President Donald Trump walks at the White House, Aug. 20, 2019. (JTA/Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks at the White House, Aug. 20, 2019. (JTA/Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images)

March of the Living propaganda; HAMAQOM is a silly name; etc.

Lehrhaus, you make me laugh

Let me make a couple of comments about the rebranding of Lehrhaus to “HAMAQOM|The Place.”

First, I am offended by the name change of Lehrhaus to HAMAQOM — one of the designations for God. I wonder if the new management bothered to solicit any outside input before making the change.

That said, my offense is tempered by laughter by the addition of “The Place” to the new moniker, which is the height of hubris and absurdity. Who’s going to use it? As in, “For breakfast I had a big bowl of CHEERIOS|The Cereal.” “I don’t feel well — I think I may have PNEUMONIA|The Disease.” I can’t think of anything more ridiculous.

Finally, the website FAQs state that “Q is also the proper English letter with which to transliterate the Hebrew letter quf (ק)”. Funny thing, in my ArtScroll siddur it’s always “k.” Same for the U.N., the American Library Association, the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the Orthodox Union, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism. Rather than be inclusive or instructive, the explanation just comes off as smug.

Kemuel Levi (oops, I mean “QEMUEL LEVI|The Jew”)
San Francisco

March of the Living ‘propaganda’

I’m writing in response to Ulrika Shragge’s opinion piece (“How a trip to Poland and Israel changed my life”). Ms. Shragge describes her experience on a trip organized by March of the Living, as she tells it, a week spent visiting sites of concentration and death camps in Poland and then a week going to concerts and parties, swimming in the Dead Sea and playing with camels in Israel. The Poland portion of the trip is a litany of horrors, and the Israel portion a nonstop party (in Ms. Shragge’s words: “The March of the Living organization made it very clear that they had taken us to Israel to show how much fun modern Jews could have.”)

I have lived in Poland since 2017, when I moved from the Bay Area to Krakow. I am a Polish-American Jew, a guide and educator for the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland Foundation, and a co-director of FestivALT, a festival of critically minded Jewish art and activism in Krakow. Each spring, my colleagues and I have watched in dismay as hundreds of March of the Living buses paraded through Poland, unloading at ghetto monuments and memorial sites, then whisking off to the next stop. With their own guides and educators, a schedule chock-full of death camps and going “from one somber place to another,” and little to no interaction with anyone currently living in Poland, the trips might as well have taken place in a separate universe, a traveling bubble that offered only the most narrow and curated glimpses of the country around them. Ms. Shragge describes nothing of Poland, outside of sites of Jewish memory. There are no meetings with members of the Jewish community, no engagement with contemporary Poland and certainly no parties.

It is deeply frustrating to see that March of the Living (or indeed any Jewish organization) continues to organize trips with such an overwhelming bias and lack of nuance, casting Poland exclusively as a land of Jewish death and Israel exclusively as a land of Jewish life. This formula wildly skews the realities of both countries, confines Jewish existence in Poland to a relic of the past, and disturbingly warps Holocaust memory into little more than an emotional hotspot and political tool — victimhood as the cornerstone of Jewish identity, of blind love for Israel.

Not all March of the Living events are like this. I myself worked with a group from March of the Living UK that insisted on hiring local and Polish guides, visiting sites that reflected the 1,000 years of Jewish life in Poland, and meeting members, young and old, of the Jewish communities here today. Other groups, I’m sure, have made similar efforts to provide a more balanced education to their participants. I should also add that I’m not blaming Ms. Shragge for what I see as the shortcomings of the trip or asking her to feel bad for the positive experiences she has had. My issues are not with the participants but with the organizers of such trips.

Trips like the one Ms. Shragge describes are doing a disservice to Jewish youth, not trusting them to form their own opinions and depriving them of the opportunity to think critically about Poland, Israel and Jewish identity today. These trips are not educational, they are not building a constructive path forward. They are propaganda, pure and simple.

