Community slipping away
Two recent articles in your great newspaper showcase how change is taking over our lives.
The first was about the Reutlinger Community in Danville, which opened about 20 years ago with a new building filled with donations and promise for the greater Bay Area Jewish community (“Reutlinger families seek assurances about home’s Jewish character,” May 15).
The place once known as the Home for Jewish Parents is getting taken over by Eskaton senior care services, a large, corporate entity. How can an company that is not Jewish in its perspective even have a link to our peculiar needs as well as to the donations to keep a local place like this alive?
These are questions that the greater Jewish community will have to grapple with as we recede from local control once again.
Now we see that the Jewish Federation of the East Bay is closing down and will be taken over by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Again, our local community (in this case, the East Bay Jewish community) has lost important aspects as we are resigned to others making decisions in distant places.
Was no lesson learned 16 years ago when the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley tried a merger with the San Francisco Museum, only to separate months later because of donations and local wishes. Let’s try to keep our various communities in local hands where they can have the most impact.
Don’t invent anti-Semites
Once in a while, a letter to the editor is so egregiously false that it can’t be left to stand. I refer to the letter “J. silent on hate crime” (May 17), in which the letter-writer alludes to an incident that took place in a Palo Alto Starbucks. J. was correct to ignore it because there was nothing — repeat: nothing — anti-Semitic about it. The fact that this incident was widely reported, including in the Jewish and Israeli press, changes nothing.
On April 1, a man wearing a MAGA baseball cap was verbally abused by a young woman in Starbucks. Her behavior was shameful and inexcusable, but she was long gone before the gentleman removed his baseball cap (in the presence of reporters) to reveal a yarmulke. Her conduct was deplorable, but there is no way that she could have known that he was Jewish. All she knew was that he was wearing a MAGA hat, and that is what incited her.
There are enough anti-Semites around already: We really don’t need to invent more of them.
Open anti-Semitism in House?
I like the cover story about growing anti-Semitism (“On social media, hate speech takes a dangerous turn,” May 17), but one important point is missing: In the last couple of years, open anti-Semitism is coming directly from the House of Representatives.
No one can disagree that the statement of Rep. Ilhan Omar, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” is highly anti-Semitic. Similar messages come from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, but what is really disappointing is the fact that the House under Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to strongly condemn it but instead passed a broad condemnation of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other instances of hate.
I came from a country where anti-Semitism was state-sponsored. Now, unfortunately, I see similarities with the USSR here in the U.S.
Recalling a great man
Sadly, I read the obituary and remembrance by Hebrew Free Loan for Julius Blackman and was moved to write (“Julius Blackman, longtime Hebrew Free Loan head, dies at 105,” April 30) and I was moved to write.
I was a bar mitzvah at Congregation Ner Tamid in September 1961, and I was fortunate to have Julie as my cantor and tutor. I still have a photo in my home office of myself, my father and the cantor on the bimah, and it brings back fond memories of my days spent with Blackman — just as your tribute did.
Online statutes clarified
Your recent cover story (“On social media, hate speech takes a dangerous turn,” May 17) misstates the law that applies to online platforms. You wrote, ”Platforms that regulate speech can become classified as publishers, which makes their content vulnerable to expensive copyright lawsuits.” (Editor’s note: That statement was attributed to an intellectual property lawyer who works with digital firms.) This is incorrect and may mislead your readers.
Copyright issues for online platforms are largely governed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That law protects platforms against copyright lawsuits based on content posted by users as long as the platform receives and responds to requests from copyright holders to take down copyright-infringing material.
Protection for platforms doesn’t turn on whether they “regulate speech” or are “classified as publishers.” More importantly, copyright is treated very differently from libel and other kinds of legal claims.
There’s a common misconception that online platforms cannot take down undesirable user posts without losing their legal protection. In fact, the law does just the opposite, protecting those platforms’ decisions to regulate content.
Platforms like Facebook and YouTube need to do a better job of moderating user-posted content, but the way to encourage that is not for governments to order them to take down particular speech. The better way is to organize and demand that the companies do better, and to provide tools that give users more control over what content they see.
Ignoring anti-Semitic tropes
Black Lives Matter leader Alicia Garza’s defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont (“Times are scary, Black Lives Matter founder tells receptive East Bay Jewish crowd,” May 14) disingenuously misrepresented the representative’s problematic statements and made criticism of them a basis for attack. She made no reference to describing support for Israel as being “all about the Benjamins, baby” or accusing Israel’s supporters of dual loyalty — “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Rather, Ms. Garza said, “When my sister Ilhan correctly identified powerful forces, like AIPAC, that are shaping policy and practice not only in this country but all over the globe, people were really concerned. So much so that this president began to attack our sister and call her anti-Semitic.” Again Ms. Omar’s deeply prejudicial statements were ignored in order to put the moral onus on those who would criticize her.
