Jewish Journal

Your Letters

Posted on May. 30, 2002 at 8:00 pm

The Curse of Certainty

As the director of moral education referred to by Alexander Maksik in his recent diatribe about being a teacher at "an Orthodox Jewish school" ("The Curse of Certainty," May 24), I cannot resist the opportunity to offer some personal advice to Maksik and at the same time make a few observations about what it means to be a teacher in a Jewish day school, especially at this time, under these sensitive geopolitical circumstances.

Maksik reveals in so many ways his inexperience and youthful naiveté. He has so much to learn about teaching and being a member of something called a faculty, which, in a Jewish day school, has something called a dual curriculum - including Judaic studies - and an administration and organizational expectations and standard of conduct. In other words, Maksik, you teach within a context and your educational world does not revolve solely around you and your personal judgments about what is and is not pedagogically appropriate.

Orthodox Jewish day schools are special venues of education brimming with individuals who have lived and worked in Israel and/or who have relatives, friends and significant others who have been maimed or murdered by the very people about which Maksik wants to seize "an opportunity to make a point." His analogizing Naomi Nye's "Habibi" with Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" reveals a basic innocence and youthful simplistic reasoning about how one selects literary works within an English curriculum. Maksik has no training or background in either the field of curriculum development or educational administration, so we must be patient and tolerant of his youthful and uninformed exuberance. "Causey" rants about speaking from "a perspective of ideals, with the luxury of liberalism," is not sufficient justification for being insensitive to the students and parents of an Orthodox Jewish school. Maksik does not, understandably, reveal in his self-serving diatribe:

An administration who tried sensitively and professionally to reach a compromise whereby Maksik would be able to finish teaching his literature choice (even though considered highly inappropriate) as long as some "equal time" was allocated to an alternative perspective about the novel's content. Not satisfied, Maksik now uses The Jewish Journal to, in effect, kick and scream like a spoiled child in a toy store who is told he cannot have his ninth Star Wars action figure.

The many children who were hurt and visibly shaken by the novel's Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, anti-Zionist bias.

The many parents who complained calmly and judiciously about this uninformed and blatantly offensive choice of reading matter.

Enough. Maksik has done himself and his soon-to-be former employer/school a great disservice. His youthful indiscretion will, in a few years, be revealed to himself and he will be sorry, embarrassed and contrite. Ah, to be young and so sure of one's wisdom. It is truly a curse and the certainty of youth.

Samuel Gomberg,Director of Moral Education Shalhevet School

Maksik cannot have his cake and eat it, too. He cannot draw his income from a school committed to providing an Orthodox Jewish education and then condemn it for objecting to his teaching of material contrary to the primary tenets of Orthodox Judaism.

Steven Ohsie, Los Angeles

"The Curse of Certainty" should be renamed "The Curse of Arrogance." It is arrogance that makes Alexander Maksik believe that he needs to combat the "intolerance" of a Jewish day school's eighth-grade class by "enlightening" them that Israel has taken the low moral road in the conflict with the Palestinians. When Maksik was called to task by his superiors, he shouted intolerance. I was thrilled to read that he was fired. There is no room in our schools for a teacher who believes that a Jew's support of Israel is intolerant.

Batsheva Isaac, Los Angeles

The Bookstore and the Jew

Regarding Hank Rosenfeld's article "The Bookstore and the Jew," (May 24), I hope your readers realize that Midnight Special Bookstore has served the community for over 25 years as an esteemed center where people have discussed important issues. I have hosted many events where fiery passions get woven with insightful idea exchange. The key to effective communication is to keep it civil and cooperative.

Rosenfeld lost his point by tearing down the flier he did not agree with. The real challenge is for people to come up with humane strategies that can enlighten others with a variety of viewpoints. I may not agree with all the books in Midnight Special, but I will not rip out pages. It's been said, "Your enemy is your best teacher." Kudos to the helpful staff at Midnight Special Bookstore for continuously facilitating a forum where the community can discover new insights through books and discussions.

Gerry Fialka, Programmer for Documental and Media Ecology Super Sessions Midnight Special Bookstore Santa Monica

Westside JCC

The Westside JCC building is a diamond in the rough. It has a world-class swimming pool, first-rate gym and handball courts. To close the building or use it only for a nursery school would be a crime. To duplicate those facilities would be very costly. If the building is closed, the facilities will fall into disrepair. But they can be kept open and gradually upgraded with limited funds. Eventually a major upgrade can be financed. The key is to keep the centers open now.

Allen S. Moss, Beverly Hills

Good and Bad Tidings

It's open season on Catholic priests, as though they alone among clergy violate the teachings of the religion they profess. But the clergy of other religions deserve some attention ("Good and Bad Tidings," May 24). Recently, a rabbi in the State of Washington got into trouble for making his own $100,000 of his synagogue's funds, and another on the East coast upped the ante to $750,000 - and then there's the rabbi on trail for conspiracy to murder his wife.

The Protestant counterparts make the Jewish clergy into pikers, with their multimillion dollar Ponzi schemes perpetrated on the credulity of the faithful. Perspective and proportion are called for. We should remember that, by the teachings of Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism, sin is natural to the human condition, even to the frail humanity of those called to God's service.

Rabbi Jacob Neusnerm, Senior Fellow Institute of Advanced Theology Bard College

Moving Ahead

If Nazir Khaja really wants peace in the Middle East to "move ahead" ("Moving Ahead," May 24), it is not in a Jewish newspaper, to a Jewish audience that he should make his declarations. The Los Angeles Jewish community has known for years what is essential to establishing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and it has overwhelmingly supported such. Khaja should direct his words, instead, to Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and the millions of his Muslim brethren throughout the world who cheer in glee as Jews fall victim to suicide bombers and as the workings of Mideast peace fall in ruin.

Talia A. Shulman, Los Angeles


Thank you for some real analysis and comparison of views about the unresolved tensions in Israeli policy and the choices Israel faces regarding the Palestinians and the West Bank. As difficult as these times are, we are an ancient, experienced, sophisticated people. There are practical, political, ethical and moral choices to be faced. We need a "Jewish Journal," not a "Jewish Cheerleader." Please continue the serious discussion and resist the pressure to falsely equate solidarity and unanimity.

Mark D. Licker, Los Angeles


"L.A. Times Criticized" (Community Briefs, May 24), incorrectly states that Los Angeles Times staff writer Kenneth Reich has been with the newspaper for 50 years. Reich has been a writer and reporter for 50 years, but he has only been with the Los Angeles Times for 37 years.

The photograph for "Honoring Herb" (Circuit, May 24) should have been credited to Nathan Sternfeld.

Paul Miller organized the 107th Street Elementary School event for Temple Israel of Hollywood's Mitzvah Day this year ("One Day at a Time," May 24). David Levinson is the head organizer of Mitzvah Day.

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