Wild accusations

The lesson to be learned from the furor surrounding the film “Rachel” is not, as your July 23 editorial suggests, that the SFJFF should be more circumspect when contemplating programming, and more mindful of the sensibilities of mainstream Jewish institutions.

The lesson is that the mainstream has shifted, and that the Jewish community can no longer be bullied by wild accusations of anti-Semitism, or by the false commandment that our duty is to give unquestioning support to the government of Israel.

Carol Sanders   |   Berkeley


Fostered divisiveness

Peter Stein, the executive director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, should be ashamed. His controversial decision to show the Rachel Corrie film — and to invite her mother, Cindy Corrie, to answer questions following the screening — has fostered divisiveness and created damage in the Jewish community. (Moreover, his last-minute decision to show another viewpoint by inviting Dr. Michael Harris, a pro-Israel activist involved with the Bay Area chapter of Stand with Us, was barely adequate in bringing diverse view points to the movie.)

The hostile situation that Stein has created runs fundamentally against the goals of the Jewish Film Festival and gives me little to be proud of.

Rachel Teisch   |   San Francisco



SFJFF, as we know, has been funded, from among other donors, by the Jewish Community Federation. Sure is odd that our community contributions end up with the SFJFF, an organization that brings out the audience cheers for Ahmadinejad. Is that what Super Sunday was about?

Scott Abramson   |   San Mateo


‘Guidance, not censorship’

The emotions surrounding the Jewish Film Festival clearly reflect the diversity and depth of our feelings and convictions, from those passionate in support to those angry with the festival, and by implication, with the federation.

We understand. Federation, as a steward of community philanthropy, supports hundreds of programs that strengthen JCCs, synagogues and museums, support a strong and vibrant Israel and educate and promote Jewish life and culture.

We offer guidance, not censorship. With SFJFF, we don’t select the films or manage the program. Sometimes our community institutions make mistakes, as we believe was the case with the “Rachel” event. When they do, we expect them to listen and respond to our concerns. As we have found over the last 100 years, this approach works pretty well.

The focus on this one event should not overshadow the entire Festival, with many more films to see that leave us educated, inspired, and filled with pride.

Personally, we are saddened by the tone of the discourse on all sides. The lack of civility is appalling, including the behavior of some in the audience at the movie’s showing. This damages us as a community and diverts us from the critical issues we face.

Daniel Sokatch

CEO, S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation

Jim Koshland

President, S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation


‘I’m an anti-Semite’

Thanks to the Taube and Koret foundations and others condemning the SFJFF’s showing of the “Rachel” film, I now have a new identity. I am an anti-Semite. I, a synagogue-going, tallis-making, prayer-writing, challah-baking Jew am an anti-Semite because I criticize Israel and because I support the JFF in showing films critical of Israel.

I’m an anti-Semite because I, like the AFSC, believe that the way to peace is through dialogue. That I think doing so is good for Israel and good for the Jewish community seems to be largely beside the point as far as the festival’s would-be censors are concerned.

I believe I’m in good company. In a poll in March 2009, J Street found that 66 percent of American Jews support the U.S. taking an active role in achieving peace in the Mideast even if it means publicly disagreeing with Israel. The poll also found that 69 percent favored negotiating with a combined Hamas-Fatah government. And a 2009 poll conducted by Hebrew University found that 69 percent of Israelis favor negotiating with a joint Hamas-Fatah government. I guess the majority of American Jews and Israelis are also anti-Semitic.

Claudia Bernard  |  Oakland


Incessantly interrupted

What transpired at the screening of “Rachel” on Saturday gives lie to the contention by Peter Stein, the SFJFF directors who preceded him, along with JVP and ISM members and their supporters, that the festival champions diversity and freedom of expression. Dr. Michael Harris was given a scant five minutes to offer a counter-perspective to “Rachel” and the later lecture by Cindy Corrie. That was too much time for JVP and ISM sympathizers in the audience who, reminiscent of storm troopers, incessantly interrupted and shouted down Dr. Harris. Anyone who doubts this should watch a video of this debacle on YouTube: http://www.you tube.com/watch?v=7k66uGD5nuk

The saving grace of this fiasco: Anyone who watches actions by these anti-democratic thugs can no longer remotely believe that JVP, ISM and the AFSC truly care about freedom of expression. These people are brownshirts in action, an anathema to the Jewish community.

