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January 16, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Lowering the Bar



Gary Wexler is right: B'nai mitzvah celebrations are often excessive and inappropriate ("A Plea to Lower the Bar on Bar Mitzvahs," Jan. 10). But before blaming rabbis for their lack of attentiveness he ought to have done a little asking around. If he had, he might have discovered that when children are in fourth grade, I meet with their families to discuss the values of the Shabbat morning ceremony and how those same values can be carried over into their evening celebration. We talk about not placing children in an adult party environment. We talk about alcoholism, overt sexuality, materialism, loud music that makes the elderly uncomfortable, and the lack of spirituality. I encourage them to participate in MAZON. I talk about setting the appropriate tone, from choosing the invitation, to choosing where their child's tzedakah will go. I suggest they read Jeffrey Salkin's book, "Putting God on the Guest List." I remind parents that they are the parents, and the planning of the party is an opportunity to teach their kids about their family's and our people's best values. I remind them that we as a people are not true to Torah when we overindulge. I meet with each family again in sixth grade to redo the entire exercise.

I mention all that I do to confront the problem Wexler has identified not to aggrandize myself, but to refute his assertion that rabbis avoid discussing this important issue. I and many rabbis approach the problem of over-the-top b'nai mitzvah celebrations in a forthright and rigorous way. Had Wexler done a little asking around, he would have known as much. Then he might have fashioned a more productive solution.

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Wilshire Boulevard Temple

Principally, I agree with Gary Wexler's article, but he shouldn't assume that Jews who throw big parties for their children are solely motivated by money and public acclaim. How about the religious well-being of the family?

Some think a lavish Jewish wedding is OK, but not a child's bar or bat mitzvah. Unfortunately, this reasoning ignores the obvious passing of time and the diminishing odds that parents will live to see their grandchildren and great-grandchildren walk down the aisle.

Our children's b'nai mitzvah provided wonderful opportunities for my husband and I to honor our parents and remaining grandparent with joyous celebrations that marked how their devotion and nurturing values shaped us as individuals and as parents. Who can say when the next time the intergenerational family will come together to celebrate another ritual in our children's lives? As the parents of daughters, and sole payers for the parties anyway, it was great fun not to have the pressure of another family to split the guest list with.

Elisa Wayne, Los Angeles

Davis vs. Laemmle

Avi Davis is supportive of Israel as a country, and his support is not dependent upon who is in power at the time (Point/Counterpoint, Jan. 10). I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle asks whether Davis' restraint is really so admirable. Well, yes it is. It demonstrates his loyalty and patriotism to a Jewish homeland at a time of grave crisis. It demonstrates his ability to see beyond partisanship when the lives of Jews are at so much risk. She may well believe in a "transnational justice and peace," but if it endangers the safety of a secure Jewish homeland, count me out.

Laemmle also asks for an "end of occupation," as do the Palestinians. On the surface, it appears that if only we would agree with that position that common ground has been reached and resolution is possible. There's just one problem: All of Israel is "occupied Palestine" to the Palestinian Authority.

Faith Schames, Los Angeles

Avi Davis' touching tale of his Zionist upbringing leading to his remarkable stoicism -- holding his tongue when the Israeli government pursued policies that were obviously wrongheaded to him and his comrades -- would play better were it the complete truth. A quick perusal of Davis' recent writings shows that he has no problem criticizing the Israeli government or lobbying for policies that the Israeli government has discarded, as long as they are to the right of the government. Davis has argued at different times against recognizing a Palestinian state, for killing the leadership of the Palestinian Authority and for an even more massive incursion and reoccupation of the territory nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority. His comfortable seat in the Diaspora doesn't seem to negate his right to critique from the right.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle is to be applauded for articulately voicing the opinion that support for peace and justice does not stand in [conflict with] support and care for Israel. Her respectful rebuttal of Davis' arguments stands in sharp contrast to Davis' own rhetoric in the recent past.

