. All of us should have access. I had no connection to [Women of the Wall] previously, but I certainly do now! Who gives anyone in Israel the right to decide who is a Jew and who is not and who should be allowed in holy places? If the Orthodox wish us to monetarily support Israel, they should cultivate us, not reject us.
Rhoda Becker via e-mail