It is crystalline that SFJFF Director Peter Stein and members of the board like JVP leader Rebecca Pfeffer are responsible for facilitating this hate fest and should resign. Barring that, festival sponsors and the Jewish community should take the appropriate action.

Dan Spitzer   |   Berkeley


Another problem film

I recently attended the opening weekend of the  San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Much to my disappointment, I believe the festival demonstrated poor judgment by deciding to screen the film “The Yes Men Fix the World.”

When director Andy Bichlbaum took the stage at the conclusion of the screening, he proudly announced to the audience that his movie would not be shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival because he and his partner are participating in a boycott of Israel. I was both shocked and saddened that the SFJFF would permit Mr. Bichlbaum to have a forum to promote a film whose creators are participating in a discriminatory boycott of the Jewish state, an action which is clearly antithetical to the festival’s mission and values.

I therefore call on the co-presenters of the film, San Francisco Cinematheque and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), and the film’s sponsor, Bob Herman, to disavow their association with the movie and strongly urge the SFJFF to refrain from further screenings until the directors of “Yes Men” say NO to a boycott of Israel.

Steven Katz   |   San Francisco


Anti-boycott position

Steve Katz kindly contacted me to share his concerns about personal remarks by “The Yes Men Fix the World” director Mr. Bichelbaum. I did not witness the remarks directly.

While the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) supports the First Amendment rights of both Mr. Katz and Mr. Bichelbaum to express their personal views, PJA does not support boycotts against Israel.

PJA has worked diligently for many years to help our interfaith allies understand that boycotts and divesment do not support the path to peace. In fact, PJA recently signed onto one such anti-divestment effort at the request of the San Francisco JCRC.

My thanks again to Mr. Katz for his respectful exchange with me.

Elissa D. Barrett

Executive Director, Progressive Jewish Alliance


And yet another problem film

I have long been a fan of the SFJFF, however I am disturbed by choices they have made this year.

I am not writing about the “Rachel” controversy, but about another troubling movie.

“Defamation,” made by an Israeli filmmaker, purports to depict an Israeli’s search to understand anti-Semitism. Instead, it mocks anti-Semitism, minimizing and at times poking fun of the ADL, while also giving credence to the words of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

Instead of probing the fervor behind anti-Semitic acts such as the attack on the federation in Seattle, the film showcases complaints made by Jews denied time off by their employers for Shavuot and holds these up as scarce evidence of current-day anti-Semitism.

I am not against freedom of expression, nor an advocate of censorship, but I am disappointed that the SFJFF chose this film to represent what was billed as a brave exploration of anti-Semitism.

See for yourself when it shows Aug. 6 in Berkeley or Aug. 8 in San Rafael.

I think it is time to send a message to the festival that we will not quietly support films and events that are insensitive to our community.

Michele J. Glicken   |   San Francisco


Can’t love every film

Much has already been said about the screening of the film “Rachel” at the S.F. Jewish Film Festival and the importance of artistic freedoms, so I’d like just to add briefly a personal viewpoint.

In 1994 I produced a documentary that exposed actions of violence and hatred by the Jewish settlers in West Bank city of Hebron. The film made many in the Jewish community uncomfortable. The SFJFF had the courage to show the film, but at another Jewish film festival the director wrote me that his board would never allow him to show it. “Inside God’s Bunker” went on to air on television in 13 countries. A segment aired on Israeli TV, showed at the Knesset and contributed to an important debate in Israel about the future of the settlements, a debate which continues to this day.

The provocative films that the SFJFF has shown over the year have made it one of those cultural institutions which sets agendas, sparks debates and is at the forefront of difficult yet crucial discussions within the Jewish community. We can’t expect to love every film the SFJFF programmers choose, but we should let them do their work.

