the protesters hold up a banner in front of the speaker. banner says "Hagee: 'Hitler was sent by God'" and "Bibi: 'CUFI is our greatest ally.'"
IfNotNow activists Binya Koatz (right) and Adam Hirsch unfurl a banner in front of speaker Victor Styrsky at a CUFI event in Stockton, June 2017. (Courtesy/IfNotNow)

Letters for the week of June 16, 2017

IfNotNow’s action was deplorable

I was truly embarrassed by the behavior of the IfNotNow protesters who disrupted a church service in Stockton co-sponsored by CUFI to honor Israel (“Jewish protesters disrupt Christians United for Israel,” June 9).

I was present at the event. It was a religious service full of love, spirituality and phenomenal music. Before the service began, I overheard two young Jewish women sitting behind me talking about their time in BBYO when they were teenagers. I am 17 years old and currently quite active in BBYO, so I engaged them in friendly conversation. They grew up in Palo Alto and Marin and said they were there because they had “heard about it from StandWithUs” and wanted to “check it out.”

I was shocked and saddened when, about an hour into the service, they stood up, along with several others spread throughout the room, and attempted to disrupt the service with their anger and hatred. I, too, have problems with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and long for a two-state solution. But the idea that people disguised themselves just so they could disrupt someone else’s worship service made me physically ill.

The irony that a group of white, privileged, 20-something Jews from the Bay Area came to Stockton and disrupted a service made up primarily of African American and Hispanic worshippers should not be lost on any of us. Imagine if someone from another religion came and disrupted Shabbat services at one of our synagogues. We would be rightly outraged. We should be no less outraged when members of our community do it to other religious communities, particularly communities of color.

Next time, IfNotNow, please check your privilege.

Signed, Another Young Jew Who Loves Israel.

Micah Bloom,

‘Listen to speaker’ before criticizing

In an increasingly polarized world in which speakers are being booed off or uninvited from university stages, I believe that organizations like Congregation Emanu-El should present a broad spectrum of opinions and not kowtow to those who would listen to only one side of a discussion (“Calling out my temple for allowing hate speech,” June 2).

More than 300 people respectfully listed to and appreciated guest speaker Bret Stephens’ perspective while five chose to protest the event and were respectfully escorted out. What gives these people the right to protest inside a sanctuary vs. outdoors? They disturbed the audience and intruded on my ability to listen and learn.

Just one final note: There was not any “hate speech” of any type in Mr. Stephens’ speech. J.’s headline was false. He actually advocated strongly for women’s and gay rights in the Middle East. He supported ending the “occupation” once it could reasonably be assured Israel’s neighbor would be more like “Costa Rica than Yemen.”

Had author Kate Storey-Fisher actually attended Mr. Stephens’ speech (she was not in attendance), she would have heard a message of tolerance and inclusion. Instead she wrote — and J. published — an opinion piece based on a presupposed narrative that was blatantly false.

In the future, I would encourage those who wish to criticize — left, right, or center — have the courtesy to listen to the speaker first.

Jordan Hymowitz,
San Francisco

Our community thrives on ‘fullness’

With regard to the cover story on rabbis and gender identity, we express our gratitude to writer Laura Paull for a lovely portrayal of an issue that is often reduced to caricature (“Beyond he and she: New expressions of gender arrive in the rabbinate,” June 9).

Though the Healing Center is not an LGBT mission-driven agency, we think of ourselves as thought- and mission-oriented leaders at centering all forms of marginalized identities. In this regard, we think of ourselves as “LGBT normative,” a term bequeathed to us by Lisa Finkelstein.

One of the benefits of making something “normative” is that it invites everyone to bring the fullness of themselves into the wider community. Physical or mental illness, grieving and dying are uniquely isolating experiences. They naturally stimulate spiritual reflection and reasonably yearn for a communal response.

The vitality of any community is tending to the greater whole among us regardless of the ways we learn, think or function. From this vision, all are welcome through the Healing Center’s door.

Thank you to J. for supporting all the ways we commonly serve the Congregation of Israel.

Rabbi Eric Weiss,
CEO and President of Jewish Healing Center,
San Francisco

First woman rabbi actually was …

Laura Paull’s June 9 cover story “Beyond he and she: New expressions of gender arrive in the rabbinate” celebrates our progress toward human dignity.

However, the piece underreported the history of the crossing of gender boundaries. The ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972 was not the first ordination of a woman rabbi, as was commonly thought until a few years ago. Only when the archives in the former East Germany were opened after the reunification of Germany did we rediscover that Regina Jonas was ordained in Berlin in 1935 by Max Dienemann of the liberal Rabbinical Association of Germany. Jonas was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, where she continued to work as a rabbi in the camps. She was sent to Auschwitz in 1944, where she was murdered.

Rabbi Jonas’ story is told in the 2014 book ”Edith Stein and Regina Jonas: Religious visionaries in the time of the death camps,” by Emily Leah Silverman.

As described in Silverman’s book, Rabbi Ted Alexander, who passed away last year and was the former rabbi of Congregation B’nai Emunah in San Francisco, knew Jonas in his youth in Berlin before he fled to Shanghai and ultimately San Francisco. Many of the founders of B’nai Emunah followed a similar path to San Francisco. Rabbi Ted Alexander’s father was himself a rabbi in Berlin and Jonas’ friend.

Silverman is a local author and a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union.

Keith Mostov,
San Francisco

Yes we can slow global warming

It was Archimedes who said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I can move the world.” We have the lever and fulcrum that can save the world. We just need to start using it.

