Unnecessary risk?

Dan Pine’s refreshing and cautionary Dec. 23 column on nukes was correct and especially timely, given the meshuggah Iranian president’s recent remarks and Iran’s nuclear weapons issues.

Although Dan might get his passport confiscated in Berkeley for his thoughts, he presented them in a very responsible way. He is not eager for nuclear proliferation but recognizes that mutually assured destruction proved successful in the Cold War so Israel should not put itself at unnecessary risk against a radical Iranian regime.

Let us just pray that the threat is all it takes and we never have to find out exactly what heat Israel is packing.

Art Zeidman | Walnut Creek

‘God help us all’

Dan Pine is typically a very fine and thoughtful writer for j., but I found his Dec. 23 column “Israel needs nukes” to be provincial and cliched.

Absolutely, Israel needs a nuclear deterrent to protect itself, but a nuclear warhead is not the “mighty hammer” of the ancient Maccabees.

While the Maccabees preserved the existence of the Jewish people through battle, a nuclear arsenal protects Israel only if it is never used. Once it is launched, the term “never again” is rendered meaningless and God help us all.

Further, Jew-haters of the world never liked us better as nebbishes meekly accepting death and are not confounded by sexy, muscular, gun-toting Israelis.

Although both descriptions are very unfortunate characterizations, they don’t particularly like us either way.

Michael Roth | Berkeley

Not different

Thank you for covering the issue of same-sex unions in your Dec. 23 article “JCRC hosts a civil discussion on civil unions.”

I was pleased to hear that these unions are becoming more accepted in the Jewish community but disappointed to hear that same-sex ceremonies seem to be conducted differently from mixed-sex ceremonies.

We in the secular humanistic Jewish movement support equality for same-sex couples. This includes conducting gay weddings exactly like straight weddings.

I would also like to note that, unlike Rabbi Stuart Kelman’s statement that there are different rituals for male and female children, we secular humanistic Jews conduct identical naming ceremonies for boy and girl children.

Rabbi Judith Seid | Pleasanton

Jews in prison

Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco has had a chavurah for several years as an outreach to Jewish prisoners in Folsom State Prison. We visit a couple times a year on holidays, and some of us have pen-pal inmates. We coordinate with Rabbi Ira Book, who is the prison chaplain there as well as other prisons.

Many of my experiences mirror those in the Dec. 23 article “Judaism behind bars” — the inmates who show up for services, Hebrew lessons, study and counseling are a mixed bunch, including Israelis, blacks, Hispanics and even Christians looking to learn more about what they consider to be the “grandfather” of their religion, and even a member of one of those most philanthropic Jewish families in the Bay Area.

It is an extremely rewarding experience, and each time I leave I am grateful that our tradition includes embracing all of us, for as it is said, a holy man is one who has fallen seven times but has picked himself up seven times, and a truly repentant sinner is more holy than a Torah scholar.

Judah Rosen | San Francisco

San Quentin focus

On behalf of Congregation Beth Sholom, thank you for the Dec. 23 article on Jewish chaplaincy and Jewish inmates at San Quentin.

I would like to make the following corrections/clarifications: My not-quite alma mater is Ohio University, not Ohio State. I have chosen to focus my energies at San Quentin, and am no longer serving the medical facility in Vacaville.

Also, Pacific School of Religion is one of a consortium of schools within the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (as is the Center for Jewish Studies), and while I satisfied the core coursework for my master’s of divinity there, my focus and specialization was Jewish theology.

Lastly, prior to becoming a Jewish chaplain in California state prisons, I was commissioned by Congregation B’nai Israel in Petaluma and endorsed by the Board of Rabbis of Northern California.

Carole Hyman | San Quentin


I applaud Jeff Saperstein’s Dec. 23 op-ed calling for renewed community vigor in

reaching out to the unaffiliated and connecting to Israel.

One of the stories he uses to support the interconnectedness of our world recounts an alleged rescue of Winston Churchill by Sir Alexander Fleming’s father. This act then supposedly led Churchill’s father to pay for Fleming’s medical education; Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in turn led later to Churchill’s cure from pneumonia.

Great story, but bubbemeysas.

Fleming’s medical education was financed by a bequest from an uncle, not one from Churchill’s father. Moreover, the attending physician has written that Churchill was treated with a sulfa drug, not penicillin, in 1943.

Not to be too iconoclastic, but it is worth pointing out that the use of penicillin as a practical antibiotic stems primarily from the work of Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, not Fleming. Eric Lax explores how penicillin became a lifesaving drug in his 2004 book “The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat.”

Keith Raffel | Palo Alto

Evolving needs

Regarding your recent opinion piece and subsequent letters, j.’s readers should know Interfaith Connection, a program of the JCC of San Francisco in existence for nearly 20 years, represents a positive, proactive approach to our evolving needs as a diverse community.

Interfaith Connection welcomes interfaith and intercultural couples in discussions about our relationships, how we celebrate the holidays, how we relate to extended family and community, and how we raise our children.

It has been our ongoing understanding that each family is on a particular journey. Our program is nonjudgmental and safe, and is one in which couples can truly make choices reflective of who they are as people.

It is precisely this welcoming environment that has helped to produce higher numbers of affiliated interfaith families and children of interfaith families who are receiving Jewish education.

Building Jewish Bridges of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, led by Dawn Kepler, and Project Welcome of the Union of Reform Judaism, led by Karen Kushner, offer similar opportunities for interfaith couples and families.

I feel it is our responsibility as a community to continue our commitment to opening our doors and our hearts to our interfaith, multicultural Jewish families.

Helena McMahon | San Francisco
manager, Interfaith Connection

One-sided views

David Biale (Dec. 16 opinion) discounts the painstaking research of Kramer, Pipes and Tobin because they do not teach at American universities. We, however, are University of California faculty, and with our colleagues from Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, faculty from over 200 universities, have experienced first-hand the anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism that these scholars describe.

As faculty, we respect academic freedom in the context of scholarship fostering accurate and diverse ideas. Unfortunately, we have evidence that faculty at many universities are choking off critical thinking and impeding academic freedom for students, by using the classroom and campus for promoting one-sided political ideologies and refusing to legitimate other perspectives.

This is particularly true regarding the biased way that Israel and Zionism have been presented in curricula and classrooms, and at university-sponsored events. Moreover, this academically sanctioned anti-Israel bias has created an intellectually and emotionally hostile environment for many Jewish students.

We have posted an online petition asking the governor of California and the officials of the University of California and California State University to address the growing problem of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism at public universities: www.petitionnline.com/SPMEDoc/petition.html

Please sign the petition and help us combat this alarming problem.

Lelia Beckwith | Los Angeles
Ilan Benjamin | Santa Cruz
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin | Santa Cruz

A teen’s view

Hey! I’m Lizzie. I’m 14 and my mom is a Catholic, but I’ve been raised Reform Jewish by my dad. My parents are divorced too.

I really liked Rachel Sarah’s Dec. 2 column “I’m a Jewish woman even if my mother wasn’t” because a lot of people are like us and we need to show everyone that being Jewish is about you and God and your beliefs, not parents.

Elizabeth Logan | San Francisco