a bald man with a short bear leans on a bookcase
Rabbi Daniel Lehmann at Hebrew College in Boston, the institution he led before his brief tenure at the Graduate Theological Union.

Call Jew-hatred what it is; GTU controversy, for and against; stolen Yemini material at S.F. State; etc.

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It’s about hate, not a hyphen

Your Aug. 6 editorial (“Dropping the hyphen: Why this publication is changing its spelling of antisemitism”) did not explain what difference a hyphen does or does not make.

Yes, you did explain that there is no such thing as “Semitism” to be “anti.” But how does not hyphenating or capitalizing change anything, especially when you only hear the word? You can’t hear a hyphen or a capital letter, and you will not notice if they are missing. So why use the word, in any form at all? That only perpetuates its popularity.

The Wikipedia entry for “Anti-Semitism” says: “The compound word Antisemitismus (“antisemitism”) was first used in print in Germany in 1879 as a scientific-sounding term for Judenhass (“Jew-hatred”), and this has been its common use since then.”

The word “antisemitism” in any form is a way to hide the fact that we are speaking about people who hate and/or fear Jews.

Additionally, the “-ism” ending sounds as if it is Judaism that is being opposed, not the people, and this is seldom the case. When there are anti-Asian, anti-Black or anti-Chicano incidents, those words tell it like it is.

I have not used “antisemitism” in any form for the 40 years I have been a rabbi. The phenomenon we are discussing is “being anti-Jew” or “Jew-hatred” at the least, and “Jew-phobia” at worst. Those are the only terms I use.

The only time I feel it is journalistically appropriate to use it is when quoting someone who has said it, in which case it was oral and may be spelled as you wish. Or, if it was written, it should be cited as the author spelled it. And if they used capital letters and hyphens, you can modify it with the explicit double entendre.

Rabbi Ari Cartun
Palo Alto

Call it what it is

Anti-Semitism? Antisemitism? Call it what it is: Jew Hatred!

Scott Abramson
San Mateo

GTU: Israel supporters welcome

This is in response to your Aug. 6 article about the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (“Was this rabbi too pro-Israel to head GTU?”)

The GTU has never been a stranger to the important and insightful conversations that emerge in the face of difference. Established in 1962 as a consortium of seminaries of various Christian denominations, it was expanded to include the Center for Jewish Studies just a few years later. Indeed, in the words of William D. Glenn, chair of the GTU board of trustees, “Jews and Jewish tradition, culture and studies are essential to the life of the GTU.”

Over the course of our history, our GTU community — which today includes many more centers and programs focusing on an array of the world’s wisdom traditions — has courageously engaged with differences of opinion on issues such as gay marriage, clergy of various gender identifications and race relations, as well as Israel-Palestine.

The GTU is the proud home to students, faculty, administrators and leaders who hold a wide range of values and belief systems, and is committed to maintaining a campus and an academic environment that fosters a pluralistic culture where we can constructively dialogue on matters of commonality and difference.

In that spirit, we wish to reiterate two key points for your readers:

1. The GTU affirms that those who support Israel are and will continue to be welcome on campus, as attested to in our track record of hiring Israeli faculty, providing fellowships for study in Israel, as well as serving as host to unprecedented dialogue among students and faculty engaged in Jewish and Islamic studies, and representing a wide range of views on Israel-Palestine.

2. The GTU condemns hatred in all of its forms, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

The GTU encompasses an enviable set of connections that traverse religious and political divides. In a time of global and national crisis and polarization, we pride ourselves on creating an environment that fosters the vital opportunities for encounter, coexistence and transformation needed to lead us in the direction of creating a better world for all.

We hope that readers of your account will become curious about the GTU and learn more about the dynamic individuals, relationships, courses and programs that make us who we are.

Uriah Y. Kim
President, GTU

GTU can’t be led by a Zionist

I have worked in Israel with Israeli colleagues since 1976, and am well aware of the issues in Israel-Palestine. I am also a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, despite strongly disagreeing with the group’s prior criticism of activist Alison Weir; the vast majority supported her.

For Rabbi Daniel Lehmann to pronounce he is a political Zionist makes him suspect of not respecting and honoring the right of the other (i.e. of Palestinians) that is a core value of the Graduate Theological Union’s mission. This is why he should not be leading an entity such as the GTU.

