Sign at the entrance to Camp Tawonga (Photo/file)
Sign at the entrance to Camp Tawonga (Photo/file)

More voices of Jews of color! Church music is cool! Our Torah column is offensive! Etc!

Let Jews of color tell their own stories

Though the article about playing catch-up to the racially diverse community seemed to have the intent of making the reader more aware of the diversity of Bay Area Jews, much of the writing and ideas didn’t come from Jews of color. It seems that the majority of this article is quotes from white Jews discussing their advice and opinions about the lives of Jews of color.

Although this support is appreciated, one of the best ways to have diverse Jews feel part of the community is to let Jews of color use their own voices to tell their stories. When we share and hear everyone’s voices, ideas and stories, all Jews will feel included, welcomed and accepted.

N. Kaufman, age 12

Spare us the sad story; this man is no model citizen

Once again we get a (partial) story pulling at our heartstrings about some poor gentleman arrested on a “minor” charge and held for an extended period when unable to make bail (“State’s inequitable bail system punishes the poor”). Hard to hold back the tears for Mr. Kenneth Humphrey held for stealing a $5 bottle of cologne and “alleged” threats to an elderly neighbor. Opinion writer Dee Seligman neglects to mention that this “model citizen” has a 30-year rap sheet for theft and violence (and in fact had threatened to put a pillow case over the head of his most recent victim).

Instead of worrying about his ability to make bail, how about concern for an established pattern of violence and anti-social behavior that puts the rest of us at risk if he is allowed to walk the streets? Exactly how many strikes does Ms. Seligman believe this monster deserves before she concludes he is incapable of living among civilized people?

David L. Levine,
San Francisco

Deeply moving Jewish music is path to spiritual connection

I found Andrew Muchin’s article “Why church music rocks,” about Ari Kelman’s book “Shout to the Lord,” to be of special interest to me. As a Jew, raised Conservative, a graduate of a Jewish day school, I find that my path to spirituality is through music.

I have been deeply moved by the music of Debbie Friedman. It was at one of the first Debbie Friedman concerts I attended that I felt deeply moved and connected with the words of the songs. Most of her songs are based on traditional prayers or words from the Bible. I began incorporating her songs into my Shabbat ceremonies and featured them in my children’s b’not mitzvah services. I began buying her CDs and listening to them over and over again until I was feeling spiritually uplifted.

To this day, I am moved by services only at synagogues where there is singing and, yes, musical instruments. I know many people who feel the same way about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s music. I love his music also. The very elements that Ari Kelman sees as appealing in Evangelical church music could be said for Debbie Friedman’s music and Carlebach’s music.

I think that Jewish summer camps use Jewish folk music and contemporary music to capture campers’ “ruach” (spirit), and that is one of the reasons Jewish summer camp is so effective in developing a lifelong Jewish identity for children. So let’s keep singing and sharing our Jewish values and our Jewish sacred traditions with new songs that can bring us to the spiritual level many of us seek.

Gail Perlow Taback

God as abuser? Offensive

Imagine the horror of opening up a Jewish newspaper and reading in the Torah column that God is a dictator and an abuser. Well, you don’t have to imagine. In the Aug. 10 issue of J., Rabbi Adina Allen wrote, “[T]he Torah portrays God as a dictator. … [T]o listen to God is to heed an abuser…” (“God has many voices. Which one will you listen to?”)

Quite intemperate words. This passage is offensive to a significant segment of the Jewish community and crosses a line by not treating their beliefs with respect.

Alan Titus
San Francisco

Declaring Israel a Jewish nation-state improves lives

Mr. Don Raphael (Letters, Aug. 10) and Rabbi Ariel Picard (“Israel’s Nationality Law disrespects diaspora Jews”) sharply criticize the recent Israeli national state law. A few notes to consider:

1. The new law allows each ethnic group to “preserve their culture, tradition, language and identity” and live by their own holidays, including Shabbat. A great improvement for all ethnic groups.

2. The law states that Israel is a democratic nation. That is not stated in the country’s Declaration of Independence. Another great improvement for all Israelis.