Micha Peled   |   San Francisco


Alienated community

I was dismayed when I heard that the SFJFF had invited a speaker to “balance” its presentation of “Rachel.” After hearing Harris, I’m even more convinced that the festival should have simply stood by its original programming.

Harris principally used the forum to argue that certain opinions, i.e., those critical of Israel, are beyond the pale and cannot be voiced inside the Jewish community. Harris also engaged in an insulting broadside against the film’s co-presenters, Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee. It’s time our community moves past the idea that only certain opinions about Israel are acceptable, and that anyone who disagrees must be kept outside the tent. As long as mainstream Jewish organizations subscribe to such views — and I understand that the federation and JCRC endorsed Harris as the “necessary balance” — a large segment of our community will remain alienated.

Fundamentally, for many of us, it is our Jewish values that guide and inform our criticism of Israel. It is deeply offensive to be told that there is no place at a Jewish event for an exploration of those views.

Howard Herman   |   Oakland

SFJFF Board President, 1994-1997


Funding for PJ Library

We were pleased to see the “Beyond the Books” article in the July 17 issue (“New PJ Library spin-off goes ‘Beyond the Books’”), but you forgot to mention that the Bay Area PJ Library program is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation (JJF), in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. JJF made initial grants to the three Bay Area Federations totaling $550,000.

To date, 4,900 preschool-age children from across the Bay Area have joined the PJ Library and received a free Jewish book or CD each month. These packages deliver Jewish stories and traditions to the home and provide parents with the knowledge and tools to talk about Judaism with their children.

The PJ Library helps the JJF further its aim to engage young children and parents in Jewish learning as a first step on a path of lifelong Jewish engagement. As the program enters its second year in the Bay Area, we look forward to the continued success of the federations in San Francisco, the East Bay and Silicon Valley to connect families with young children to the PJ Library and to the Jewish community. To sign up for a free subscription, please contact your local federation.

Dr. Charles Edelsberg                           

Executive Director, Jim Joseph Foundation           

Al Levitt

President, Jim Joseph Foundation


What pluralism?

I had trouble understanding one aspect of Dan Pine’s review of “Good God: Faith for the Rest of Us” by Rabbi Daniel Weiner (July 24). Mr. Pine tells us that “Growing up in a tolerant San Francisco perhaps influenced [Rabbi Weiner’s] pluralistic views.” But this statement seems totally out of touch with the rest of the review.

Pine tells us that Rabbi Weiner excoriates religious fundamentalists (it is made clear later in the article that this includes both Orthodox Jews and Christian fundamentalists), he calls “militant atheists” “wacky,” and he “knocks” ersatz new age spirituality (the example given is Madonna-style Kabbalah).

My questions are, what tolerance and what pluralism? I imagine that he has plenty of tolerance for those whose religiosity matches up exactly with his own, what he calls a “progressive Jewish experience,” with references to social justice issues and spiritual creativity. From the review, it doesn’t appear that he has any tolerance, let alone understanding or pluralism for those whose religious “experience” is more traditional.

Tom Freeman   |   Orinda


Jews appear paralyzed

With a majority of the Jewish vote plus a solid bloc of Jewish Democratic congressional leaders in his pocket, President Obama makes clear that he feels no sense of obligation to respond to the Jewish community’s urgent concerns. Therefore, with rare exception, the Jewish community comes across as divided and paralyzed when it comes to challenging the Obama administration on critical episodes.

In recent weeks, both the president and Secretary of State Clinton have flung down withering gauntlets to our “eternal ally” Israel for threatening Iran and expanding a few key settlements. From his Cairo speech forward, reinforced by Clinton’s chilling edict that even the addition of a child’s bedroom in a settlement would be seen as an offense to the Palestinians and, consequently, fracture U.S.-Israeli relations, the White House unveiled its hard-line policy. The fact that Iran proclaims daily that it intends to obliterate Israel and is the patron of Hamas fails to gain traction with the president. Dishonorable and deadly demands, however, from Palestinian and Arab rulers are given moral equivalence with Israel’s defensive plans. If American Jews sit on their hands, Arabs and their cohorts will move ahead with their full-throttle campaign to make Washington deliver Israel.

Ernest H. Weiner   |   Berkeley