I never cease to be amazed at the vitriol directed at Weir, of If Americans Knew, because she dares to report about the Jim Crow and apartheid policies and actions of the State of Israel. She is a wonderful, moral person of high integrity. But folks who conflate the State of Israel with Judaism, an honored religion, for political purposes, all too often call valid criticism of the State of Israel antisemitic.

And yet pro-Israel groups routinely seek to discredit critics, to get them dismissed from employment or just simply smear them. This is all-too-common, incredibly shameful, unethical, boorish behavior.

As a minority, I was proud and grateful that Jews were in leading roles in the civil rights movement, in farm workers’ struggles, Black Lives Matter and other righteous causes, only to find a large blindspot when it comes to the right and suffering of the Palestinians in the Levant.

Americans are learning about Israel, but unfortunately it is too late for a two-state solution, so a single secular state, or a permanent apartheid system, seem to be the options. Mass ethnic cleansing as occurred in 1947-48 is not an option.

I suppose some of you will wrongly call me an antisemite, but this speaks more about the accuser than me.

Andrew Gutierrez
Professor emeritus, UC Berkeley

The Rabbi Lehmann mystery

Gabe Stutman’s extremely well-researched article about the mysterious departure of Rabbi Daniel Lehmann from his appointment as the first Jewish president of the Graduate Theological Union (of which I am an alumnus) — sheds some light on what has been hush-hushed in the Bay Area academic community.

Lehmann, a talented, dedicated, admired and capable professional, was targeted by one specific activist, Alison Weir, as soon as she became aware of his appointment.

Using her network to create controversy, sow discord and plant false accusations, Weir managed to inject enough poison into the bloodstream of GTU to achieve her goal: that of having Lehmann and GTU go their separate ways.

Weir is the founder of the If Americans Knew website that publishes one-sided content directed against Israel. I’m not interested in giving her more press here, only to direct those who are interested to research her themselves.

What I am interested in discovering, and what Stutman’s article could only touch upon, is why the “hush-hush.” Why won’t GTU give out anything more than the blandest of treacle-laced platitudes in response to inquiries by this reporter? Why has every mouth at GTU been shut and all responses referred to only one official spokesperson, who says nothing about what actually happened to Lehmann?

While off-the-record contacts at GTU broadly hint that the whole story isn’t known, we wonder why.

Lehmann has had a long, respectable career. If he had to leave GTU because of personal or family reasons, he — like every other leader of an institution the size and stature of GTU finding personal circumstances to compel them to make a sudden, abrupt career change — would have said so upon their departure. Privacy would be both expected and offered, and there would be no story here, nor a missing link.

a low brick building with blue trim
The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library is considered the “heart of the GTU campus both physically and intellectually,” according to the Graduate Theological Union website. (Photo/Gabe Stutman)

My fear is that GTU failed the president they spent months searching for, vetting, introducing to the community and lauding until they went radio silent.

My fear is that GTU is so afraid to rock the BDS boat, so fearful of the immense social and economic backlash should they be perceived as supporting “Zionism” by employing Daniel Lehmann that they didn’t have his back when he most needed them.

My fear is that GTU is treading water and waiting for the storm to pass, hoping nobody would notice.

We noticed.

GTU is my alma mater. I’m proud to say my MA in Jewish studies came from the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies at the GTU. I never experienced anything but academic excellence, total inclusion, diversity, high standards and a wonderful atmosphere at this amazing consortium of religious schools and centers of learning.

However, I’m feeling a lot of disappointment at my alma mater for not covering Rabbi Lehmann when the haters came gunning for him, and I’m disappointed at the lack of outreach they’ve done to alumni like myself (and presumably the student body, as well) to address the question of what really happened here.

As for Rabbi Lehmann, I will miss him and wish him all the best. B’hatzlacha and may his next gig be better than the last one.

Lorelai Kude

GTU is ‘inclusive, brave’

This is in response to your recent article about the GTU. For a number of years, I have served as a member of the board of trustees at the GTU and of the advisory committee for its Richard S. Dinner Center of Jewish Studies. In both capacities I am continually inspired by the GTU’s educational endeavors, culture of interreligious inclusivity and commitment to fostering a pluralistic community.

