Emphatically standing up to sexual abuse

I finally broke my 40-plus years of silence about the sexual abuse perpetrated on me by my father, Sheldon Mitchell, on the Camp Arazim group page on Facebook in October 2013. A subsequent article in J. (www.tinyurl.com/jweekly-mitchell) reported the events surrounding the abuse.

Years of repeated sexual abuse and keeping the secret for so long took its toll on me. Little Tommy, as I was called when I was a child, was imprisoned in my mind and body while I grew up, which made it difficult for me to mature and lead a “normal” life as an adult. Those around me didn’t know about Little Tommy inside me because I learned to adapt and blend in as best I could.

Confusion, distraction and pain remained constant, which led to the use of harmful and destructive coping strategies. Everyone close to me has also suffered the effects of my secret history.

My story is typical of survivors of sexual abuse. Most of the perpetrators are family members, close friends of the family, or other people in leadership positions who command respect in the community. They are anybody and everybody, mostly men. They are doctors, lawyers, CPAs, clergy, coaches, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins and neighbors.

Many times there are suspicions of the abuse taking place, or worse, complicity. But the perpetrator’s position of power in the family and community make it difficult to believe or report to legal authorities for fear of breaking up the family or the embarrassment that comes with the attention. As a matter of fact, the perpetrators build up and use their positions of power as part of their plan to remain free to continue with their crimes.

The response by Rabbi Nathaniel Ezray in J. (www.tinyurl.com/jweekly-ezray) and the “Beyond Silence” pledge this month by 138 rabbis to “educate, activate, support, communicate and advocate” is a dream come true for me. I never could have imagined that my broken silence would have resulted in the community’s acknowledgement and support such as this. I take comfort in knowing that lives will be saved, pain and suffering will be reduced, help with healing will be offered, justice will be done, and education will be ongoing.

I’d like to personally thank Rabbi Ezray for his activism, the 138 rabbis for their future commitment, and other victims of sexual abuse who have been brave enough to come forward, breaking their silence, so that others can see that they are not alone and do not have to suffer in solitude. The healing continues.

Tom Mitchell   |   Las Vegas


Breaking the silence

Many thanks to J. for running a powerful rabbinic statement against sexual abuse on the back cover of the Feb. 7 issue, and for publishing two related pieces by Rabbi Nat Ezray (“ ‘Every story is real’: a pledge to bring sexual abuse into light”) and Rabbi Menachem Creditor (“‘We Believe’ — in ending violence against women”).

Historically, the Jewish community has remained silent on issues of abuse in Jewish homes, families and institutions. In my work with Shalom Bayit, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in the Jewish community, I have watched the communal response to violence in our midst shift over the past two decades. The rabbis’ statement on sexual abuse demonstrates that our community has indeed broken the silence. That is an inspiring change.

To see more than 100 rabbis join together in a clear condemnation of sexual violence is a moment we should all be proud of. It takes great courage for the leaders of any community to admit that terrible wrongs could happen in our midst. It takes even greater leadership to then respond with a clear commitment to right those wrongs and prevent further harm.

I am so proud to be part of a Jewish community that is not afraid to take on a difficult subject. Although the rabbinic statement was sparked by a long-ago incident now come to light (so often the case with sexual abuse), this issue is in no way behind us. I commend J. and that amazing group of rabbis. May your words make our community safer indeed.

Naomi Tucker   |   Oakland

Executive Director, Shalom Bayit


Inspired and riveted

I was excited to read the cover story “The Natural: Berkeley’s Adam Berman plants seeds for Jewish farm movement” (Feb. 14) — partly because I know Adam, partly because I am interested in the work of Urban Adamah (and even volunteered for a brief stint before the first cohort arrived).

But I did not expect to be so moved, so riveted. I just put the paper down and feel excited and inspired, as if the pulse that underlies Adam’s vision was tangibly radiating off the pages.

Knowing that Adam and his cohort of Adamah-niks are passionately taking on leadership and revisioning possibilities for Jewish identity and life makes me hopeful for Judaism.

