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Getting educated

I read your recent cover story (“Beyond the classroom: Home-grown Sunday school educates kids and parents,” July 25) with great interest. I agree with Debbie Findling that traditional Sunday school “needs to be rethought from the very foundation on which it was built.”

That is why Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael has created family learning groups called Kol HaMishpacha (the whole family), in which families learn together. We believe that real Jewish learning takes place within the family. In our third year, we anticipate 50 families will participate.

Jewish education is renewing itself and there are creative programs in synagogue schools. While grassroots programs are exciting, it is vital for families to feel connected to a larger Jewish community. It is within that community that we come together to pray, dance, mourn and witness the passages of a Jewish lifetime. Synagogue communities grow and change when creative people infuse them with energy and new ideas.

What we have found at Rodef Sholom is that Kol HaMishpacha is a great source of Jewish learning, living and connection for all types of families who are seeking meaning and spirituality in their homes and lives.

Irene Resnikoff | San Rafael

Director of Education

Congregation Rodef Sholom

Finger-lickin’ bad

The weekly Mah Jongg table is a wondrous place, where between the click of the tiles we discuss our health, our grandchildren, politics and other important subjects since we last met.

Last night is was unanimous: We all found the joke in the Aug. 1 j. — about the tainted chicken and the four mitzvahs — in very poor taste. We would rather see no humor page than such a bad attempt at humor. Surprised at j. for using it.

Dini Freeman | San Rafael

Fast vs. fast times

While getting another e-mail invite to a Second Saturday party at the Cellar is nothing new, I couldn’t believe that they are actually running this month’s party on Tisha B’Av, one of the most solemn and revered days on the Jewish calendar. The Cellar’s ad, featuring a leggy woman grabbing a dancing man, beckons “get hot and sweaty on salsa night,” promising a Latin getaway exclusive to anyone Jewish — along with five free drinks!

What a way to remember the destruction of both the first and second temples, as well as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. While Jews around the world will mark this historic day by fasting, refraining from wearing leather and other prohibitions similar to Yom Kippur, the organizers of Second Saturday seem to have a different view of Jewish history. Perhaps instead of synagogues such as Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco partnering with them, it might be more beneficial to send them Jewish educators who can teach them about Jewish history, holiday cycles, and when it’s appropriate to celebrate and party versus when it’s appropriate to be reflective.

Too many Jewish lives have been lost on Tisha B’av to have Second Saturday at the Cellar turn it into a Latin Salsa night.

David Green | San Francisco

Fiesta at Hillel?

Your article about U.C. Berkeley Hillel (“The Hillel haven,” July 25) introduced the new director, Gordon Gladstone, as having a strong background and knowledge of advocacy for Israel. Gladstone stated: “Many students report a high degree of comfort — Jewish life here is great. It is thriving. I want to help students to be well-informed and effective in being [able] to articulate their point of view around Israel.”

He neglected to clarify Berkeley Hillel’s point of view. Hillel’s Facebook site does. On May 7, Hillel hosted a “Mexican-themed” barbecue, explaining “We are so close to Cinco de Mayo, we thought the theme was appropriate!” May 7, 2008 fell on Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Erev Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s 60th Independence Day). A “Mexican-themed” food event to honor Israel’s fallen soldiers, and an “appropriate” substitution of Mexico’s independence day for Israel’s 60th birthday is Hillel’s way of “helping students … articulate” their feelings “around” Israel?

As for Jewish life “thriving” on the U.C. Berkeley campus, Hillel’s Web site for Passover ’08 informed the student looking for a seder on campus to look elsewhere. Hillel was closed during the entire week of Passover for renovations.

There’s more, much more, but this should be enough.

Michael Thaler | San Francisco

Lopsided deal

Israel should indeed do everything possible to bring its captives home (“Making sense of the swap,” July 25). But the best way to do it is not by paying the terrorists a high price for releasing them — which leaves the terrorists feeling victorious and the Jews feeling defeated, and encourages the taking of more captives. It is by forcing the terrorists to pay a prohibitively high price for keeping them, which will leave the terrorists feeling defeated and the Jews feeling victorious while discouraging further kidnappings.

It’s vital for the army to have the trust of its soldiers. But what happens to that trust when soldiers are asked to risk their lives to capture dangerous terrorists, only to see them unconditionally released by the Israeli government so they can go right back to their terrorist activities? Might the soldiers not wonder just whose side their government is on?

Unfortunately, Israel’s leadership has rejected the essential Jewish values of God, the Torah and the Covenant, and instead placed its trust in false ideas that can bring no benefit. As a consequence, it has no ability to stand up to the nation’s enemies, or give a decisive response to the accusation that Israel is occupying stolen Arab land.

Martin Wasserman | Sunnyvale

Tisha B’Av reminder

Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) which we commemorate this year on Aug. 9-10, reminds us of the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.

Today it is not just Jerusalem but the entire world that faces destruction, from global warming and many other environmental threats. We have already seen many effects of global warming, including severe heat waves, droughts, wild fires, storms and floods. Many climate scientists are warning that global warming may soon and spin out of control unless major changes soon occur.

Israel is especially threatened by global warming. A 2007 Israel Union of Environmental Defense report projected severe heat waves and storms, an average decrease in rainfall of up to 30 percent and major flooding from a rising Mediterranean Sea.

This Tisha B’Av, I hope that we will begin to heed one of its basic lessons — that failure to respond to proper admonitions can lead to catastrophe. The Jewish people must make tikkun olam a major focus in Jewish life today, and consider personal and societal changes that will help shift our precious, but imperiled, planet to a more sustainable path.

Richard H. Schwartz | Staten Island, N.Y.