As a board member who also is a committed, lifelong Jewish and pro-Israel activist, I believe deeply in the GTU and have full confidence that the institution will continue to maintain an inclusive and welcoming environment, including toward those who support Israel.

One of the school presidents in the GTU consortium talks about creating “brave space” at the GTU, meaning a space to courageously and authentically explore our differences. It is a community where challenging conversations can and do take place across various faith traditions, value systems and worldviews in an atmosphere of deep mutual respect.

In this day and age, there are precious few spaces remaining to have such conversations, and I encourage your readers to learn more about this hidden gem adjacent to UC Berkeley, including the public programs of the Center for Jewish Studies.

I am grateful for Rabbi Daniel Lehmann’s accomplishments during his tenure, including his innovative ideas for how to strengthen the institution. His successor, Uriah Y. Kim, will build upon these ideas and bring his own vision, as well.

Rabbi Doug Kahn
San Francisco

Jews at GTU are ‘tolerated’

I read Gabe Stutman’s recent article about the GTU with great interest. I received my Ph.D. in 1978 from the GTU and UC Berkeley in a joint program that no longer exists. My specialty was Biblical studies with an emphasis on ancient Near Eastern religions. I took classes at both the GTU and UC Berkeley’s Department of Near Eastern Studies. My experience was mostly positive, and the instructors at the GTU didn’t seem to mind my Jewishness in their classes. I fondly recall late professor Victor Gold being very kind to me. Other professors were simply tolerant but not hostile.

Several years after I graduated, a position became open to teach Biblical studies at the Pacific School of Religion (a member of the GTU) and I applied. I did not get the job and I was not interviewed. I was told that PSR was interested in a Christian perspective for the course and that I, a Jew, could not fill that slot.

I was devastated because I had received my advanced degree from the GTU and I must have imagined that the GTU was an open, welcoming place. The job went to a graduate student who did not have his Ph.D.

My current impression is that not much has changed. Tolerated but not overtly welcomed.

I ended up dropping out of academe and became an attorney.

Alice L. Perlman

Good riddance of a bust

The works donated to the Asian Art Museum by Avery Brundage include pieces from German Jewish collectors stolen by Hitler (“S.F. Asian Art Museum to remove bust of founding donor with antisemitic views,” July 23).

Bust of older white man displayed in museum entryway
The bust of Avery Brundage, located near the visitor’s entrance of the S.F. Asian Art Museum. (Photo/Courtesy S.F. Asian Art Museum)

Hitler gave them to his pal Brundage in appreciation for getting the U.S. to participate in the 1936 Nazi Olympics. Brundage assured the U.S. Olympic Committee that antisemitism was nonexistent in Hitler’s Germany.

Richard Riffer

Anti-Zionism is flourishing

Regarding Todd Silverstein’s recent letter to J. (“Good topic, poor execution,” Aug. 7), my July 24 opinion piece, to which he was referring, was not a deep dive into Peter Beinart’s scurrilous screed on the dissolution of the Jewish State of Israel; both Bret Stephens and Daniel Gordis have done that by demolishing Beinart in no uncertain way.

Rather, my op-ed piece was to indicate the New York Times was willing to give space to an article calling for the disappearance of a sovereign state — something its editors would certainly not allow for any other sovereign country in the world.

And shame on Silverstein for stating Beinart’s article calling for the end of the Jewish State of Israel has “strong, reasoned argument.”

As for Silverstein’s assertion that “anti-Zionist [Bay Area university] faculty are a minority, ” the facts strongly suggest otherwise.

Harvard professor emeritus Ruth Wisse recently stated that on university campuses, the only minority permitted to be subjected to verbal abuse and vilification are the Jewish students, all too often aided, abetted and incited by their teachers.

And recently, USC President Carol Folt sent a letter to her university’s community after the resignation of Rose Ritch, vice president of undergraduate student government. Folt wrote that Ritch, in her resignation letter, wrote about the “toxic conditions that led to her decision, specifically the antisemitic attacks on her character and the online harassment she endured because of her Jewish and Zionist identities.”

This can be added to the record of such occurrences, one that continues to grow and grow, maintained by the Amcha Initiative on their website.

Mervyn Danker
San Mateo

Stolen items in SFSU library?

