Kudos to Sherith Israel

I read with great delight last week’s article about the start of the seismic retrofit project at Congregation Sherith Israel (“Sherith Israel to begin long-awaited seismic retrofit,” April 9). This historic achievement offers a wonderful occasion to celebrate with the clergy, leadership and members of our sister congregation.

As senior rabbi of the neighboring Reform synagogue, I take great pleasure in their accomplishment. My congratulations extend to Rabbi Lawrence Raphael, a cherished colleague and friend, and all the supporters of the congregation. The success of Sherith Israel strengthens our entire community. May it continue to grow from strength to strength.

Rabbi Stephen Pearce  

San Francisco

Congregation Emanu-El

Preserving a sacred space

I was delighted to read of the long-awaited and hoped-for beginning to Congregation Sherith Israel’s seismic retrofit project and to learn that this beautiful sanctuary, where I served as a young associate rabbi, will endure for the generations to come.

I remember so well coming to the synagogue in the morning following the Loma Prieta earthquake to survey the damage inside. Indeed, some of the stained-glass windows were cracked, and significant chunks of the gilded, fresco décor from high inside the dome had come crashing down into the pews below. But rather surprisingly, the seasonal sukkah decorating the bimah, which had been steadily tilting to one side ever since the start of the festival, came through the shaking absolutely untouched.

The sight of that simple sukkah, still standing in the aftermath of the disaster, is a fitting symbol for the spirit of the congregation, which clearly continues to fill that sacred space with hope and determination.

Rabbi David J. Meyer  

Marblehead, Mass.

Senior Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El

Festival night out marred by protesters

I went across the Bay last week with my girlfriend to enjoy the opening night of the “Out in Israel” cultural festival. Just wanted to have a nice relaxing evening as the workweek was coming to an end. But no, the Israel haters couldn’t leave well enough alone.

As we waited outside in line to get in, I watched what apparently was some sort of anti-Israel group that was made up primarily of members from the LGBT community trying to do some sort of guerrilla theater. There was also a woman who was taking pictures of a pro-Israel activist holding a sign outlining the perils of being gay in Gaza. After she took her photos she went on to describe herself as being an Iranian lesbian and said the photos would go into the hall of shame.

How ironic, I thought. I wonder if she would deem photos of honor killings, be-headings or the hanging bodies of gay Iranians from cranes worthy of her “hall of shame.” Well, that would force her to acknowledge human rights abuses outside of Israel, so probably not.

Sadly it seems that hatred toward Israel transcends gender, race and even sexual identity.

Sol Rosenberg   |   Oakland

Advice for Sabeel

In the story on Sabeel’s Palestinian Liberation Theology conference at the San Anselmo First Presbyterian Church (“Jews up in arms over Presbyterian report, conference,” March 19) , I was quoted as saying, “Every speaker gave a one-sided, anti-Israel perspective…” To clarify, there were actually a few notable exceptions, including one workshop leader who made a sincere attempt to address anti-Semitism and how anti-Semitism is sometimes wrongly put to use in discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sadly, the Sabeel organizers failed to take his advice. The main overarching themes at the conference were not only the delegitimization of Israel, and support for blanket boycotts, divestments and sanctions, but the overt anti-Jewish rhetoric of Sabeel’s founder who repeatedly disparaged Judaism for being “tribal” and “exclusive.” Another speaker even referred to Jews as “paranoids” and “isolationists” suffering from “psychological issues.”

What I learned by attending Sabeel’s event is their theology seems to assume that by selectively reading passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New Testament, they know the mind of God regarding the modern State of Israel and everything Jewish. Real, living Jews have unwittingly, and unwillingly, become objectified as actors in Sabeel’s Christian morality play. Our strong message to Sabeel is the Jewish people refuse to accept this role they scripted for us.

Yitzhak Santis   |   San Francisco

Director, Middle East Project

Jewish Community Relations Council

Please don’t stop

the music

In a bit of cruel irony, Adam Sosnik’s article on the downsizing of b’nai mitzvah parties and its effect on caterers in particular (“B’nai mitzvah parties not quite as flashy these days,” April 9), was printed atop the page that had all the ads from the Bay Area Jewish musicians.

Although only caterers were mentioned in the article, musicians, too, are suffering from the economic downturn. And this decline is not only for b’nai mitzvot (as in the case of the caterers) but pretty much across the board. I know this because I have talked to other local musicians and have seen national discussions on this very topic.

