A JewBelong sign in downtown San Francisco at First Street and Market Street. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
A JewBelong sign in downtown San Francisco at First Street and Market Street. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

Jews already belong; Ben & Jerry are right; let Artem marry; etc.

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Let’s get on offense vs. BDS

The rising tide of BDS resolutions in academic and professional associations (“Another S.F. labor group considering BDS resolution against Israel,” July 27) and the increasing antisemitic attacks from both the left and right need to be confronted in a coordinated effort by Israel and Jewish communities.

However, playing defense alone is not enough.

We need to be on offense in ways to engage our friends and allies in finding positive solutions that we can all support. The new Israeli government is committed to improving the lives of Israeli Arabs, West Bank Palestinians and Gazans through better civic life, economic development and respectful engagement.

The Abraham Accords support Palestinian investment, Israeli government recruitment of 2,500 Israeli Arab police for community safety, U.N. supervision of funds to rebuild Gaza and the resolution of residential requirements for the Southern Bedouin in the Negev. These are all practical and useful steps toward normalization and shrinking the conflict.

Negative pressure on Israel from outside just strengthens the hardliners and reinforces the Israeli public’s fear of implacable demands that imperil them. Let’s support the “radical center” in Israel that is aligning with Arab state allies, the U.S. administration and the EU to partner with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who want to live in peace, justice and economic benefit for all.

Jeff Saperstein

Mill Valley

JewBelong is a bad match

Stacy Stuart, a New Jersey–based media marketer and co-founder of JewBelong (Group floods S.F. with digital billboards to #EndJewHate, July 20) says “We’re trying to be a voice out there for a community of Jewish people [that] doesn’t necessarily feel seen or supported.”

Who says Bay Area Jews don’t feel supported, and who is she to say it?

Outbreaks of antisemitism in our communities, though despicable, are relatively rare, and when they do occur, experienced and trusted local organizations such as the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League know the community and know what to do. If anything, the crass e-neon signs and disjointed messages that JewBelong is posting are more likely to attract antisemitic activity rather than deter it.

Gary Sirbu


Good for Ben & Jerry’s!

I am a fourth-generation San Franciscan who, as an adult, lived in Israel for 6½ years in the 1970s, including during the Yom Kippur War — and who did all I could for Israel to win that war, such as volunteering through the mayor’s office to help families in Jerusalem and those of fallen soldiers (in addition to other tasks).

Ben & Jerry's co-founders Jerry Greenfield (left) and Ben Cohen serve ice cream following a press conference announcing a new flavor in Washington, D.C., Sept. 3, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Win McNamee-Getty Images)
Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield (left) and Ben Cohen serve ice cream following a press conference announcing a new flavor in Washington, D.C., Sept. 3, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Win McNamee-Getty Images)

In other words, I support Israel. I also applaud Ben & Jerry’s (“Ben & Jerry’s should have thought harder before starting their new ‘cold’ war,” J. editorial, July 27).

As you all probably know, after the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. In the 1970s, settlements were established, and have erupted like cancers on lands that belonged to Arabs ever since. (“Palestinian” was not the general term used in 1970. Incidentally, please let us remember there was never a country called Palestine. That incorrect assumption causes problems. Palestine was the general term for the Middle Eastern lands that were presided over by the British up until partition in 1948. Turkish rule was before that up until 1918.) In the 1970s, Israeli Jews who had participated in every one of that country’s wars since 1948 told me that the occupation was only meant to be temporary and the land belonged to the Arabs not the Jews.

There are many Israeli Jews to this day who agree. Many protest, some of them go down to help the Palestinians harvest their olive crops, some bring them medicine and clothing. Often, the Palestinians, because of Israeli regulations, have a difficult time getting to the olive groves that have been owned by their families for generations.

The settlements are intrusions into other people’s lands. Good for Ben & Jerry’s that they are drawing attention to these injustices.