The threat is global warming, as detailed in J.’s June 2 article “Trump pulls out of Paris climate accord: Bay Area Jewish Community reacts.” The Paris Agreement was always going to be too little too late, but we have a simpler, faster, more effective and realistic market solution with a global impact.

It works on the principle of self-interest. It doesn’t ask anyone to give up anything or make any sacrifices — except for polluting, fossil-fuel corporations. It makes them pay an escalating carbon pollution fee, all of which goes to every taxpayer in equal monthly “carbon dividend” checks. And the amount of those checks keeps going up every year.

Solar and wind energy prices and energy storage prices keep dropping exponentially. That will allow people to make more and more money each year by using their “carbon dividend” money to buy cheaper clean energy. And that will increase the U.S. GDP $75-80 billion annually and create over 5 million U.S. jobs.

It’s been successful in British Columbia for eight years, as noted in the Economist, and uses conservative economics so it can have bipartisan support in Congress. Google the Republican Climate Leadership Council’s video “A climate solution where all sides win” and “CLC unlocking the climate puzzle,” which explain how to use the market to incentivize other nations to cut their emissions as much as we do or be economically disadvantaged.

We really can save the world while making the vast majority of middle-class and low-income Americans financially better off with this simple policy. It’s genius.

Lynn Goldfarb,

Your beshert is at synagogue

Why do Bay Area single adults depend on websites to find a mate (“Mixed and matchups: How Bay Area Jewish singles are finding each other,” Feb. 17) when a synagogue is the perfect place to find commonality and commitment to the Jewish community?

I have yet to see any rabbi or clergy in the Jewish community reach out to discover who is single or not. The effort would be as easy as an introduction.

Synagogues are more and more an option rather than a rule, and any affiliation, especially in older years, is a direct affirmation of their beliefs.

Norman Hersch,

Term ‘anti-Semite’ is antiquated

The term “anti-Semite” was coined by German Jew-haters in the late 19th century. Basing their argument on work by linguists, they claimed that there were two large divisions of the “white” race, Aryans and Semites, and that the two were destined never to mingle.

They were the Aryans, of course, Jews were the Semites, and they, the Jew-haters, were “anti-Semites.” Aside from the extensive evidence from biological anthropology that the Jewish people of our time are descended from a variety of ethnic types, the claim was racist in theory and intention.

The term is so rooted in our language that eliminating it entirely seems impossible. By using “antisemitism” rather than “anti-Semitism,” one takes a step toward rejection of the racist language, saying in effect: “Well, if we must use this antiquated word, let’s at least drop the outdated spelling suggesting that there are Aryans and Semites, never to connect with one another.”

Mark David Reiss,
San Francisco

JVP wrong to aim at LGBT marchers

Regarding the actions of Jewish Voice for Peace at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City on June 4, I find it important to highlight the problematic intracommunity dynamics at play.

JVP is organized primarily by secular or liberal, Ashkenazi, educated and economically stable Jews. This does not make their positions or work invalid, but it grants them certain privileges within the Jewish community to which they are accountable.

Yet their actions demonstrate that they are not willing to be accountable. They have engaged in discourse that erases non-Ashkenazi Jews, demonstrated a lack of understanding of the experiences of more observant communities and tolerated anti-Semitism within their organization.

And here is another problem with JVP. Unlike in secular and liberal movements, where pinkwashing can potentially sway public opinion, queer Jews do not have access to institutional authority in these youths’ Orthodox communities; this is especially true for vulnerable young people facing social exclusion, discrimination and homelessness.

The parade is one of only a few opportunities to be visible to their communities; it is one of the only frameworks available to make themselves heard. Targeting them is both ineffectual and harmful. There is nothing liberatory about a politic that pits privileged queer adults against at-risk queer youth who are attempting to reconcile their identities with a culture that seeks to erase them.

For JVP to continue to legitimately claim to represent the Jewish “voice” against the occupation, they must first take accountability for their own privileges within the U.S. Jewish community. This will require that they diversify their leadership, become more aware of Jewish cultures different than their own and center the experiences of those more vulnerable than them.

As a queer Jew concerned about Israeli treatment of Palestinians, I look forward to being able to organize with them then.

Yaakov-Eitan Svenson,
Amherst, Mass.

‘Loftiness’ better pegs protesters

I disagree with just one word in the otherwise excellent opinion piece by Dr. Michael Harris (“Advice for IfNotNow protesters: Grow up,” June 2). And the word is “idealism,”which Harris used in a sentence directed at the IfNotNow folks: “You are very passionately in love with yourselves and with your idealism.”

For me, the better word would have been “loftiness.”

There is no “idealism” in demanding Israel’s withdrawal from the territories conquered in the defensive Six-Day War. These are the territories from which Israel was attacked, and there are no signs that the Palestinians intend to use them to advance peace with the Jewish state.

Gaza is the best illustration of Palestinians’ true goals. After Israel’s withdrawal from it, in 2005, the Palestinians there quickly decided, by an overwhelming majority, to be governed by Hamas. The rest is history.

And there is no “idealism” in pressing Israel into unilateral concessions while the Palestinians have never reciprocated to them in any meaningful way. Even more, all Israel’s peace proposals have been met either by intifadas or, in best case, by a total non-response.

And there is no “idealism” at all in criticizing Israel for not being benevolent toward the Palestinians in the midst of their hate and warmongering.

“Loftiness” is defined as expressing “an exaggerated sense of one’s importance that shows itself in the making of excessive or unjustified claims.” This is what IfNotNow is all about. Thus, Harris was definitely right in suggesting that its members should “grow up.”

Vladimir Kaplan,
San Mateo