I hope that readers of this paper will continue to support their local musicians by planning live music for their celebrations.

Jim Rebhan   |   El Cerrito

Special prayer for the dead

Each week when I receive j., I first turn to the death notices to see which friends are no longer with us. When you reach a certain age, that’s what you do.

I am always shocked and saddened when a name appears that reminds me of past happy times with that person.

Last week (April 9), I was especially saddened to read of two names I never had the opportunity to meet: Benjamin Henry Feinstein, age 20, and Kyle Harty Strang, age 17. How depressing to realize these two young men will never know the whole meaning of life and that they were cut down so early in their youth. I also cry for their parents and family and friends who have lost such  fine young men.

As I lit the Shabbat candles Friday night, I said a special prayer for these two young men and especially to their parents, family and friends who now must grieve.

May I make a suggestion to j. readers: When you light your Shabbat candles, remember the names in the death notices of j. each week.

After all, we are all one family.

Stanley Lichtenstein   |   Alameda

Peace talks won’t lead to peace

Celestine Bohlen’s op-ed (“Rejecting U.S. foreign aid would allow Israel to dodge Obama’s fist,” April 9) is overly supportive of Obama’s distortion of America’s foreign policy. The goal should not be “peace talks” but peace itself.  With the Palestinian Arabs split between the terrorist Hamas, whose interpretation of their religion forbids them to make peace with Israel, and Fatah, touted as moderate, but who recently incorporated the al Aksa terrorists, and have vowed never to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, there is little likelihood for peace talks now to arrive at real peace.

Yet Obama keeps requesting that Israel harm its security to provide “confidence building” measures for the Palestinian Arabs. All this for “peace talks” that will never get to real peace. The Palestinian Arabs’ real goal is the dissolution of Israel. They say so in their charters. But Obama, with his mania for overstating the Muslim contribution to American culture, and for bowing down to Muslim potentates, is less than unlikely to reverse his ineffective policy.

However, there is Congress. Congress has passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Hoyer-Cantor letter supporting Israel on Jerusalem has 333 co-signers. The American people should support these congressional initiatives until Obama is retired in 2012.

Arthur Cohn   |   Portola Valley

‘Heartbreaking’ ad

To say that I found the Ed Koch full-page ad in the April 9 j. disturbing would be a gross understatement. It was heartbreaking. Not only for the unabashed Obama bashing, but also for the narrow-minded propaganda perpetuated by this editorial as yet another manifestation of how far away Israel is from the dream of a homeland for all Jews who truly believe in the idea of Israel as an inclusive, pluralistic, thriving country where anyone can be born, live, be educated, worship, marry, die and be buried as they choose.

The helplessness I felt after reading this was compounded even further when I saw it was sponsored by two organizations I have always supported unconditionally, Taube and Koret. I simply don’t understand why the wise words of Hillel do not also apply to the state of Israel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” The powers that be in Israel continue to demonstrate they are only for themselves and in the process are losing the support, hearts and minds of diaspora Jews who have always believed in the Israeli dream, not the Israeli nightmare. This editorial helps no one.

Wendy Lawrence   |   Mill Valley

‘So far right it’s wrong’

The full-page advertisement funded by the Koret and Taube foundations in j. April 9  clearly makes an analogy between the Obama administration and Nazi Germany. This facile and dangerous equation is all the more egregious appearing on the weekend on which we commemorate Yom HaShoah. Shouldn’t the Federation’s guidelines on programming by its grantees have something to say about Jewish institutions that equate our president with Hitler?

This is so far right it is utterly wrong.

Rachel Biale   |   Berkeley

Not way to peace

The only way the Arab Israeli conflict will ever be solved is if all parties agree to live in peace with each other in their own secure and recognized borders.

The problem is, no one agrees on that goal. The current Israeli government was elected to keep the status quo and not make any more mistakes like the previous government did in Gaza in the past four years. They seem frozen in place. The first half of the Palestinian leadership has hardened its stand on even talking about solutions, empowered by the hope that the Americans will pressure Israel to agree to a declaration of a Palestinian state without peace or recognition of Israel. The goal of the second half of the Palestinian leadership, Hamas, is to destroy Israel and form an Islamic state in that same location.

The Obama administration seems to have no patience for the complexities of the issues involved. Their goal is to increase American influence with various Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Pressuring only Israel achieves that goal but makes absolutely no progress toward any kind of peace.

Ron Doron   |   San Luis Obispo