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Jewish Journal

Once we were killers in Shushan, and other points of view

March 20, 2008 | 6:00 pm

Greenberg's View

In his political cartoon, "Greenberg's View" (March 14, and above), Steve Greenberg tried to contrast our people's celebration of Purim as benign when compared to those Palestinians (not all) who chose to celebrate the murder of eight Jerusalem yeshiva students and the wounding of many others.

Unfortunately, the contrast is not quite as stark as he paints it. Greenberg is obviously entitled to his perspective.

However, a piece of political/social commentary, even if it is in graphic form, needs to have its facts right. Otherwise, it becomes not what it aspires to be but rather another venomous bit of ill-informed or purposefully misleading and/or inflammatory rhetoric that fans the flames of vengeance.

There is more to Purim than the frivolity and lightheartedness in which we engage on this holiday of mandated levels of joy. With apologies to my friends in Twelve-Step programs, we are commanded to be so drunk on Purim that the line between a blessing for Mordechai and a curse for Haman is blurred. That's pretty drunk. That's quite a celebration.

What often goes unnoticed by many is the violence and viciousness at the end of the Book of Esther. Since the signed proclamation of King Ahasuerus to allow Haman to massacre the Jews cannot be nullified, when Haman's plot is revealed, permission is given to the Jews to arm themselves and preemptively strike against Haman and those whom they assume to be his supporters: And Mordechai wrote in King Ahasuerus' name and sealed it with the king's ring.

The king authorized the Jews who were in every city to gather themselves together and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, infants and women and to plunder their goods (my emphasis).

And in Shushan, the capital, the Jews slew and destroyed 500 men and the 10 sons of Haman. The Jews who were in Shushan gathered themselves together also on the 14th day of the month Adar and slew 300 men. The other Jews who were in the king's provinces slew of their foes 75,000 (Esther 9)

This is what we are truly celebrating on Purim. This is why we send sweets to our friends and neighbors and give to the poor -- to celebrate the deaths of over 75,000 of our enemies -- with cookies!

War, violence and vengeance are never clean. Our children are not the enemies of the Palestinians, and Palestinian children (whether they die because of the moral depravity of those who use them as shields or, stripped of their humanity, when we deem them to be collateral damage) are not our enemies and can never be considered by us, by Jews, to be expendable or the price of the messiness of war.

Sadly, the world has not changed much since the days of Purim, and it matters not whether those days are historical or mythical. Human beings are still easily infected by the blood-thirst of vengeance and revenge, and we Jews are not immune.

The Messiah or the Messianic Age, for whom or for which we will express our yearning in a few weeks at Pesach, is pushed light years away every time anyone of any side uses violence to bring peace.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Beth Shir Sholom
Santa Monica



Survivor Mitzvah Project

jewish journal cover 112307
It is a pleasure to write to you and thank you and your readers for their generous support of The Survivor Mitzvah Project ("Touched by Angels," Nov. 23).

Jane Ulman's extraordinary and moving article touched the hearts of your readership and motivated the Jewish community of Los Angeles to donate to this urgent humanitarian effort.

In just a few weeks, we were able to raise more than $70,000 with the help of your wonderful publication. Because of this generous outpouring, the lives of hundreds of elderly and forgotten Holocaust survivors were immediately and dramatically improved.

This aid brought them food, medications, heat, shelter and, most importantly, the knowledge that they are no longer alone; that American Jews thousands of miles away have not forgotten them.

Currently, we support elderly survivors in Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and Slovakia. Since the article appeared in The Journal, we have identified more elderly survivors in Latvia and continue to broaden the scope of The Survivor Mitzvah Project with our expeditions to seek out the last remaining survivors scattered across Eastern Europe.

Endless thanks to you, The Jewish Journal, for helping bring The Survivor Mitzvah Project to the attention of your readers. It is our hope that with the continued support of people like your generous readers, all Holocaust survivors will be able to live out their final years with some measure of comfort and dignity.

Zane Buzby
Executive Director
The Survivor Mitzvah Project

Need More Humor

I have been reading The Jewish Journal for years and always feel dispirited after reading it.

I know there are problems in the world, but Jewish people are funny, and we need more humor and uplifting articles.

Martin Jaeger
via e-mail


Editor's Note: Please see our cover this week and our Purim stories inside. Is that funny enough?


Loan Program

We would like to clarify that the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) provides interest-free loans, not The Jewish Federation (Letters, March 14). We are so pleased to have been able to assist Susan's son in his desire to experience life in Israel.