Dr. Aryeh Cohen, University of Judaism

Corrections

To contact Roe Gruber regarding her Cuba project ("Cuban Jews' Plight Sparks Drive to Help," Jan. 3), please call (800) 243-7227.

In "It's a Full Plate in Nourishing the Sick" (Jan. 10), Project Chicken Soup is a 100 percent volunteer nonprofit organization and all funding comes from individual donations and grants. Additionally, the president of the organization is Rod Bran.

From L.A. to Tel Aviv

In David Margolis' story about The Federation's Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership ("From L.A. to Tel Aviv -- A Partnership That Works," Jan. 3) he did not distinguish between projects, which are conceived, developed and executed by the Partnership's staff and lay committees, and those in which the Partnership is a partial source of funding for implementing projects of independent institutions with goals that complement and reinforce those of the Partnership. The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity is one such independent institution.

One example of the center's recent work is "The Dybbuk" project, a two-year-old, ongoing three-way collaborative effort among the Tel Aviv University and UCLA theater departments and the Center, with each institution providing the talents of its respective artists in the creation of a pioneering world-class contemporary dramatic musical work based on a Jewish classic.

Despite the article's unfortunate omission of the Center, we look forward to continue sharing the Center's accumulated experience and expertise in developing and strengthening Israeli-Diaspora relations through Jewish culture in the communities of Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, and to involving the Partnership in future Center initiatives directed toward shared goals.

John H. Rauch, President Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity

David Margolis' otherwise comprehensive article missed one of the more ambitious projects which is currently being explored by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership of The Jewish Federation. That is, the attempt to create in Tel Aviv a legal services agency modeled after Bet Tzedek Legal Services. Bet Tzedek is the only Jewish organization in the country that is dedicated to providing free legal services to the poor, elderly, and disabled members of the community, covering a wide variety of legal areas. Further, it is the only organization to provide free assistance to, and representation of, Holocaust survivors in applying for reparations and other available programs.

Tel Aviv has a significant indigent population who have virtually no access to the legal system and is very much in need of an organization like Bet Tzedek. We hope this project will take root and come to fruition during the coming year.

Stanley Kandel , President  Board of Directors Bet Tzedek Legal Services

Second Generation

I would like to thank Rachel Brand for the thoughtful and comprehensive article about the Second Generation ("Support Group Helps Second Generation," Dec. 27). In addition, I would like to clarify a few minor points. Many Second Generation individuals have achieved fully actualized lives, successfully incorporating the lessons learned at home to become some of the most productive members of our community. You will find them among the leaders of congregations, Jewish communal service organizations, and overrepresented in professional vocations.

The goals of our organization now are to provide a supportive environment where those who share our legacy can exchange ideas and feelings about their heritage. We promote Holocaust education and memorialization, foster an understanding of the implications of the lessons of the Holocaust on society and support both the State of Israel and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Dr. Morry Waskberg, Vice President Second Generation



I wanted to thank you for writing such a sensitive and caring article about the noble organization Second Generation and survivors of the Holocaust, especially now when so many people that I know and work with try and say that the Holocaust never existed and that it's only a big lie created by Jews.

Some day, people like the doctor you interviewed won't be around to tell their story or their parents' story. And the people who say the Holocaust was a lie and that Jews were never singled out and murdered will win the public over with their lies.

Name Withheld by Request, Los Angeles

Thank you Gary Wexler for openly saying what too many of us do not have the courage to say when it comes to extravagant, vulgar, inappropriate, hedonistic, tasteless parties that have come to define the terms bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah all too often.

Wexler's article should be required reading for every Jewish parent of children 10 and older. It should be sent by synagogues and rabbis to parents and children. It should be given to every parent when the bar mitzvah date is given. I hate to use the term "silent majority," but I hope there is one, and that more parents develop the character to do the right thing and not succumb to peer pressure, social pressure or their children's whiney demands.

Howard M. Fields, Hidden Hills

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