June 18, 1998
Regarding your June 5 cover story: If Jews are so special -- and I believe we are -- when are we going to find or create visual images of ourselves other than those from 18th century Eastern Europe that can inspire us today?
As Jewish men who dress in long black coats and streimels are not likely to be readers of The Jewish Journal, was it expecting too much of the editors to find images that recognize other authentic expressions of Judaism for your important cover story?
The headline "Are We Special?" and the articles on two recent books apparently giving affirmative answers omit a very important consideration in contemplating this question.
Jewish chosenness implies a special Jewish capability for moral discernment, for perceiving God's will. However, such a capability cannot be realized outside the Jewish community unless those outside of Judaism also recognize it.
So far, they do not.
Indeed, many members of religions other than Judaism believe that their own religion is the true successor to Judaism, and Judaism is the religion of degenerate, corrupt charlatans still fraudulently claiming a special, favored relationship with the God of the Universe.
Jews must be very careful to delineate the limits of their chosenness, both in their own minds and in their public assertions.
As an example, during the war over the Falkland Islands in 1982, the Argentine Jewish community gave moral support to the Argentine government's military efforts, and the British Jewish community supported the British government's.
If the Jews are God's chosen people, how can they support both sides when there is deadly fighting between these sides?
In such situations, the respective Jewish communities must make it crystal clear that they are speaking as patriotic citizens of the land they inhabit, not as pious Jews. Otherwise, they are putting their Jewish God in the position of a bloodthirsty spectator at a cockfight between humans, supporting the existence of a deadly conflict and cheering both sides.
Improperly asserting Jewish chosenness can result in striking a crippling blow at the heart of Jewish moral existence. None of the writers you invoke bother to point this out.
Remember Rabbi Akiba's famous questions, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when?" So often when hearing these words at temple or in Jewish community meetings, I have concentrated on the latter two questions, giving short shrift to the first. No more.
Politics is a cut-throat business. But a racial appeal directed against Richard Katz in the June primary battle for a San Fernando Valley state Senate seat was not business as usual ("A Vote at a Time," June 12). If the attack is tolerated, it will usher in an ugly new era of Los Angeles politics.
Former Assemblymember Richard Katz and Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon vied for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Herschel Rosenthal who must step down due to term limits. In a shocking last-minute mailing sent in support of Alarcon, state Sen. Richard Polanco implied that Katz was anti-Latino. The first rule of gutter politics is that if you are going to lie, tell a big one. So Polanco did not stop at implying bias. He selected incidents in which Katz actually had been a hero -- defending the Latino community.
The campaign hit piece falsely accused Katz of collaborating with Gov. Pete Wilson on his agenda of scapegoating minorities. The truth: Katz has always been a vocal opponent of Wilson's destructive policies. Polanco said Katz attacked the speakership of Assemblymember Cruz Bustamente. The truth: Katz's skillful leadership of the Democratic Caucus was credited by Bustamente with enabling him to become the first Latino speaker this century. The mailing implied that Katz was responsible for the use of poll guards to prevent Latinos from voting in an Orange County assembly race. The truth: it was Katz who organized opposition to the right-wing poll guard scheme, and a lawsuit challenging it.
There has been an outcry in the Jewish community against Polanco's smear tactics and a deafening silence in the other progressive wings of the Democratic Party. What a horrible double standard. Can you imagine what would happen if a Jewish politician had attacked his Latino opponent in a last minute blitz falsely accusing the Latino of anti-Semitism or association with the sick politics of denying the existence of the Holocaust? The first groups to cry foul would be our own. Every Jewish organization would promptly, publicly, vociferously, denounce the smear.
To those progressive officials and organizations who have remained silent, our message must be "you can't have it both ways." You can't say you want to forge a bond among diverse peoples and at the same time, not condemn this deeply divisive conduct.
We must ask our allies in the Democratic Party and in the Los Angeles community at large: If you are for yourself alone, who are you? And if not now, when?