The Becker Israel Experience Loan Fund of JFLA has been in existence for almost 13 years and has distributed hundreds of loans, totaling over $1 million. We also offer loans to adults for educational programs in Israel.

In addition to our Israel Experience Program, JFLA offers interest-free loans for emergencies, education, health care, developing small businesses and life-cycle events.We are proud of the unique service JFLA provides to the community.

Mark Meltzer
CEO
Elana Vorspan
Director of Program and Marketing
Jewish Free Loan Association



Food Fight

We read with interest David Suissa's column, "Food Fight," regarding problems at Young Israel of Beverly Hills, our venerable 40-year-old shul in Pico-Robertson (March 7).

Suissa chastises us, however, for not heeding the advice of our sages and the precepts of the holy Torah. Had we done so, Suissa concludes, a "crystal-clear agreement" would be in place, which would have protected the shul from the current lawsuit.

Human failure resulted in this unmerited and malicious lawsuit: misplaced trust, a naïve belief that the unworkable can be fixed and a reticence to assert our rights are some. Failing to execute a "crystal-clear agreement," however, is not one of them. That option was never presented. Now Young Israel of Beverly Hills has been dragged, nisht villendik, into this chillul Hashem. Precious community resources must now be diverted to attorneys' fees.

Suissa, join us anytime to see how Judaism is practiced Young Israel of Beverly Hills style. You won't leave disappointed.

Howard Zisblatt
President
Young Israel of Beverly Hills



Gap Year Programs

I was very glad to see your article on the trend toward gap year programs for college freshman ("Gap Year Entices Seniors to Live in Israel Before College," Feb. 29).

Please note that the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism has been sponsoring the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel for the past 28 years. Nativ is a challenging academic year program dedicated to creating and inspiring the Conservative Jewish leaders of tomorrow.

Merrill Alpert
Director of Youth Activities
Far West Region United Synagogue Youth



Right to Self-Defense

To hell with world opinion ("Israel Weighs Novel Ideas to Counter Hamas Rockets," March 7).

Of course fire right back at Gaza rocket launchers sending missiles into Israel.

If there are civilian casualties, that is regrettable but were brought on themselves, perhaps in pursuit of paradise. Israel, however, has an absolute, unquestioned historic right to self-defense -- to protect the life of its citizens, many of whom are Arabs, and to preserve the state.

We here in America respect and support you in your struggle to survive and uphold the right to life.

Hugh Manes
Los Angeles


The Other N-Word

Once again, Jordan Susman has offered his wise counsel, warning that people shouldn't throw around inflammatory epithets like Hitler, Nazi, fascist and the Holocaust ("The Other N-Word," March 14).

But I part company with him when he criticizes Naomi Wolf and others for arguing that "America is sliding toward fascism."

Keeping in mind what the Bush administration has done in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and secret CIA prisons around the world and even to detainees in the United States, we should recall that Winston Churchill observed that the "power of the executive -- to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law -- and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether Nazi or communist."

Hats off to Wolf and others who have sounded the alarm in hopes that America does not slide any further toward fascism.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles



Free Speech

Eric A. Gordon's letter describing the suppression of free speech imposed on Israelis by the Orthodox movement -- and by Israel itself -- is to be applauded for its cogency and clarity (Letters, March 14).

Right on, Gordon, write on!

Lou Charloff
Encino



Letter to Secular Friend

I know you didn't mean to be insensitive, especially when you qualified secular Tel-Avivis as "those beer-guzzling men who like to pick us up at the bars" ("A Letter to My Secular Friend in Tel Aviv," March 14). I know that you seek to be a good person and to improve yourself and the world in your own way.

But I wonder what makes you think that the majority of secular Israelis care less about the attack on the religious Zionist yeshiva students than about other attacks. Last time I checked, thousands of people went to the funeral, the rosh hayeshiva was granted a half-hour-interview with a major news show on Israeli television ("Uvda" with Ilana Dayan, hardly a religious person) and some of the most high-ranking government officials visited the yeshiva to offer their condolences.

As a matter of fact, I don't remember when so much attention and open showing of solidarity (both in Israel and abroad) occurred after any terrorist attack in Israel. If anything, religious Zionists are considered melakh ha-aretz (the salt of the earth) in pretty much all sectors of Israeli society.

When the victims of a terrorist attack (the Dolphinarium) were Russian immigrants, then Israelis didn't identify with them.