We must take Ms. Omar’s deeply hostile anti-Semitic statements seriously because she speaks as a member of the House of Representatives. Vigorous debate of public policies, including U.S. support for Israel, is always appropriate. However, when the debate crosses the line into recognizable anti-Semitic tropes, we must object and insist on accountability. For a Jewish institution to accept such rationalizations makes the establishment of accountability far more difficult and propels us further toward the normalization of anti-Semitism.
‘Jew in Pew’ was right on
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I came across David A.M. Wilensky’s first-person “Jew in the Pew” piece about the LDS temple in Oakland (“A journey in the Holy of Holies — in a Latter-day Saints temple,” May 14).
I wanted to let you know that I thought it was a marvelous piece of writing: honest in your evaluation and accurate in your description of the temple and its modern-day uses.
Indeed, I thought your piece stood out from other articles I’ve read, where different perceptions and understandings of LDS temples have been written about with varying degrees of accuracy. I also appreciate your thoughtful references to ancient symbols and architecture. A very well-written piece! Thank you, sir.
Thanks for LDS temple article
Thank you for your description of your experiences at the Oakland Latter-day Saints Temple. I appreciated the reverence and objectivity of David A.M. Wilensky’s column, while at the same time he provided his personal thoughts. I appreciate the time you took out of your schedule to see for yourself and to provide information to your readers.
Camp memories of Herman Wouk
My mother, Shirley Friedberg Neustein, was a childhood friend of Herman Wouk, who attended the boys’ division of a Zionist camp (Keeyuma-Carmelia) in the 1920s and ‘30s, picturesquely situated on Lake Champlain in Milton, Vermont. They kept up the friendship until my mother died in 2001. (Wouk died on May 17.)
In May 1962, my mother put together a monumental camp reunion, bringing together the Zionist youths that had now become household names in literary, theatrical, political and business circles: Arthur Miller, Moss Hart, Michael Wager (Mendy Weisgal), Norman Lear, Paul Goodman, Bob Treuhaft and Andrew Goodman (founder of Bergdorf Goodman), just to name a few.
Herman Wouk was immersed at the time in “Youngblood Hawke,” secluding himself in the Virgin Islands so as to devote full concentration to his novel. Unable to appear at the reunion, Herman made a poignant audiotape recounting his camp memories. My mother brought scissors with her, and out of respect for Herman’s sensitivity, she cut the cassette tape immediately after it was played. The room stood still as the former campers listened closely to Herman’s reflections on his camp days: stories, commentaries and humor about life among an oasis of trees for a Jewish boy growing up in the Bronx.
Herman Wouk made every Jew feel comfortable in their skin. “Inside, Outside,” “This Is My God,” “The Will to Live On” made us so very proud to be Jews in a world with contentious beliefs. His winning of a Pulitzer for “The Caine Mutiny” showed us that one can achieve the highest tribute in literature but still stand tall as a Jew. He will be remembered for instilling pride in all of us, a gift that is larger than life and for which there are yet no sufficient words to properly convey one’s gratitude.
Fort Lee, New Jersey
Quality of life for young adults with special needs
Thank you for the your May 10 article about Friendship Circle’s new program for young adults (“Friendship Circle expands, extending a hand to young adults“). Programs exist for kids with special needs, but as they grow up they do not grow out of all their issues. The contribution Barbara and I made to start this program arises from my parents’ efforts to cope with my older brother’s problems.
When Jeffrey was born in Toronto in 1951, the term “special needs” did not exist. The pediatrician told my parents Jeff might not live past the age of 6. He died last November at 67.
My father was a war veteran and an accountant; my mother was a bookkeeper turned housewife. Neither was prepared for what lay ahead. They hunted for the few experts there were at the time. One pointed to the next, and they learned from each. With a growing library, my father became a self-taught expert in what was then academically called “learning disabilities.”
He persuaded the school board to lend him an elementary school for a weekend therapy program. Imagine: The custodian unlocked the door, and a cluster of kids with problems and their parents, all led by an accountant, headed for the gym. I was a volunteer from the age of 11. My father would hand me a ball and tell me to do a particular exercise in a corner with a kid. Fifteen minutes later, I’d be shifted to work with someone else. This family effort continued for years without paperwork, releases, or legal repercussions.
My parents banded together with other, mostly Jewish, parents to found the Canadian Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. They lobbied the Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario to provide educational opportunities for kids with such disabilities. The recognition that such programs were needed was then growing in many places, but in Ontario the creation of Special Education was a direct outcome of this lobbying and is part of Jeff’s legacy.