Elizheva Hurvich   |   Oakland


The right path

I thought writer Alix Wall did an exemplary job highlighting Adam Berman’s accomplishments and inspiring others to help him expand his Urban Adamah program with all the examples he articulated.

I knew a lot of his story, but learned more. Plus, Alix set him up for even more success. The world, and especially the Jewish world, need more of what he’s doing! I appreciate J. highlighting his achievements.

Jody Seltzer   |   Oakland


Left wondering

I read with interest the article “French film delves into shocking ’06 murder of Jewish teen” (Feb. 7). I have followed the Ilan Halimi case for years.

The JTA article stated, “Halimi was kidnapped in Paris in January 2006 by a gang of at least 16 men and women led by Youssouf Fofana, a professed anti-Semite of Ivorian descent who had Halimi starved, mutilated and beaten for 24 days in a cellar before dumping him in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. Fofana was sure he would be paid ransom because Halimi was Jewish. Halimi died on his way to the hospital.”

So we are told that Fofana was a professed anti-Semite, and was from the Ivory Coast. Was Fofana a Muslim? Were the rest of the gang members Muslim? Did they read passages from the Quran to family members on the phone as they tortured Halimi? Are these questions even relevant to the case? You can’t tell from the article.

I hope to see the film “24 Jours,” but I also hope that it does not suffer from the same stifling political correctness that afflicted your article.

Tom Freeman   |   Orinda


‘Anti-circumcision activist’

In a Feb. 14 op-ed (“Choosing not to circumcise — last frontier of Jewish inclusion?”), Lisa Braver Moss writes she merely wants the Jewish community to be inclusive, to give Jewish parents the choice to not circumcise infant boys.

Braver Moss failed to inform readers that by her own account, she is an anti-circumcision activist who has campaigned against infant circumcision for more than 20 years. She is responsible for several speeches, interviews, articles and a novel in which she expressed an overt hostility to the brit milah.

Moss reminds me of another group that says they merely want Jews to be more inclusive. “Messianic Jews” — Christian converts who continue to practice Jewish traditions — also claim they only want to be accepted and welcomed by the Jewish community. But their real goal is to convince every Jew to convert to Christianity. Just as we tell them that worshipping Jesus is outside the boundaries of Judaism, so too is opposing the Torah commandment of brit milah.

If she is sincere about giving parents a choice, Moss should try to convince her fellow activists to stop protesting the right of parents to choose circumcision for our sons.

Andrew Gross   |   Union City


Medical benefits can’t be ignored

In her Feb. 14 op-ed, Lisa Braver Moss, a longstanding anti-circumcision activist, applauds the fact that Reform rabbis accept uncircumcised boys into their congregations, but she assiduously avoids referring to the medical benefits of newborn circumcision.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the minor risks of the procedure. Over the past three decades, medical evidence of circumcision health advantages has steadily increased so that it is now overwhelmingly in favor.

These benefits, from infancy to old age, include protection from severe infant kidney infections, painful foreskin infections in young boys and cancer of the penis in old age, with a strong preventive effect against a number of sexually transmitted infections in adults, the most important of these being HIV/AIDS and human papilloma virus (HPV), the causative agent of penile and cervical cancer. In other words, a circumcised newborn infant has a lifetime health advantage over someone who is uncircumcised (or “intact” to Braver Moss).

Parents in the Bay Area, Jewish or not, refuse circumcision for the same reasons that some of them refuse childhood immunizations. These include suspicion of traditional medicine, pushing by “trendy” activists and lack of information of the significant medical benefits.

Edgar J. Schoen, M.D.   |   San Francisco

Clinical professor of pediatrics, emeritus, UCSF


Palestinian lies don’t bring peace

In her Feb. 14 op-ed, Rabbi Sharon Brous claims to know how “most American Jews” feel about the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians (“It’s time to bet on peace”).

As just one person, I want to establish that her piece completely missed my feelings.