3. The law forbids one ethnic group from settling within another group without its consent. This eliminates the Jewish settlement in Arab towns. A great improvement for the Arabs and Palestinians.

4. The Declaration of Independence refers to a “Jewish state” and not a “Jewish nation-state.” This caused some conflicts in Israeli courts and Israel opponents abroad who argue that there is no such thing as a country of a religion. That’s the main reason that the national law was enacted. Most every country in the world is a nation-state by history and tradition. France is not the State of the English. The Jews are a unique case among the nations where religion and nationality are intertwined.

5. It is true that the gap between the American Jewish left and Israelis is widening. This is very sad. The main reason is that the American Jewish left looks down upon Israelis and their democracy. They wish to change the freely elected government in Israel, while it is the Israelis who bear the consequences. This anti-democracy attitude makes Israelis feel that no matter what they do, the American left would criticize them while ignoring the great, almost miraculous achievement of their young nation.

Isaac Agam
Los Altos

Stop panicking over Israel’s Nationality Law

Israel adapts the “Israel is a Jewish nation law” and suddenly the sky is falling. A latest example of the incoming “tragedy” is the letter “That’s not the Israel I love” proclaiming that the law will “normalize the unraveling of democracy” in Israel. Not really.

First, the new law does not supplant the existing 11 Basic Laws and the Declaration of Independence, which clearly affirms the democratic nature of Israel and equality of all its citizens.

Second, the rights of minorities is just one part of the Israeli democratic fabric. The major parts of it are the electoral rights, free press and independent judiciary. These institutions are by no means affected by the new law, and they give the impetus to the rights of minorities, not vice-versa.

As for Rabbi Ariel Picard’s assertion that “Israel’s Nationality Law disrespects diaspora Jews,” here is a relevant question: Who defines Judaism’s future — the Jews of the diaspora and their majority in America, or the Jews of Israel? Looking into the ever-growing harassment of young Jews on campus and the meek response to it by Jewish communities, topped by an intermarriage rate of more than 60 percent, happily illustrated in the same issue of J., the most obvious answer is: the latter.

It may be hard to accept, as with any sad truth, but this is the reality. Thus, Article 6, Section C of the new law quoted in the rabbi’s letter, stating that Israel “shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish people among Jews in the diaspora,” sounds very much on target.

Vladimir Kaplan
San Mateo

Summer camps need to teach about living with nature

I grew up in Lafayette and am a Camp Tawonga alum. As J. reported on Aug. 6 (“Fires force cancellation of Camp Tawonga’s final 2018 session”), early this month a fire spread to within miles of camp, causing the evacuation of all campers and staff and the cancelling of Session 4, for the first time in the camp’s 93-year history. Last October, URJ Camp Newman burned down in the Santa Rosa fire.

J.’s most recent editorial, “Camp Tawonga Evacuation is a Sign of Climate Change” stated, “What matters most is that every segment of society wake up and stay woke, acknowledge the reality of climate change, and commit to slowing if not reversing its most severe impacts.”

Through fire, nature is driving some people off the land. This is a consequence of our impact on nature. We exploit and conquer nature because we are not sufficiently connected to it. We have created a virtual reality and we spend more time in front of screens than we do in nature.

How can Jewish summer camps commit to curbing climate change? One way is by engaging campers on the power links between Judaism, ecology, and sustainable living. Yet most Jewish summer camps do this minimally, if at all, as I saw first-hand this summer when I provided programming on Jewish ecology at several Jewish summer camps in the United States.

While all Jewish overnight camps are surrounded by nature, most do not foster camper experiences with and within nature, and even fewer connect Jewish teachings and values to nature and ecology.  For those that offer nature programming, it often involves fishing, cooking meat or s’mores over a fire, or making artwork about nature.

Northern California is blessed with camps — especially Eden Village West and Camp Tawonga — that do foster powerful experiences in nature, through the lens of Jewish values. May their visionary Jewish ecological programming expand and spread instead of wildfire.

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, Founder/Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development

J. Readers

J. welcomes letters and comments from our readers. To submit a letter, email it to [email protected].