(pxhere.com CC0)
(pxhere.com CC0)

Shame on this newspaper; scary times on campus; Jell-O is bad for you; etc.

‘Wrongheaded’ professors

The comments of professors Diane Wolf, David Biale and Steven Zipperstein in your Dec. 19 article “‘Completely wrongheaded’: Local Jewish studies profs skewer Trump’s order targeting campus anti-Semitism” — on local academics’ responses to the federal order protecting Jewish students under Title VI — betray their own prejudiced and fundamentally out-of- touch stance regarding the nature of BDS campus activity and its effect on Jewish students and their families.

With regard to the handwringing about free speech: please. The BDS movement has been shutting down free speech wherever it can: shouting down Israeli speakers, interfering with Israeli study abroad programs and, above all, penalizing and threatening students who voice support for the Jewish state. The smug attitude displayed in their quoted comments is the one that has led to campuses being so unsafe and hostile to Jews that the Amcha Initiative has already recorded over 600 incidents targeting Jewish students and staff on American campuses this year alone, the vast majority including BDS-related sentiment.

The professors J. interviewed might be fine with that, but as a parent who will be sending children to college soon, I’m not.

I am grateful to this administration for finally pushing this order through. Rejecting the protection of Title VI because you don’t like the current administration is ludicrous, embarrassing and about as wrongheaded as it’s possible to be.

Carmel Johnson

Scary times on campus

As an anti-Trump parent of a college student, I am, nevertheless, grateful for additional protections for Jewish students on campus. Jewish students have been chased, threatened, screamed at, called baby-killers … Even professors join in on the “apartheid” chants and lectures. Many students worry that expressing a pro-Israel opinion will affect their grades. It should not be this way; this is not “freedom of speech.”

Suzanne Jacobs
Palo Alto

In praise of Trump’s order

Your editorial (“Trump’s order designed to protect Jewish students needs thoughtful review,” Dec. 11), for all its nuance, errs in its lack of any gratitude toward President Trump for his recent executive order on combating anti-Semitism, which extends Title VI protection to vulnerable Jewish university students.

A review of recent events at area campuses is sobering.

In 2012 at UC Davis, anti-Israel protesters took over a building, confronted the Jewish students there and physically accosted one of them. In 2016, anti-Israel protesters at Davis disrupted a lecture by a visiting Israeli academic. That same year, anti-Israel protesters at San Francisco State disrupted a Hillel-sponsored talk by the mayor of Jerusalem. Remarkably, the following year, San Francisco State excluded Hillel from participation in a “Know Your Rights” fair even though it was the Hillel students whose rights of free speech and assembly had been dramatically violated.

As journalist Jonathan Tobin points out, the executive order is consistent with the legal consensus of the Bush and Obama administrations. President Trump’s extension of Title VI protections should be received with approval, as it has been by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

As to concerns about potential infringement of free speech, AJC has explained that the “careful wording” of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism’s “leaves a wide berth for sharp and vigorous criticism of Israel’s government and policies.”

However, your statement “There is another troubling aspect … It ignores the very real and deadly threat posed by anti-Semitism on the extreme right” misses the point. Yes, white nationalists and others like the Black Hebrew Israelites who struck in Jersey City are a clear and present danger. But the executive order was aimed at the very real problems of Jewish students on university campuses that have been festering for at least the last 25 years.

Steve Astrachan
Pleasant Hill

J. got my Torah column title wrong

I have written Torah columns for J. for many years and am always appreciative of the care and skill the staff uses in bringing my writing to press. My last column, however, was an exception.

I wrote my Dec. 13 column on Parashat Vayishlach on the story of Jacob and Esau reuniting after 20 years of estrangement. In the column, I wrote about two very different readings of the text, both amply represented in classical Jewish commentary and among Jews in our day. One reading sees the story as a beautiful model of (incomplete) reconciliation between former enemies. Another is suspicious of Esau, suspecting that he would still do his brother harm if he could.