But, interestingly enough, while we (secular Israelis) identified with the victims, classmates and relatives of this terrible attack, it was they that didn't identify with us.

Yuli Tamir, education minister, was heckled when she visited the yeshiva and had to cancel her condolence visit. The leaders of the yeshiva refused to apologize for this.

Ehud Olmert was warned not to approach it, and according to Tom Segev, some yeshiva students screamed that Shimon Peres is the real murderer ("he gave them weapons").

Without getting into this meticulous argument about which sector has higher Jewish pride, ranks higher in the Israeli army, studies more Talmud or fights our enemies with more valor -- and the answers are not as obvious as you might think -- the fact of the matter is that we, Israeli society, have lost young human beings. And that is the tragedy of this incident: The fact that we have lost young men in the prime of their youth. Whether they were pork-eating Russian immigrants whose Hebrew was broken at best, secular Israelis enjoying a meal at a non-kosher restaurant, working-class Mizrahim or the elite of the Ashkenazi religious Zionist establishment should not really matter.

But it does matter to you. When you claim that those young men "bore more wisdom and sensitivity" than secular Tel-Avivis (who come off as misogynistic drunks); you claim that their blood was redder than the blood of the victims of the other attacks.

I can't make you believe what I believe, but I hope, at the very least, you can open your heart to people who are different from you. Maybe we need prayer. But even more, we need human compassion.

As we bury our young deceased ones, brutally killed in a senseless attack, we should remember what Yitzhak Rabin (z"l) said at a memorial for Yosef Trumpeldor (z"l): "Trumpeldor said that it is good to die for one's country. He was wrong. It is good to live for one's country."

Benjamin Rosendahl
Los Angeles



'Did We Need Blood'

I understand David Suissa's desire to defend his friend, Rabbi Schwartz ("Did We Need Blood," Feb. 22). But, as I previously stated, Suissa went beyond a simple defense; he made the victims appear as the perpetrators.

After I criticized him for this maneuver, he claimed to have taken "excruciating care to make no accusations whatsoever." However, Suissa's own words reveal a different reality. He states: "Was it worth publishing his e-mails verbatim, publicly humiliating him and 'shedding his blood'? You make that call."

It seems that Suissa believes he can suggest that the victims who shared Schwartz's e-mails were in violation of a Torah value, but since he added, "you make that call," he can claim, "simply to bring up difficult questions."

Either Suissa, out of loyalty to Rabbi Schwartz, is impeded from recognizing his own accusing slant, or it is Suissa who is "negligent with his words."

Furthermore, Suissa is quick to claim that the basis of his column is supported by "points of Torah." Indeed, the teaching Suissa references -- "One who shames his fellow in public is as if he shed blood" -- should be taken seriously.

The teaching is derived from the Torah: "Do not traffic in slander among your kinspeople. You are not to stand by the blood of your neighbor.... " (Leviticus 19:16).

Our tradition goes on to teach that the juxtaposition of these points in the Torah informs us that there are times when revealing private information is necessary in order to prevent the "blood" of a neighbor. Perhaps the revelation of Rabbi Schwartz's e-mails is one of those times.

Hopefully, this revelation will prevent more women from suffering such horrific emotional abuse. Of course, this question over revealing private e-mails merits further discussion and exploration. However, the sadness we feel when seeing this awful situation erupt must not diminish our compassion for the abused.

Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei
Sinai Temple



CAMERA

In his editorial attacking CAMERA, Rob Eshman portrays himself as besieged, saying "it's never fun to wake up and find yourself on the wrong side of CAMERA" ("We Just Disagree," Feb 15) But it was Eshman who launched broadsides against us - for alerting people to the appearance in a Pasadena church of the anti-Israel group, Sabeel.

He claims CAMERA threatened him and demanded apologies, while he withstood a storm of calls and letters. Nonsense. Eshman triggered public outcry on his own with his defense of Sabeel's Naim Ateek. We didn't threaten and aren't interested in apologies.

But we do want the record set straight.

Eshman imputes certain views to CAMERA, suggesting wrongly we would oppose "engagement" and factual discussions with All Saints Church, venue for the Sabeel event. Having never contacted us, never discussed the question, he has no idea about such views.

He disputes CAMERA's "tactics," evidently believing that to inform the Jewish community about Sabeel, a group that routinely defames Israel, is misguided.

Most striking is that the Jewish Journal has responded to the appearance of Sabeel not with an exposÃ

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