SFSU professor and journalist Chanan Tigay’s recognition is well deserved, as the story told in “The Lost Book of Moses: The Hunt for the World’s Oldest Bible” takes the reader back to a forgotten time in Jerusalem, almost 150 years ago, and raises an important issue of more than local interest (“Tigay wins Cowan literary prize for Biblical whodunnit,” July 28.)

When the book was published in 2016, J. wrote about the Yemenite collection held at San Francisco State’s Sutro Library, which plays a critical role in Tigay’s tale (“On display: Yemenite scroll that solved the mystery?”).

In his book, Tigay relates that Moses Shapira traveled in 1879 to Yemen, where he acquired more than 100 religious scrolls and books, dating from the 13th to 19th centuries from the ancient Yemeni Jewish community (whose descendants now reside in Israel). After Shapira’s death, his estate sold these to soon-to-be-S.F.-mayor Adolph Sutro in 1894.

Tigay explains that a cloud has hung over Shapira’s acquisition of the Yemeni collection, citing sources that Shapira either “stole these books or removed them for a pittance.” One cited report was that Shapira wrested a treasured scroll from a Yemeni synagogue, aided “by a contingent of Turkish soldiers.”

Chanan Tigay, shown here in Venice, crisscrossed the globe to research his book. (Photo/Emanuele Dello Strologo)
Chanan Tigay, shown here in Venice, crisscrossed the globe to research his book, “The Lost Book of Moses.” (Photo/Emanuele Dello Strologo)

This provenance has familiar and disturbing echoes, well known in our community, about Nazi looting of Jewish-owned art and religious books. For years, a U.S. court has been involved in assisting efforts to win back the famous Schneerson Library, held in Moscow, which the Red Army discovered in Germany at the end of World War II.

I think it behooves the Sutro Library at SFSU to seriously consider the questionable provenance of its Yemeni collection, and begin the process to restore it to the Yemeni community and religious institutions in Israel who are its rightful owners.

Jerome Garchik
San Francisco

Which Palestinians?

Regarding Eli Chanoff’s letter to J. (“Got to denounce Israel, too,” Aug. 7), I need some help.

When he speaks of “racist, state violence perpetrated against Palestinians,” is he talking about those Palestinians who are lobbing rockets into innocent Israeli towns (a war crime according to the Geneva Convention, by the way)?

Or is he talking about those Palestinians who’ve thrown rocks at passing cars, killing a 5-month-old boy, among others?

Or is he talking about the Palestinians who support Hamas and Hezbollah, avowed terrorist organizations?

Please enlighten me. I’m so confused.

Mark Snyder

It’s not Biden who’s the liar

Regarding David Berger’s letter to J. (“Biden’s ‘career of lying,’” Aug. 7), he offers no proof of his claim of Joe Biden’s so-called lying.

Trump lies every day. Just one example: He repeatedly claims that his administration passed the Veterans Choice Act. Trump signed a bill that has caused chaos at the Vet. The Veterans Choice Act, formally known as the Veterans’ Access to Care Through Choice Accountability and Transparency Act, was signed in 2014 by President Barack Obama.

As a fourth-generation Jewish San Franciscan who lived in Israel for 6½ years and volunteered during the Yom Kippur War, I find Trump’s actions regarding Israel a detriment to that country’s peace and security, especially his stand on West Bank annexation.

As for Charlottesville, I paid attention when known white supremacists and their ilk marched and shouted, “Jews will not replace us.” I remember Trump saying nothing. That takes away from my security and the security of my Jewish sisters and brothers in this country.

Claudine Stevens
Los Angeles

Face it: Trump fuels hate

This is in response to the letter to J. in which Ruth Parker expressed anger regarding the comment by S.F. Supervisor Dean Preston that Donald Trump is responsible for “normalizing” hate in the country (“’Fake News’ in J.” July 28).

Ms. Parker, how much proof do you need to see and hear the constant trope by the president as he rages against Mexicans, immigrants, Asians, and yes, even Jews?

Do you remember his statement (“very fine people, on both sides”) after the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville rioted and killed a young woman?

Why is it that those who support the most hate-filled president in modern times have such short memories of what he states in front of microphones on a near-daily basis? Why is it so hard to admit the truth?

Susan Hirshfield
Santa Rosa

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