Adam Schorin
Warsaw, Poland

Trump is baiting us

We fell for it again. This time it’s about Jews’ loyalty to Israel and the Republicans, in Trump’s attempt to turn Israel into a partisan election issue.

Perhaps Trump’s greatest political asset is how much he is underestimated by his political opponents. Nowhere is this truer than in Trump’s handling of the media, where he is a master of control and manipulation.

In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate,” Al Pacino, as the Devil, gleefully sticks his finger in the church holy water and sets it boiling. In the same way, Trump sticks his finger in the media pool and sets it boiling anytime he wants to, with outrageous comments that play to his base while provoking outrage across the liberal media. Thus does Trump’s news take center stage.

By the time of the Jewish High Holidays, every rabbi in America will have his holiday moral message made for him, thanks to Trump’s newest controversy, with him at the center, once again dominating the news cycle. Trump follows PT Barnum’s dictum that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

At the same time, the news will swirl around him, with conservative Jews arguing that Trump has been Israel’s best friend, with the wealthiest contributing to his campaign, backed up by fundamentalist Christians, while liberal Jews fight against the president’s latest outrage.

What that also means is that Trump’s newest controversial comments also control media cycles, by providing ever-new “shock wave” political comments that overwhelm all other news headlines. Thus, Trump not only subsumes the news but in many ways he is the news. Is it just coincidence that the sensational Epstein scandal, one that just may involve Trump, has now moved to the back page while disloyal Jews are now the headlines?

When will we ever learn that we’re being played? The proper response to our Provocateur in Chief is to refuse the bait of rising to his arguments, and in so doing, deny him the public attention he so desperately craves.

Robert Berke

Breathing a little easier

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Susan George and Matthew Finkelstein for the frontline work they are doing in saving the soul of the California Democratic Party (“State Dems pass three pro-Israel resolutions”).

As co-founders of Progressive Zionists of California, they are doing the important work of educating Democrats about the natural alliance between Zionism and progressive values, and pushing back against the pernicious attempt to pit one against the other.

Thanks to their efforts and those of their colleagues, the California Democratic Party has now adopted language that validates that Jews are a people who, like all other peoples, have a right to self-determination; explicitly acknowledges that anti-Zionism can be a form of collective anti-Semitism, in which Israel is targeted as a symbol for the Jewish people; and spells out in detail the many guises in which anti-Semitism masks itself.

These are historic achievements and I for one breathe a little easier knowing that California Democrats have my back. Thank you, Susan and Matthew and Progressive Zionists of California.

Malka Weitman

Cherry-picking the Constitution

There is more to the Constitution than the Second Amendment, which two letter-writers in the last edition of this esteemed journal, like many on the right, find it convenient to ignore (“Flawed reasoning on gun control,” “The point of the Constitution”).

There is the 14th Amendment, which gives the right of citizenship to anybody born on American soil, under attack from the current administration. There is the right of the president to appoint justices to the Supreme Court (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2), which the U.S. Senate, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, flouted when it refused to consider Merrick Garland for the court almost nine months before the 2016 election. The Constitution is open to interpretation by the courts, but you can’t just pick and choose which parts you are going to accept, even if you are a senator.

About the Second Amendment, Mr. Astrachan in his letter states that the ownership of firearms is a right under the Constitution. Like all the people who put their so-called right to own whatever weapon of mass destruction they want over the public’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which might include going to the Gilroy Garlic Festival without fear of being shot), he conveniently ignores the first part of the amendment, which talks about the need for a militia. It is the militia’s right to bear arms that the amendment is about.

On another note, our president talked about Jewish loyalty. My question would be this: Who is more disloyal to our heritage than the Jew who supports a man who ran on a platform of racial hatred and continues to spew racist lies, anti-Semitic and otherwise? That is not only disloyal to the Jewish people, but to the United States of America, where Jews have been given the freedom to live freely and safely, able to achieve more than anywhere before in history.

Danny Yanow
San Francisco

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