Save your money; skip ‘Monuments’ film

I want to respond to Penny Schwartz’s review of the new film “The Monuments Men” (“‘Monuments Men’ casts light on unit that saved cultural treasures,” Feb. 7). Although the film claims to be based on Robert Edsel’s well-regarded book “The Monuments Men,” it is a typical Hollywood cliché-riddled caper film, with a cast of almost cartoonish characters, highly exaggerated episodes and pompous knock-them-over-the-head speeches. Spare me, please. Save yourself the money and simply buy Edsel’s book, which is leagues better, and the real thing. Or Lynn Nicholas’ book “The Rape of Europa.” Her book was turned into an award-winning documentary and played on PBS.

The second issue is Schwartz’s use of the word “perished” to describe what happened to “the original Jewish owners and entire Jewish communities.” They did not simply perish, but were murdered, as I am sure Schwartz knows well. Words are important, and the use of a generic “perished” seems inappropriate and too banal to describe the Holocaust.

Ian Berke   |   San Francisco


Cut through BDS obfuscation


My deepest and sincerest gratitude goes to Scarlett Johansson for understanding and standing firmly and courageously in the pressure to abandon SodaStream as their new spokeswoman (“BDS movement to Oxfam: Dump Johansson as rep,” Jan. 31). Thank you for seeing through a transparent BDS movement and an organization that claims “an end to world poverty” as part of their mission statement.

Five hundred Palestinians are employed (in management as well) by SodaStream and earn up to 10 times what they could in their communities. They now own homes. They love their work. They pray daily in the on-site mosque; they have benefits. They attend their Israeli co-workers’ kids’ simchas. They have stated loudly that they don’t believe in the BDS movement. They want to keep their jobs and they are happy.

Thank you Scarlett for not joining the ill-informed entertainers who canceled concerts in Israel and call Israel an apartheid state. Bravo to you, Ms. Johansson. You’ve done an amazing thing. “Human rights … end to world poverty”? Really, Oxfam? Hypocrites.

Diane Whitten-Vile   |   Oakland


Thanks for including yoga, meditation in Jewish practice

First, I want to commend Lehrhaus Judaica for including Embodied Jewish Learning at this year’s spring retreat.

Second, I want to applaud J. for its cover story featuring practices in Jewish meditation and yoga (“A different way to pray: Yoga, meditation services gaining ground in Bay Area Jewish community,” Nov. 1, 2013). It truly is exciting to see J. highlight programs that blend meditation and physical practices with Jewish learning, prayer and study here in the Bay Area. The sheer number of programs currently offered indicate the growing desire for some meditation and yoga practitioners to connect and integrate all parts of their lives in their spiritual practices.

Third, I want to echo sentiments expressed by Karen Erlichman (Jan. 30) and Wendie Lash in these pages pointing to the need for studying, experiencing and integrating our learning on all levels of being, according to the Four Worlds: Assiyah/Body, Yetzirah/Heart, Beriyah/Mind and Atzilut/Spirit.

There is not one way to study Torah. Movement brings Jewish wisdom, text and tradition alive for me most powerfully, but that does not negate the value of sitting and studying text. Rather, it enriches it.

Julie Emden   |   San Francisco

Director of Embodied Jewish Learning, Jewish LearningWorks


‘1 percent’ attacks are just scapegoating

Recently, Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard University, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In it, she drew an analogy between the Nazis’ anti-Semitism and the current attacks on the “1 percent.”  She did not claim that the politicians fulminating about the 1 percent have genocidal goals, but rather, she cited both as examples of scapegoating. By blaming the ills of society on a minority, a political elite can obviate the necessity of remedying those problems.

History is replete with examples of this technique. My father’s parents fled Russia in the pogrom of 1905 as the tsar blamed the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the general level of poverty on Jews.

Oddly, the 1 percent is not a fixed minority group. Our economy is continuously churning. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs rose into the 1 percent from much more humble status. Others fall out of the “1 percent.” Studies by the University of Michigan, the IRS and most recently Harvard University show that a substantial fraction of those born into the lowest quintile rise into a much more affluent status over the course of their lives.

Let us not be distracted by this scapegoating from the hard task of addressing the shortcomings of our society.

Henry D. Shay   |   Livermore