As one example, she talks about “honoring the narratives” of both Israelis and Palestinians. But she ignores the difference between a “narrative” and the truth. In the latest example, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has claimed that his ancestors go back 10,000 years in the disputed land. He has a right to say that, of course, but that doesn’t make it true.

On the other hand, there is undisputed evidence of many kinds that Jews have been in this land for several thousand years, and Erekat and the official Palestinian “narrative” deny that.

To “honor” Erekat’s “narrative” is to bow to made-up lies. That doesn’t bring peace.

Dan Fendel   |   Piedmont


U.S. policy in Mideast is a disaster

I read Rabbi Sharon Brous’ op-ed with anguish, in particular her misguided call to support Mr. Kerry’s coercive efforts.

First, it is for Israeli citizens to decide what is good for them, and for Rabbi Brous and U.S. Jewry to support Israel’s choice, rather than supporting Mr. Kerry’s one-sided pressure on Israel. The Palestinian Authority is not interested in a two-state solution, as evidenced by its rejection of the Camp David plan.

Second, rather than naively believing the U.S. hollowed promises, please take a hard look at  “its recent accomplishments” in the Mideast: horrible Iraq and Afghanistan wars that left their citizens in ruins and chaos; a promise to help Syria’s rebels that evaporated; abandoning the Syrians to the murderous whims of Assad. Further, Iran’s moderation campaign is a charade, and the “5+1 prelim accord” will hardly dent their nuclear weapon development.

Last, it is a delusion to believe that the Palestinians have any intention to accept Israel as a Jewish state in the Mideast. Please read Fatah and Hamas’ charters in Arabic, both vowing to annihilate Israel as a Jewish state.

Sam Liron   |   Foster City


Take out the ‘garbage’

That was a very interesting column by Sue Fishkoff (“Pushing the Orthodox envelope,” Feb. 14) about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the new vanguard of Modern Orthodoxy.

However, labeling the treatment of YCT by Yeshiva University and the Rabbinical Council of America as “garbage” was disrespectful and inappropriate.

J. preaches tolerance but exhibits intolerance. As teshuvah, how about an article exploring these two groups from a West Coast view?

Alan Titus   |   San Francisco


Eat veggies, avoid slaughtering animals

Concern, if not outright indignation, about the cruelty of factory farming is certainly justified. But is killing an innocent animal in your own backyard the answer?

That’s what was suggested in J.’s recent “Backyard kosher” cover story (“Observant Jews take meat ritual into their own hands,” Jan. 31).

There is a much better alternative  that doesn’t involve slitting the throats of animals.

This alternative, adopted by an ever-growing number of Jews in both Israel and the United States, entails forgoing meat altogether, in favor of more compassionate, healthier plant-based diets.

As several past and living chief rabbis have stated, a vegetarian diet is the ideal form of kashrut. Ours is a religion that values life over death, and that insists on the merciful treatment of animals.

Indeed, vegetarian and vegan Jews, in the words of Rabbi David Rosen, former chief rabbi of Ireland, are “following the most sublime and noble values in our tradition.”

Jeffrey Cohan   |   Pittsburgh

Executive director,

Jewish Vegetarians of North America


Israel a leader in water, clean tech

California has had droughts, but continues to waste the water we have. Agriculture consumes much more water than does the population.

Israel purifies 80 percent of its wastewater and uses it for agriculture. Israel developed drip irrigation, now advanced to wetness sensors on the emitters.

Israel has developed new technology for desalination, and has five desalination plants in operation. Israel has an extensive system of reservoirs for water storage. Israel has developed varieties of vegetables and fruits that need less water. With little rainfall, Israel is developing an excess of water — for itself and to sell to Gaza, Jordan and other neighboring countries.

Israel has new innovations in batteries for electric automobiles. It quickly brought its natural gas discoveries into production, while it innovates advances in solar and wind energy.

For water and clean energy, the world should emulate Israel.

Norman G. Licht   |   San Carlos