I wrote that from the “reconciliation” perspective, the other reading may seem “xenophobic and even paranoid.” However, I also said that from the “security” perspective, the reconciliation narrative seems “patently ridiculous, hopelessly naive and simply false.”

I deeply believe in the reconciliation narrative, seeing this story as a model for restoration of relationship after many years of conflict.

But I emphasized, as the climax of the column, that “this exercise in multiple readings of a single text can lead us to loosen our certainty about the truth of our own points of view. Only God has access to absolute truth. We discern truth as best we can — and if we want to live with other people, we must practice the art of honoring the possibility that the other side may also be right.”

The original title affixed to the column by J. in the print edition (“Paranoia and compassion collide as Jacob and Esau embrace”) conveyed sympathy for one narrative but disdain for the other. That was not my intent. My thanks to J. for reflecting this in the online version of the column by changing the title to “Self-preservation and compassion collide in competing readings of this week’s Torah portion.”

Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Los Altos

Misbegotten arguments

Giving unsolicited advice is a time-honored Jewish habit.

In her letter to the editor, Julia Lutch (“Israeli superiority complex justified,” Nov. 13) was right to point out the hypocrisy of American Jews who want the power of determining Israeli policy without the responsibility of making aliyah. But in her defense of Israel’s right to self-defense, she should remember that the ranks of meddlesome Jewish foreigners include not only the peaceniks of J Street but also Likud-aligned megadonor Sheldon Adelson.

Furthermore, Ms. Lutch wrongly equates Israel with the “global Jewish enterprise.” Though there are indeed those who want to make a second Shoah by throwing Israeli Jews into the sea, global Judaism would survive, just as it survived the first Shoah and the two destructions of Judah/Judaea in ancient times — indeed because it is a global enterprise, not confined to one country.
Finally, Ms. Lutch pivots to attack non-Orthodox Judaism, in both America and Israel, as a threat to Jewish survival.

It may be true that non-Orthodox families in the U.S. are more likely to lose their Jewish identity (though less likely than they are to end their synagogue memberships). But the threat of assimilation is meaningless in Israel, where the dominant culture, though secular, insists that it is Jewish.

Israeli Jews need Judaism to give meaning to their lives, not to maintain their connection to the Jewish people. The Orthodox establishment should compete with the liberal streams in the marketplace of ideas, not try to suppress them as illegitimate.

Ilya Gurin
Mountain View

Aim for a ‘middle ground’

I was disappointed with Dawn Kepler’s response to a recent letter (“My Jewish boyfriend bristles at Christmas. But isn’t it just one day?” Dec. 3). She appeared to conflate the desires of the letter-writer with the general commercialization of Christmas, for which the writer is, after all, not responsible.

In stating “Your own practices do not take place in a 24-hour period. At the latest, I would say you need to begin in late November with shopping, decorating, planning, etc.,” Ms. Kepler assumes the writer will rigidly follow a certain Christmas formula, rather than using flexibility and creativity to make it work for the household.

If the writer and her boyfriend care for each other, they will be able to figure out a way of celebrating the winter holidays that satisfies both of them. Yes, each will probably need to compromise in some way, but that is what relationships are about.

The statement “Finally, decide whether this is a deal breaker for you” suggests ultimatums rather than bridge building.

I know from my own, personal experience that it is possible for a Christian and a Jew to make a life together that honors both traditions, and young couples like this ought to be encouraged to find their way.

Miriam Menzel
San Francisco

Call out anti-Semitism where you find it

Let’s hail New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for calling out and addressing hate attacks against Orthodox Jews (“Brooklyn synagogue’s windows broken during Rosh Hashanah prayers,” Oct. 3).

The attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City and other Orthodox enclaves has been ongoing, whether it be randomly punching a Jew in the face or just routine harassment. There has been very little focus on this by those who feel quite comfortable calling out white nationalist anti-Semitism, yet are silent when it derives from ethnic minorities.

