‘A hateful act’

You are, of course, aware that the Presbyterian Church has decided to divest itself of investments of all companies that do any business with Israel. That is a hateful and unprecedented act.

We have come to expect such hostile resolutions from leftist universities, more often than not, sad to say, instigated by renegade Jewish professors. But now comes the Jewish Reform movement, which has passed a sweeping resolution urging the president and the secretary of state to make a “vigorous effort” to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the conference table.

The leaders of this movement are Rabbis Eric Yoffie and David Saperstein, who have also criticized Congress for passing pro-Israel resolutions. Both of those holy men, self-appointed as representatives of American Jews, do not seem to understand that “negotiations” with and “appeasement” of the Arabs are pointless.

Regardless of what Israel may do to appease them, nothing will persuade the Arabs to make peace, not to kill the Jews, and not to attempt to destroy Israel.

That our “leaders” don’t recognize that, and that they would ask Congress to adapt a less friendly attitude toward Israel boggles the mind. Do those people live on the moon?

Gerardo Joffee | San Francisco


During the first week of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, two athletes passed on opportunities to compete. One did so in a demonstration of class and sportsmanship; the other did so in deference to the anti-Semitic hatred which pervades much of the Middle East. 

American Michael Phelps passed on his final swim to allow a teammate who had turned in a disappointing performance in an earlier relay an opportunity at redemption and a gold medal. Phelps may have fallen short of Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals in 1972 and Eric Heiden’s five individual gold medals in 1980, but in one act, he demonstrated the class and sportsmanship the modern Olympic Games, at least in theory, were created to represent. 

The other participant, however, had far baser motives for passing on his event. Iranian judoka Arash Miresmaeili chose to disqualify himself rather than compete against Israel’s Udi Vaks because Miresmaeili’s government refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. 

Iranian government officials praised Miresmaeili as a hero — but officially, he will be recorded as a loser. 

Sadly, Olympic officials proved just as weak and cowardly as Miresmaeili when they refused to sanction the Iranians for Miresmaeili’s act of unsportsmanlike conduct. 

Stephen A. Silver | Walnut Creek

‘Sources of inspiration’

The recovery and continuity of Jewish life in post-communist Europe three generations after the Shoah is cause for celebration, not denial.

Contrary to your Aug. 20 j. editorial, many American Jewish advocates, myself included, who’ve been helping rebuild these communities for the past 15 years, were neither born in Europe nor are first-generation Americans trying to honor our parents’ birthplaces.

Few are philanthropists, though some, like myself, counsel donors and have witnessed the impact even modest support can achieve.

Like two-thirds of American Jewry, our family roots are Eastern European, but our active preservation of that rich, centuries’-old history sets us apart.

This work has led me to question why our Ashkenazic heritage isn’t routinely taught as part of American Jewish religious education? How can we create a viable Jewish future if we’re cut off from our past? 

Skeptics may ask what American Jews can learn from our East European co-religionists. Simply put, that the tens of thousands who’ve chosen to live as religious or secular Jews in Europe’s newest democracies such as Poland cannot afford to be skeptical or ambivalent about their identity and future as Jews.

They’re sources of inspiration, should we choose to view them as such.

Shana Penn | San Francisco
Director of the Polish Jewish Heritage Program at the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, San Francisco

On the sidelines?

As Stephen Dobbs, Tad Taube and Ronald Lauder know (Aug. 20 j.), the rebirth of Jewish life in Eastern Europe will take place whether they invest in it or not. It’s a fact that parents are already sending their children to Jewish schools and summer camps that have encouraged these foundations to stand with them. The impetus to rebuild has come from within, not without.

Koret and Taube foundation personnel could be seen all over Poland this summer — interviewing children at Jewish schools, researchers in Jewish museums, editors of Jewish magazines. Dobbs is simply hoping more foundations will join in partnership with them. Yet your editorial suggests that funding should be withheld and these Jews (not us, mind you) should be encouraged to heed the Zionist call.

