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Danger of fasting for rain; Bazian a ‘crusader for all’; Jews who support Trump

Does God hear our prayers?

Regarding David A.M. Wilensky’s article “Will this Oakland rabbi’s three-day fast bring the rains?,” I’ll grant that my colleague Rabbi Mark Bloom’s assessment that “it’s an interesting opportunity to connect with nature and with our ancestors” is true.

That said, I also believe it sets a dangerous theological precedent. If one fasts to bring about rain and it subsequently rains (just as the weather forecast had predicted), does that honestly mean the fast “worked?” Did it rain because God favored Bloom’s prayers? Does it then stand to reason that God answers some prayers in just the ways we desire but ignores others?

Having suffered devastating personal losses in my life, I would hate to think that these tragedies might have been averted had I only prayed harder, or differently, or coupled my prayers with a fast. As a rabbi, I have seen the damage such faulty thinking does to congregants I care about who are already suffering undue pain. The hard truth — and not one of us has to look far to see it— is that this world and the things in it that befall us are far more random and beyond our control than we would like to think. But terrifying as it may be, that’s the world I will take and the Torah I will teach on its own terms, in every season, no matter what the weather.

Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman
Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek

Berkeley mayor’s chilling stance

In “Berkeley mayor objects to appointment of Bazian to city commission,” Mayor Jesse Arreguin deplores the appointment of professor Hatem Bazian to the Peace and Justice Commission, condemns him as anti-Semitic and manufactures an “Israel exception” to Berkeley’s tradition of speaking out against human rights violations.

I am a Jewish resident of Berkeley and I know professor Bazian through his activism for the rights of the Palestinian people. I have been inspired and educated by him at many community solidarity events, including Passover gatherings celebrating the liberation of all peoples.

Professor Bazian made a mistake in retweeting an offensive post without paying sufficient attention to its content, for which he has apologized wholeheartedly. The nature of the offensive content lies partly in its identification of Israel’s crimes with Jewry itself. Ironically, that false conflation of Zionism and Judaism is precisely what his detractors rely on to stigmatize critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. And they do so not by mistake, but with relentless strategic purpose.

Mayor Arreguin states that the Peace and Justice Commission should not be used “as a forum for foreign policy issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” In fact, the commission is mandated under Berkeley’s Municipal Code to advise the city on matters relating to international social justice, including the city’s role in “supporting human rights and self-determination throughout the world…”

These provisions led Berkeley to be one of the first municipalities to divest from apartheid South Africa. The mayor expressed pride in this history when he announced the city’s decision to divest from companies that participate in building a wall on the border with Mexico. But when it comes to Israel’s grave violations of Palestinian rights, extensively documented by every major human rights agency in the world, he says that if the commission proposes “divestments or other issues challenging the state of Israel, I will oppose these actions.”

What an astonishing position for a city official to take: that he will shield one particular foreign nation from challenge by the people of his city. This pledge is calculated to chill political expression critical of Israel and it should be retracted.

Carol Sanders

Bazian a crusader for all people

I feel compelled to respond to Rob Gloster’s article on Hatem Bazian.

The recent attacks against Dr. Bazian are just the latest smear campaign against him. He has been facing personal and professional attacks by the well-funded, pro-Israel, anti-Islamophobic organizations that are attempting to stifle criticism of Israel, even at the expense of cherished American values of democracy and freedom of speech.

Dr. Bazian has been a tireless crusader for human rights for all people. He is a brilliant political theorist and speaks in support of and solidarity with all oppressed groups, including people of color, the LGBTQ community, workers, Arabs, and Muslims and Jews. He has a great respect for our Jewish traditions and values, and has attended community seders and other Jewish and interfaith gatherings, just to lend his support.

Rather than bowing to pressure or listening to fabricated accusations by well-placed operatives with a hidden agenda, I would encourage Mayor Arreguin to speak directly with Dr. Bazian in person. I am sure the mayor will learn quite a good deal from the professor.

Elliot Helman

Jews who support Trump

In response to the letters that reacted to the horror visited on the Tree of Life synagogue, Steve Astrachan (“Redirecting anger over Pittsburgh”) jumped to the defense of Trump. Amazing! And he “what-abouted” Antifa, as if that was part of the equation! (Not to defend them, but I haven’t seen them involved in any mass murders.)

My letter (“Trump supporters: You betray us”) was not aimed at Trump, it was aimed at Jews who support him. It was aimed at Jews who have forgotten our history and our principles. It was aimed at Jews who support a demagogue who started his campaign with a racist rant, and has continued to spew hate and division with every venomous breath. I don’t care if he is an anti-Semite or not. The effects of his rhetoric are the same on the armed unhinged who live in the darker recesses of the internet.

Danny Yanow
San Francisco

Words matter

I am writing about two word-choice issues from the recent J.

First, when discussing Marc Benioff’s personal wealth, Dan Pine wrote, “Benioff boasts a personal wealth of $X billion…” Realizing that people use this phrase frequently, anyone who knows Benioff knows that he does not boast about his wealth. If anything, he touts his philanthropy but not his bank account.

Second, the article [in the print edition only] about all the Jewish people elected in the midterms was titled “Jews on the rise in House after midterms.” While there is nothing that a Jewphobe wouldn’t go nuts about, that title, while accurate, could be reprinted in the Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi news website, as evidence of the Jewish plot to take over America. You could probably figure out less twistable headlines if you thought about this, especially in the post-Pittsburgh era.

Rabbi Ari Cartun
Palo Alto

Read J. and lose 10 lbs. today!

I am writing to agree with those who have panned J.’s new typeface; the font size is too small and the font is one that is hard to read. It seems more appropriate for an ad for a phony weight-loss product than for a news magazine.

Abby Margolis
Daly City

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