Claudine Stevens

West Hollywood

Don’t forget Seymour Fromer

Peter L. Stein’s superb article “Why S.F. is home to the world’s oldest, longest-running Jewish film festival” (July 22) omits the role of Seymour Fromer, founding director of the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, in mentoring and providing an institutional home at the Magnes for hundreds of young, creative Jews who were drawn to the Bay Area, especially in the 1960s and ’70s. Fromer recognized the unique Jewish cultural renaissance occurring at that time and served as an inspiring force for Deborah Kaufman’s creation of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

He played a similar role for others, including Fred Rosenbaum (founder of Lehrhaus Judaica), MacArthur award winner Aaron Lansky (founder of the Yiddish Book Center), award-winning filmmakers Bill Chayes and Vivian Kleiman, Lev Liberman (founder of the Klezmorim, the world’s first Jewish klezmer revival band), David Moss (world-renowned Hebrew calligrapher and illuminator) and Victor Reis (one of the greatest metal craftsman of the 20th century). During this same period, under Fromer’s direction, Jewish Gold Rush era cemeteries were restored, the Western Jewish History Center was created and cutting-edge art shows were being exhibited.

Harold Lindenthal

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Backing BDS is OK in CA

In his July 22 letter to the editor (“Teachers’ BDS stand is illegal”), attorney Jerome Garchik says he felt compelled “to comment on the legal aspects” of the S.F. teachers’ union resolution supporting BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions). He advises that, under AB 2844, the union can be prohibited from doing business with the state of California because of that resolution.

Members of the United Educators of San Francisco, the union that represents the school district's teachers, rally for Proposition 15 in Oct. 2020. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)
Members of the United Educators of San Francisco, the union that represents the school district’s teachers, rally for Proposition 15 in Oct. 2020. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)

Garchik is mistaken.

It is true that, in its original form, AB 2844 sought to penalize state contractors who supported BDS. However, that version of the bill was deemed to violate constitutional guarantees of free speech by leading civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild. This is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., which recognized that a boycott to influence political change constitutes speech on public issues, and as such “rests on the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.” AB 2844 was revised in order to pass constitutional muster, and, in its final form, essentially reiterates existing California anti-discrimination law applicable to businesses and state contractors.

Although the bill gratuitously insinuates that those who have a policy against Israel may discriminate under the “pretext” of free speech, the law remains the same: To constitute unlawful discrimination, it must be shown that a California business has discriminated against a person within California based on a protected category, such as race, religion or national origin. BDS does not fall within this definition, since it is directed against businesses or institutions that profit from Israel’s occupation and other violations of international law.

Garchik is correct that the BDS resolution is “controversial.” But the right to engage in controversial speech without being punished by the state is at the heart of First Amendment protection

Carol Sanders


Inspiring story in Olympics

A heartwarming international sports story reached a remarkable conclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (“All the Jewish athletes to watch at the Tokyo Olympics,” July 6).

Two years ago, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei was ordered by Iranian officials to intentionally lose a semifinal match at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo to avoid facing Israeli Sagi Muki in the tournament final (which Muki won). Sadly, this has long been the policy of the Iranian government, which denies Israel’s right to exist and refuses to let its athletes compete with Israelis.

Israel’s Sagi Muki celebrates after winning in the men’s under 81 kg weight category during the European Judo Championship in Tel Aviv, April 27, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Roy Alima-Flash90)
Sagi Muki celebrates after a win at the European Judo Championship in Tel Aviv, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Roy Alima-Flash90)

However, Mollaei courageously publicly exposed what Iran had done and defected, eventually becoming a citizen of Mongolia. He then formed a close friendship with Muki, which blossomed when Mollaei visited Tel Aviv for a tournament earlier this year.

Fittingly, their story, which began in Tokyo amid controversy, ended there in triumph, as both Mollaei and Muki won medals at this year’s Olympics.

Mollaei, representing Mongolia, won a silver in his individual event, which he dedicated in part to Israel in gratitude for the country’s support, saying: “Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel. I hope the Israelis are happy with this win.” He added in Hebrew: “Todah” (thank you). Muki didn’t medal in that event, but said he was “super happy for Saeid,” adding, “He’s a very close friend of mine, and I’m so happy that he succeeded in achieving his dream. He deserves it — his journey is incredibly inspiring.”

Soon after, Muki earned his own medal — a bronze as part of Israel’s mixed judo team.

Mollaei and Muki then celebrated by posing together for photos, hugging, smiling and displaying to the world not only their medals, but also something even more precious — their close friendship.

Stephen A. Silver

San Francisco

Marriage for all in Israel

I think it’s important to point out that the Olympic victory of Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat (“Israeli gymnast wins country’s second-ever gold medal,” online only, Aug. 2) is shaded and ironic because he has been unable to wed his longtime girlfriend. According to halachic law, he is not Jewish (his father is Jewish, his mother is not).