Assemblymember, 42nd District
Battle in Tujunga
I readily admit my biases in the matter covered in your article regarding the Verdugo Hills Jewish Center ("Fight Continues to Keep Tujunga Shul Open," May 15). I grew up at that temple and, during its heyday, thrived on the rich Jewish experience it provided the community of Sunland-Tujunga (my father is the retired baker mentioned in the article). However, it is precisely the substance of that bias-producing experience which I feel was missing from the Journal's piece.
Certainly, the demographics of the area have changed, but anyone who recently attended a service at the synagogue, which I had the pleasure of doing prior to its closing, would know that the largely aging congregation still presented an intimate, haimish religious experience. Present, contrary to Mr. Snow's assertion, were members who had been active for over four decades, including founding and sustaining families.
When I discussed this issue with the sons and daughters of those hoping to keep the temple open, friends with whom I had attended the synagogue's Hebrew school, we understood that the operation was winding down. However, we all had our greatest difficulty with the manner in which the matter was handled as well as its timing. We were hoping for something better, fairer, sounder for our parents religiously, in their later years.
The final irony is that contrary to the predictions of the cessation of their activities, the group that wanted to keep the temple open perseveres in its efforts to maintain a Jewish presence in the area, despite the closure of its facility. The Pasadena group's offer, mentioned in the article, to keep the temple open until the property was sold (presented largely in an attempt to halt the other group's opposition) has long since been rescinded. However, the Verdugo Hills Jewish Center families continue to hold Shabbat services in a classroom provided generously by a nearby Catholic church. Perhaps that represents the greatest irony of all.
Dr. Mitchell Taubman
BJE Says Thanks
On behalf of the Bureau of Jewish Education and the 7,000 young children enrolled in 64 BJE-affiliated early childhood centers employing centers employing 800 educators, we commend Beverly Gray and The Jewish Journal for the June 5 article "Stand Up and Deliver," (June 5). Ms. Gray's reporting of the BJE's proposed Early Childhood Code of Personnel Practices was informative, well-researched and well-balanced.
It is important for the community to understand the vital role this document can play in serving the profession of early childhood Jewish education and our greatest treasure, our children. Ms. Gray clearly demonstrated to our community that we have an opportunity to put Los Angeles at the forefront in providing early childhood education for our very youngest students.
Let us hope that our Jewish educational community will "stand up and deliver" by ratifying the proposed Early Childhood Code of Personnel Practices.
Linda Goldenberg Mayman, Chair
BJE Early Childhood Code of Personnel Practices
I was pleased to read The Jewish Journal's coverage of the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership project pairing our community's schools and educators with counterparts in Israel ("A Unique Partnership," May 29). Your readers may be interested in knowing that in addition to the public school mentioned in Beverly Gray's article, four local Jewish day schools have already cultivated blossoming partnerships with schools in Tel Aviv as pilot participants in this very project.
Abraham J. Heschel Day School, Emek Hebrew Acedemy, Milken Community High School and Pressman Academy have already cemented relations with partner schools in Tel Aviv and have planned an exciting array of joint educational programs for the coming school year.
The Bureau of Jewish Education, together with the Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee, is delighted to play an instrumental role in the development of this engaging experiment in multinational education.
Dr. Ron Reynolds
Director of School Services
Bureau of Jewish Education
Thanks to Herb
I want to express my thanks to Herb Gelfand for being able to serve as a member of the executive committee of the board of Jewish Federation during his term of leadership.
The executive board committee has given me a lot of insight of the "inside" working of the Federation and, with it, I became better acquainted with our local Jewish accomplishment and its problems as well as relationship toward our state of Israel.
Herb has been an excellent leader and president and has achieved many attainments during his term. I want to thank him for his hard work and especially for his efforts to arrange the extra $1 million for Jewish education in our city which could have not been accomplished without his persistence. It was really a privilege serving with him.
Jack M. Nagel
An obituary for Jack Ostrow in the June 5 issue omitted brother Joseph, sister Bea Jacob, and son-in-law Meir Gabbai.
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