Who is Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas, alias Abu Mazen, has always believed the promise of peace could be more disarming than all the expletives of war. So, for 30 years, Abbas has been on assignment to some of the leading luminaries in Israel’s peace movement. In the ’90s, for example, he teamed up with his confidant Yossi Beilin.

Since Yasser Arafat’s death, he’s been clamoring about the need to demilitarize the intifada.

Is it possible that Abbas has been in his heart of hearts a moderate?

We do know he was the paymaster for the bloody murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. And at the Aqaba summit in June 2003, the U.S. delegation urged Abbas to refer to Israel as a Jewish state. He refused.

So the question is, can that someone still be a moderate?

The most charitable thing we can possibly say about Abbas is that he has always been the other edge, perhaps the softer edge, of Arafat’s scimitar.

Mitchell Finkel | Maryland

Fears for future

I was saddened but not shocked at the response to Bus No. 19 by the Jewish community. (“Bombed bus will be focal point of rallies, counter-rallies,” Jan. 7).

I stood in freezing weather at The Hague proudly, with a sign that said Islamic Jihad built this fence, defending the decision of Israel to build a security barrier.

I listened to brave men from Zaka cry when they described the aftermath of picking up pieces of human flesh to assure a proper burial.

I know that Jews are so locked into the politics of “occupation” that they cannot even once, just stand together in solidarity against global terrorism.

Would the community react the same way if a part of the World Trade Center, or the train from Spain had been brought to Berkeley? 

Is this refusal to stand for the rights of human beings to go about their daily life without fear of never returning home so controversial that we cannot even speak about this with one voice? I fear for our collective future, as we will get what we deserve.

Allyson Rowen Taylor | Valley Glen

‘No better investment’

I’m a freshman at St. Ignatius Prep. I was taken aback by the Dec. 24 letter from Paul Abramovitz about Jewish kids at Catholic schools. Almost all my Jewish peers at St. Ignatius participate in Jewish activities.

All my friends at school know that I’m Jewish, and they always have. My parents say I’m “Tawonga-centric” because I live my life campsick for 48 weeks when I’m not at Camp Tawonga.

I was on the Club 18 teen council at the JCCSF, where I attended preschool and then Havurah Youth Center for six years. I attend High School Havurah and volunteer for Chicken Soupers at temple.

I am definitely involved in the Jewish world and I feel I always will be.

My experience at my school is merely teaching me about other faiths.

With one semester at St. Ignatius, I’m now learning to question in the best rabbinic and Jesuit traditions, and I’m comfortable at school.

Judaism is about learning, openness and a sense of community. I’ve never felt those three things as strongly as I do at St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius isn’t “cheap” — my parents work hard to send me there — and I feel there has been no better investment.

Ilana Black | San Francisco

Not verboten

I am a teacher at a public middle school, writing in response to Joel Kotkin’s assertion in his Dec. 24 opinion piece that “learning about our faith, along with Muslim, Buddhist and Christian traditions, should not be verboten within public education. Lighten up over Christmas … and Christians.” I agree, but despite a great show of right-wing angst on this subject, learning about these faiths is not, in fact, “verboten” in public schools.

Let me assure Kotkin that California’s public school students are taught a great deal about religion. In middle school, students learn about the origins and beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam among other faiths. In American history, in eighth grade, they are taught about the role of religion in America’s founding.

This is required by the content standards of the California State Board of Education, which can be accessed at http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/hstmain.asp.

However, if Kotkin feels that the complex history and theology of Christianity is better taught to children by teaching them to play “Silent Night” in band class and send each other candy-cane-grams, he can rest assured that my school did that this year as well.

Charlotte Honigman-Smith | San Francisco

Proud to be gay

and an Israeli

This week’s Israeli Supreme Court ruling allowing a lesbian couple to adopt each other’s children is indeed a landmark. It is one of the reasons why I, a gay man, am so proud to be an Israeli citizen.

It also makes me wonder whether Arab countries will ever follow suit. I would also love to see the U.S. Supreme Court follow Israel’s lead.

I often give a presentation about queer life in Israel. I repeatedly state that the legal status of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community there is 15 years ahead of the United States.

Americans often think that they lead the world in almost every field, and are stunned to discover how conformist and conservative this country is.

Israel’s parliament abolished the sodomy law in 1988. But Congress was never courageous enough to do it. The Supreme Court only took up the issue in 2003.

Maybe in 15 years, LGBT people in America will be able to enjoy this basic human right to adopt each other’s kids. I know this is a long shot, but maybe it will even happen in Florida — which is one of the worst in the nation regarding queer rights.

Avner Even-Zohar | San Francisco
director, campus division and Tzavta, the Israel Center

‘A balancing act’

Joel Kotkin misrepresents the views of the Anti-Defamation League in his Dec. 24 op-ed, “Lighten up over Christmas … and Christians.” For over 91 years, the ADL has fought for the rights of all people in America to celebrate the religious traditions of their choosing. The surest way to guarantee religious freedom is for the government to avoid favoring the views of one belief system, even a majority one, over another.

This is a delicate and necessary balancing act. The ADL does not, as Kotkin claims, oppose the singing of “Jingle Bells,” or people wishing each other a “Merry Christmas.” Rather, we advocate that our nation’s schools and public institutions instill a sense of tolerance, acceptance and respect for all people.

Jonathan Bernstein |San Francisco
regional director, Anti-Defamation League

A chaplain’s view

It was unfortunate that Joel Kamisher, although satisfied with his care at Seton Medical Center, was uncomfortable because of the Catholic artifacts and offerings of blessings by Catholic personnel (Dec. 17 j. opinion).

As a Jew who is a chaplain in San Francisco General Hospital’s Sojourn Multifaith Chaplaincy, I see patients of all faiths, as do my colleagues of other religions, and have yet to be turned away by a patient because they were aware of my Jewish beliefs.

A blessing is valuable at any time, especially during a crisis in one’s health, regardless of who offers it. One of the reasons patients are asked to designate their religion or lack thereof upon admission is to inform staff of appropriate religious interactions when needed. Most likely that was the reason the chaplain offered Kamisher a blessing in contrast to providing communion to his Christian roommate.

Just as Seton displays crucifixes throughout the facility, Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Hospital mounts a mezuzah on every doorway (patient rooms, offices, etc.) and a Star of David at its roofline. The chapel, which has an ark, eternal light, menorah, supply of tallit, kippah and prayerbooks, also is used for Catholic and Protestant services.

Michael Goldman | Albany

‘Incredibly delicious’

I am writing in reference to the Dec. 10 j. article on Bay Area chocolatiers. While it was very interesting, I was surprised to see you omitted Charles Chocolates, made in San Francisco.

Chuck Siegel makes a full line of handmade chocolates with mainly organic ingredients. They are incredibly delicious.

I’ve seen them in the foyer of the JCCSF, and in Mollie Stone’s and Sweet Inspirations.

Marcia Lusk | San Francisco

A king, not an emperor

I must point out a major factual error in your Dec. 24 article about the donation of the two coins from the time of Alexander Janneus to the JCCSF. This donation is wonderful news. However, Janneus (or Alexander Yannai in Hebrew) was not a Roman emperor but rather one of the last Hasmonean kings of Judah.

The Hasmoneans led the rebellion against the Seleucids that we celebrate at Chanukah. Through a series of military victories, he expanded Judea to its largest size since the kingship of Solomon.

Dean Kertesz | El Cerrito

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