It’s not going to happen. With many of these countries now in the European Union, per capita income will continue to rise. That means Jews will remain (we are a homo economicus like everyone else) and many will go on rebuilding Jewish life.

The only question is: Do we join them in this spirited rebirth, or do we stand by on the sidelines telling them what we think they should do?

Edward Serotta | Vienna
Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation

Pro-Arab films

It is unclear to me why pro-Arab movies have to be shown at the S.F. Jewish film fest (Aug. 13 j.).

If it were an Israeli film fest, I might be able to understand the submission to participation and anti-Israeli rhetoric expressed by attending Arab speakers.

However, if the organizers believe they need to be represented by a Muslim country, why not try Turkish films? Then, the invited speakers may be less anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli.

Gershon Evan | San Francisco

‘Ole-timey religion’

Well, it certainly was nice to get some of that “good ole timey” religion from Rabbi Pinchas Lipner in the Aug. 20 j. I’m so glad to know that not only has Jewish suffering been for a good cause but that Jews could be a shining example of what it means to martyr themselves in service to the ultimate bliss of the “world to come.”

I can appreciate, deeply, the need for self-knowledge and the discipline gained thereby to develop ourselves spiritually. But really, do Jews justify thousands of years of suffering by virtue of being “special” priests to the nations so that they might one day be like us, so that we might enter the “kingdom of heaven”? There is something very sick in this.

Alan Helfen | Redwood City

Answers on claims

I read “Matching dollars with souls” in the Aug. 13 j. I work at Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay, and we are an official help center through the Claims Conference for Holocaust Survivors in need of restitution assistance.

I am hoping that you can let people know that they do not have to call New York in order to reach the claims conference. From the examples in your article, I wonder whether people might infer that that’s the procedure.

Although the claims conference office is in New York, there are several agencies in California that participate in the claims conference emergency assistance program for Holocaust survivors. Some of these are JFCS, East Bay; JFCS, San Francisco; and Jewish Family Service of Silicon Valley.

If anyone has questions about the claims conference or about restitution applications, they can call our manager of Holocaust survivor services, Lola Fraknoi, at (510) 704-7480, ext. 257.

Efrat Stark | Berkeley
client services manager, older adult services
JFCS of the East Bay

Napa’s history

Your July 23 cover story, “Professor Dobbs’ Time Machine,” was a fascinating look at San Francisco’s history. Your readers also might be interested in another equally exciting story of a Jewish community’s 150-year history, that of the Napa Valley.

The Jewish Historical Society of Napa Valley has documented this story, which started in 1848 and continues to this day. 

“Under the Vine and the Fig Tree: The Jews of the Napa Valley” by Lin Weber traces Jewish postmasters, gold miners, bootleggers and vintners and their contribution to this beautiful area. An up-to-date look at some current Jewish restaurateurs, and wineries rounds out the story.

The book is available through local shops and wineries, or through Amazon.com.

Donna Mendelsohn and Zoe Kahn | Napa
co-chairs, Jewish Historical Society of Napa Valley

‘Still dangerous’

A while ago, I read in j. about a synagogue in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Aaron Broder, 80 years old, who is member of that congregation, said that from 1953 until now he didn’t know anything about our Jewish religion. He wanted to become a modern Jew before the Second World War and he was prosecuted for that by Stalin’s regime.

I know it. I used to live in the former Soviet Union for 23 years, and Judaism was not allowed to be in practice.

What happened today? The wall fell down and Broder got back to Judaism.

He couldn’t before because of Stalin, Hitler and all the Nazis and the Soviet government that persecuted any religion. But now he practices Judaism.

Believe me, when I used to live in the former Soviet Union, a Jew couldn’t even dream about synagogue. But the wall fell down in Russia in 1991 and Russian Jews became a free people. But it is still dangerous over there because of anti-Semitism.

In my opinion, Russian Jews should go to the United States and Israel.

Paul Shkuratov | San Francisco

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