Now that the Monsey, New York, tragedy has happened, African American leaders such as Al Sharpton are taking some responsibility for aggression against Jews coming from their community. Ironically, 30 years ago Sharpton was a Brooklyn community leader who helped flame the riots against Jews that resulted in the death of a yeshiva student.

Perhaps now there may be some hope of addressing anti-Semitism in the African American community. In this era of increasing peril for Jews everywhere, we have a greater moral obligation to fight anti-Semitism in whichever group it emanates from, so it does not become normalized.

Jeff Saperstein
Mill Valley

Jell-O not a good option

As a senior, I was very interested in reading the article about how older people may not be able to stay hydrated (“Loved Ones Not Drinking Enough?” Dec. 20, print only).

There were some very good suggestions, but one idea made me cringe. It stated that Kendra Benisano, director of home care and nursing services at Seniors At Home, offered some tips to help with fluid intake. On the list was Jell-O. Jell-O contains lots of sugar and also has food coloring, two ingredients that are not healthy. Perhaps that list needs to be revised to remove the Jell-O and to add another healthier suggestion.

Barbara Segal

Holy, not school holidays

With all due respect, “Youth Voice” opinion writer Ava Hinz (“It’s time for High Holidays to become official school holidays,” Dec. 2) does not comprehend the legal gravity of her proposition that public schools of California should observe Jewish High Holy Days as legal school holidays.

Jewish students and, where appropriate, their parents, should deliver a letter to the relevant school’s administration on the day the school year starts. It should inform school officials of that semester’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur dates on the semester calendar, alerting the administration that the student will not be in school on those days and requesting arrangements for the student to keep up with the class. Make arrangements for any tests scheduled for any of those days to be given at a different time.

This is the proper procedure for observant Jewish students to prevent being penalized for observing the first, second and 10th days of the Jewish year.

Legislating any religion’s holy days as public-school holidays crosses the Constitution’s separation of church/religion and state.

Ephraim Margolin helped win the case many years ago on First Amendment grounds, removing Good Friday as a paid holiday for state government employees. While Christmas and New Year’s Day (the Feast of the Circumcision) will probably remain legal holidays, adding any other religion’s holy days to the list of government legal holidays is a bridge no First Amendment supporter should suggest crossing.

CJ Kingsley

‘Shame on J.’

How maddening to read Susie Gelman’s opinion piece “Trump is undermining America’s future relationship with Israel” (Dec. 20).

Not one word about the multiple opportunities the Palestinians had for a state (1947, Camp David, etc.) which they rejected.

Trying to portray Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as victims is laughable. Money has poured into the coffers of their leadership with little benefit for the people they claim to represent. Unlike Israel, which resettled 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the Palestinians preferred to let their refugees fester.

And the conclusion Ms. Gelman draws? The reason we don’t have a two-state solution is because of Jewish settlements!

Sorry Ms. Gelman, history has proven you wrong. There is no settlement because the Palestinians and their leaders cannot accept the reality of a Jewish state and would prefer to dismember it, rather than build something for themselves.
Shame on J. This piece had no rightful place in a Jewish newspaper.

David L. Levine
San Francisco

Trump acted ‘wisely’

President Trump took an oath to protect the U.S. from “enemies foreign and domestic.”

By limiting the number of people with direct knowledge of his plans regarding Qasem Soleimani, President Trump wisely prevented some people from doing something, such as leaking.

Surely everyone on the House Foreign Affairs Committee knows that Barack Obama did not seek congressional approval before rendering Osama bin Laden harmless.

Soleimani was not a “foreign official,” as any member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee ought to know. He was the head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and was actively developing plans to attack U.S. diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

President Trump wisely acted against Soleimani when he was not on Iranian soil.

There is a significant difference between the necessity of re-establishing deterrence and the likelihood of setting off a war due to perception of American weakness by a regime whose foreign policy has long been summed up in one sentence: “Death to America.”
Surely everyone sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee understands this. Or ought to.

Julie Lutch

J. Readers

J. welcomes letters and comments from our readers. To submit a letter, email it to [email protected].