Bad behavior

It happens from time to time: a segment of our community is outraged, outraged, by a program hosted by a community institution. Angry emails follow, along with threats to cancel contributions to the Federation. Recent letters to the j. about the Jewish Film Festival’s “Rachel” event illustrate this pattern.

I think these behaviors don’t serve us well. We Jews have a bad habit of squabbling internally even when we face dangerous external enemies. The historian Josephus reports that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Romans saw internal divisions among the Jews as a godsend. “Divine providence,” the Roman generals held, favored the Romans by setting the Jews “at each others’ throats.”

Today, the Federation through its fundraising, and the JCRC through consensus-building and advocacy, do a remarkable job of getting most of us to row in the same direction most of the time. The more time we spend attacking our organizations, the less time they have to represent and defend us against those who really wish us ill.

On “Rachel” – it’s time to “chill.”

Michael A. Jacobs  |  Sausalito


No strings attached

Steve Katz, in the Aug. 7 issue of the j., suggested that the SFJFF and the co-presenters and sponsor of the film “The Yes Men Fix the World” should not have screened that film as they should have known that Mr. Bichlbaum, the filmmaker, was participating in an Israeli boycott. Two weeks earlier, others in the community suggested that the SFJFF in its entirety should be boycotted for having included the film Rachel and Cindy Corrie in its programming.

Though economic boycotts can be effective ways of pressuring governments and corporations to reconsider policy positions, cultural boycotts serve only to stifle freedom of expression, without which no democracy can survive. In the McCarthy era, artists were blacklisted for expressing their personal views. Mr. Katz would probably not see his call for a boycott as an analogous to the censorship of the ‘50s, yet that’s how it sounds.

Suggestions that the SFJFF programmers de-select films based on the personal statements of filmmakers amount to blacklisting. It insults the judgment of SFJFF audiences and undermines the festival’s reputation as independent. My sponsorship comes with no strings attached. That’s how I want it; that what independent cultural programming is all about.

Robert Herman  |  San Francisco

Sponsor of the screenings of The Yes Men Fix the World


Opposite political spectrum

Zvi Alon will no longer give donations to JCF (Letters, Aug. 7). I admit that I thought about doing the same, though from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

However, I realized that JCF helps those in our community who are in need, including the poor, the elderly, victims of domestic violence, etc. Therefore, I will continue to donate but try to direct my donations away from Israel, the ADL, and other communal organizations that mindlessly and rabidly defend any and all actions by Israel.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Alon on the presumption that he is an Israeli citizen. Why not go back to Israel, where you can donate your tax dollars to your preferred Israeli organizations? While you are going out the door, you might also help to give back the $3 billion the U.S. gives to Israel every year (plus loan guarantees and forgiveness), which frees up money to build illegal settlements.

Alfred Lerner  |  San Carlos


Good investment

I’m tired of reading about the movie “Rachel” and I’m tired of hearing that the folks who run it should resign, and I should stop giving to Federation.

First, if you don’t like the movie, don’t go see it. Second, I’ve enjoyed the Film Festival for several years now. I had no idea there was such film making in Israel before, and I look forward every year to seeing new movies.

If you think it’s easy putting on a world-class festival like this, I suggest you try it sometime. Finally, I will continue supporting the Federation, because the Federation supports my entire community. A part of my check goes to my JCC, a part to the Jewish Home, a part to Israel, and just this last week I read in the J they are giving money for scholarships to synagogue schools at a time when synagogues are struggling. All in all, a pretty good investment, and one that I am proud to continue.

George Evans  |  Redwood City


SFJFF does ‘great job’

I attended six films in this year’s Jewish Film Festival at three of the four locations. I saw Jews coming together from all over, getting out of their neighborhoods, like a big reunion, every film was full or nearly so; the vibe was great. It’s important to acknowledge the great job that the SFJFF does in presenting new, engaging, and (yes) sometimes provocative films.

I most enjoyed hearing dialogue after the films among people with differing perspectives. We are surely a community of communities. As both a donor and a Federation professional, I am glad that part of the donation I make to the Federation goes to the Film Festival, among all the other good work it does.

Karen S. Bluestone  |  Fairfax

Chief Planning and Program Officer

Jewish Community Federation

‘Rachel’ was a mistake

Daniel Sokatch and Jim Koshland’s July 31 letter disappointed me. They said “we offer guidance, not censorship”, when discussing the “Rachel event” at the SFJFF. As a major funder of the film festival, they should do more than offer guidance. They have underestimated the dedication of the grass-roots supporters of Israel in the SF Bay Area., who are slow to become aroused, but have very long memories. If the film festival scheduled a film that praised Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, or the Klu Klux Klan, I hope the Federation would do more than offer guidance. If as they said, the Rachel event was a mistake at the Castro theater, it should have been canceled before the second showing in Berkeley. The SFJFF doesn’t get it. The federation needs a stronger and firmer response.

Norman Licht  |  San Carlos


Calm dialogue

I’m going to continue sending my money to the federation because it supports the day school my kids go to, it helped fund my own trip to Israel, and much more. The money I give the federation goes to community needs such as emergency financial assistance, programs for the elderly; to innovative programs in Israel, and in supporting local culture, such as the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Holocaust center, Traveling Jewish Theater, and yes, the Jewish Film Festival.

I am not going to stop sending my money to support these worthy causes because of one movie, as we keep hearing from the same people over and over again. I support the federation precisely because it is mainstream, like most Bay Area Jews who support Israel in a variety of ways. I hope there is a calm dialogue about this in the future. My guess is if there is, it will be federation who puts it together.

Martin Schwartz  |  Oakland


Half Jewish?

The j.’s Aug. 7 story about Dodger catcher Brad Ausmus captured some of the ironies of current Jewish life. Ausmus was hailed as “another Jewish star” while later in the article it was noted that he had a Christian father and “didn’t really identify as a Jew.” Similarly, other “j.” columnists seem to be on a continuing search for celebrities they can identify as “half-Jewish” (whatever that is). These tactics of identifying as Jews those with some Jewish ancestry was a practice in Hitler’s Germany. It ill becomes us as Americans. We are Jews as a reflection of affiliation, self-identity and Jewish behaviors. Or as my mother would say: “It’s not so easy to be a Jew.”

Mel Mogulof  |  Berkeley


Going solar

“Saratoga synagogue goes solar …” (Aug. 7) showed us that Congregation Beth David takes the Sh’ma seriously, hearing Earth’s call to conserve finite resources and champion renewable sources of electricity.

They follow the pioneering decision of Rabbi Melanie Aron and Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos to power their synagogue from the sun beginning in 2002.

We encourage readers to see photos of these magnificent photo-voltaic panels on the two sanctuaries with Google searches for “Shir Hadash solar” and “Beth David solar.” Since 2003 our family has experienced great fulfillment having much of our home’s electric needs met by rooftop solar panels. Especially in these summer months, we generate more than we use, watch the meter spin backwards, and send back into the grid energy that benefits the greater community.

We urge other families, businesses and faith institutions to consider solar electricity — a gift of a great and wise Creation.

Libby and Len Traubman  |  San Mateo