As the father of two wonderful adults who were raised in the Jewish faith and have always proudly identified as Jewish, I continually am rankled that Israel’s civil mechanisms are controlled by ultra-Orthodox who deny my childrens’ self-identification because of biology. The idea that the citizens of an ostensibly democratic society must bend to the demands of the most reactionary element of that society in order to participate in some of the most fundamental rights of passage for individuals is utterly wrong and must be changed.

Let the Chief Rabbinate continue to rule over the realm of religious rites and responsibilities, but remove his control over the inalienable rights of Israel’s citizens to live, love and marry as they choose by providing a mechanism for civil marriage of “non-halachic” Jews.

Judaism should be a faith, not a biological destiny, and I am fairly sure I am not alone in hoping that this discriminatory, unnecessary and utterly repugnant situation will soon be rectified.

Robert Sherman

Santa Clara

Empathy for victims, police

Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff gave a compelling account of the deep impact which a visit to San Quentin 46 years ago had upon himself and other Camp Swig counselors. (“The lasting impact of a 1975 Camp Swig visit to San Quentin prison,” July 21). This encounter with those incarcerated there stimulated a deep strain of empathy amongst those involved.

Unfortunately, however, this empathy seems never to extend to crime victims whose pain and suffering is what leads to imprisonment in the first place.

This omission is all the more striking coming at a time of spiking violent crime rates in many urban areas across the nation. A recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle cited a 24 percent increase in 2021 homicides nationally versus the same period in 2020. Closer to home, in Oakland, homicides for the first half of 2021 numbered 65 compared to 34 for the same period in 2020; overall in Oakland, there were 102 homicides in all of 2020 compared to 75 in 2019 (all data from S.F. Chronicle).

There is a current emphasis on racial justice by so many, including much of the organized Jewish community, yet these homicide victims are disproportionately Black. The most recent FBI data shows that 13 percent of the population account for 44 percent of the nation’s homicide victims. Nevertheless, these victims fly under the radar.

The prevalent hostility toward law enforcement seems to have inhibited proactive policing and thus contributed to the crime wave and its attendant human suffering. Noted criminologist Peter Moskos recently wrote, “What changed in 2020 is that policing itself came under unprecedented pressure, brought on by the murder of Mr. Floyd.”

We must insist on police accountability when misconduct occurs.  But let’s not lose sight of either the vital importance of police work or of its inherent dangers.

We should appreciate the professionalism of the vast majority of officers who face danger every day to assure the safety of the general public. They need our support and deserve our gratitude.

Steve Astrachan

Pleasant Hill

Critical race bleary

Critical Race Theory is considered by its opponents as being a twin of Marxism.

Indeed, both CRT and Marxism have common features, such as dividing people on oppressors and oppressed, privileged and marginalized, glorifying revolutionaries/terrorists, etc. Most importantly, they both are based on one fundamental belief: rejection of evolutionary changes for the sake of a total destruction of a system that does not satisfy their material and ideological demands.

Separated by roughly 200 years, Marxism and CRT arrived at their core belief from different angles. As capitalism was gaining strength in the 19th century, Marx witnessed the hardships and injustices imposed by it on the workers, whom he called “proletariats.” He didn’t foresee the evolution of capitalism brought by unions (shortening the work week from an average of 61 hours up through 1880, ending child labor, winning widespread employer-based health coverage) and government intervention (introducing welfare system, Social Security, Medicare, etc.).

Marx’ prescription: Proletariats of all countries unite, wreck the existing system and on its ruins build a new world.

As for CRT, its advocates present American history in strictly racial terms, ignoring the well-known and documented facts. By their accounts, since the slaves’ arrival on the continent, racism has become a dominant institutionalized force in the American “system of power.” American evolution by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, Civil Rights legislations, a two-term Black president, a Black woman vice president make no difference to them. They blindly march into the brick wall of ignorance with the same refrain: “So what?”And, as Marx, they are enthusiastically calling for breaking down the existing system and building a new paradise of equity and justice.

We’ve seen this picture before, from the former Soviet Union to Cuba, and it isn’t pretty.

Vladimir Kaplan

San Mateo

J. Readers

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