After O.J. acquittal, rabbi urges Jews to look within

Likening the case to the internal trial Jews imposed upon themselves on Yom Kippur, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Congregation Valley Beth Shalom urged the people of Los Angeles and the nation to view O.J. Simpson's not-guilty verdict in terms of their own lives.

"As Jews, we must ask ourselves how we will deal with a beleaguered black community, and how we would have reacted if Mr. Simpson were Jewish or if a Jonathan Pollard had been the defendant," said Schulweis, former rabbi of Oakland's Temple Beth Abraham.

Such an objective perspective, however, was obviously too much to ask of the grief-stricken Fred Goldman, who tried to comfort his wife, Patti, and loudly sobbing daughter Kim as the jury verdict was read, pronouncing Simpson not guilty in the killing of their son and brother, Ron.

Fred Goldman himself, his arms around his wife and daughter, looked up toward heaven when the court clerk read the verdict, as if invoking divine counsel.

At a news conference in the district attorney's office, the elder Goldman, his voice shaking, said that justice had not been served.

"We will do everything in our power to bring about the kind of change that won't allow what happened today to ever happen to another family again," Fred Goldman said.

The Goldman family's grief was shared by fellow congregants at Temple Beth Haverim in suburban Agoura Hills, where Ron Goldman had been called to the Torah several months before his death, in honor of his step-sister's bat mitzvah.

The temple's spiritual leader, Rabbi Gary Johnson, said that "I could have understood a hung jury, but I can't understand the `not guilty' verdict. It boggles the mind."

Still on the docket is a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed by Fred and Kim Goldman in May, contending that Simpson "brutally murdered" Ron.

The complaint does not name an amount of damages sought, but says that the "imposition of substantial punitive and [compensatory] damages will in this case be both justified and necessary to send out a message…that such vicious and outrageous savagery inflicted by one human being upon another shall be met with the severest of civil penalties."

While criminal cases require that the defendant be guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," the standard for a civil lawsuit is that a preponderance of the evidence favor one side or the other.

Although key lawyers on both sides — Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Alan Dershowitz for the defense, and Marcia Clark for the prosecution — are Jewish, the trial itself did not involve black-Jewish issues, said Rabbi Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

If anything, said Fields, a Los Angeles leader in interfaith and interethnic relations, "the agony that has grown out of the trial shows the depth of racism that still exists in our society."

Both Fields and Schulweis said they were not planning to mention the trial during their Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur sermons. "These days are about personal [not social] judgment," said Fields.

Schulweis agreed in general that the trial did not touch on black-Jewish issues. But he said on the last day's arguments, Jewish concern surfaced when lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. drew an analogy between Hitler and racist former police detective Mark Fuhrman, a prosecution witness.

Jewish defense agencies strongly protested the comparison, but Schulweis pointed to a more basic cause of black-Jewish friction.

"We must stop the game of one-downmanship," he said, in which each side claims to have suffered more than the other throughout history.

"All such comparisons are invidious and irrelevant," Schulweis added.

"Both communities now require restraint and internal wisdom."

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent