Smile aside, Emma Goss was disappointed by the "Hanukkah Lights" night at Filoli House and Gardens in Woodside.
Smile aside, Emma Goss was disappointed by the "Hanukkah Lights" night at Filoli House and Gardens in Woodside.

No to ‘assimilated’ Hanukkah; Billoo isn’t antisemitic; etc.

That’s not why I signed

I signed the letter on discourse from the Committee of Concerned Rabbis in part because one of my teachers, Rabbi Wolpe, helped author it (“Dozens of rabbis warn Jews are ‘self-censoring’ on race and gender,” Dec. 15). I signed it because a child of a dear friend was hurt, and she saw this as a way to support her and her family. Finally, I signed it because I believe in free and open discourse and worry that we are becoming increasingly separated by our political viewpoints.

I understand why some people were offended by the letter and felt it was against gender equality and diversity. That is not how I read it and it does not represent my beliefs. Further, I was unaware in signing it that the letter was sponsored and funded by the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values. I had never heard of this group before and have no intention of promoting or advocating for or against their views.

I signed this letter because I believe in ahavat Yisrael, the love of Jews for one another. We don’t have to agree with people to listen with genuine curiosity. We can be welcoming and inclusive even when we think someone is badly wrong. We should not silence people even when their views make us uncomfortable. I listen because I love Jewish people and my community and sacred humanity. I hope this letter can be in the service of listening and love of Jews for one another. Any other use is a profanation of my intent and signature.

Rabbi David Booth

Palo Alto

No ‘assimilated’ Hanukkah

Reporter Emma Goss attended “Hanukkah Lights” hosted by Filoli House and Gardens and found the host had no understanding of Hanukkah traditions, either in decor or food offerings (“I went to this glitzy event expecting Hanukkah lights, but I got bubkes,” Dec. 2). I wonder if disappointed Jewish visitors understand that the essence of our Hanukkah rituals is to protest against assimilation. Most of us learn about Hanukkah as children and never read the Books of the Maccabees because they are not included in the canon of Jewish scripture. The disturbing story recorded in Maccabees is of Jews rising up, not just against the Syrian Greeks, but also against their fellow countrymen. Led by Judah Maccabee, the warriors killed those who refused to renounce and oppose Hellenistic Judaism. They also forced conversions. From their perspective, their revolution was a battle to the death to preserve a Jewish state free from Greek influence of any kind.

Lighting menorahs for eight days commemorates the rededication of the Temple once it was cleansed of all Greek elements and the miracle that allowed a small amount of sacred oil to last eight days. The lighted menorah must be placed where it can be seen by the public. The lights are a form of speech, saying “We are still here and we are still Jews. We have not assimilated.” It seems to me that going to a secular, majority culture event to celebrate Hanukkah would be the very last thing the Maccabees would approve of. Next Hanukkah, those disappointed by the Filoli House and Gardens event should try attending one of the ubiquitous public menorah lightings sponsored by Jewish organizations.

Ruchama Burrell


Smile aside, Emma Goss was disappointed by the "Hanukkah Lights" night at Filoli House and Gardens in Woodside.
J. staff writer Emma Goss wrote about visitors’ disappointment with the “Hanukkah Lights” night at Filoli House and Gardens in Woodside.

Appreciated insights

The comments of Rafael Medoff (“2022 Olympians have a chance to protest China’s Uyghur genocide — just like brave athletes did during the Nazi games in 1936,” Dec. 10) are enlightening, especially with regards to the “pole vaulters and shot-putters” faced with the dilemma of whether or not to participate in the Winter Olympics in Beijing. I did not know those disciplines had been added to the winter sports menu and I look forward with great anticipation to viewing the pole vault on ice competition.

Louis H. Nevell

Los Angeles

Billoo is not antisemitic

Because Zahra Billoo gave a speech discussing the connections between Zionism and Islamophobia (“Prominent S.F. Muslim leader Zahra Billoo draws rebukes after warning about ‘polite Zionists,’” Dec. 8), the Jewish Community Relations Council has labeled her antisemitic. In doing so, however, they prove her point. By acting as if criticism of the politics of Zionism and its inevitable injustices is the same as hatred of the Jewish people and our religion, JCRC encourages its audience to condemn anyone who challenges Israeli policy.

A perfect example of this “Israel right or wrong” attitude is JCRC declaring it deplorable for Billoo to have questioned the feasibility of a two-state solution. Not only have actions of the Israeli government, such as approving the expansion of segregated Jewish-only settlements in Occupied Palestine and the criminalization of support for Palestinian rights, evinced their opposition to a Palestinian state, but Israeli government officials have openly declared that they are opposed to Palestinian autonomy. Human rights groups around the world, including in Israel, have condemned this posture. But JCRC calls it antisemitic to call for justice and democracy.

In her speech criticizing American Zionist organizations, Billoo made clear that she was not attacking them as Jews. Indeed, she called on her audience (American Muslims for Palestine) to continue to work closely with those Jewish organizations and individuals that call for an end to the Occupation.

Zionism is a political ideology. When Jews like me disagree with it because it has led to injustice, we are not antisemitic. By calling on our community to condemn those who criticize Israeli policy, and acting as if they speak for all Jews, JCRC actually draws the same connection between Zionism and Islamophobia as Billoo was highlighting.

Clyde D. Leland


Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, April 2018. (Photo/Flickr-Lorie Shaull CC BY 2.0)
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, April 2018. (Photo/Flickr-Lorie Shaull CC BY 2.0)

Zionism is not Judaism

I would like to respond to the email sent out by the JCRC on Dec. 7, and reported in the J. the following day (“Prominent S.F. Muslim leader Zahra Billoo draws rebukes after warning about ‘polite Zionists,’” Dec. 8), blasting Zahra Billoo, Northern California chair for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for supposedly antisemtic remarks.

There are more problematic issues contained in the JCRC’s statement than can be addressed within the 300-word limit requirement here, so perhaps this can be an opening of a wider discussion.

The JCRC labels Ms. Billoo’s comments as “dog whistle” politics, suggesting that one can replace “Zionism” with “Jews.” While the JCRC provides a definition for Zionism, it must be understood that there is no one accepted definition for Zionism and there are people of many faiths who use the term to mean a wide and often conflicting set of political, social, religious and spiritual ideals. Equating Zionism with Judaism leads to a gross mischaracterization of many progressive Jews who oppose repressive regimes wherever they operate, including Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

The JCRC further states that “The speech was antisemitic and deplorable, seeking to divide and besmirch efforts at cooperation and coexistence.”

I would like to point out the work Ms. Billoo and CAIR have done in reaching out to all communities, including Jews. CAIR marched along with a Jewish contingent at the MLK Day march in San Francisco several years ago. Ms. Billoo, and other CAIR staffers have personally attended and addressed interfaith gatherings for social justice that included Jews and Christians (such as the Poor People’s Campaign and Faith in Action Bay Area), and have reached out to foster relationships with local synagogues, including attending services. This is exactly what cooperation and coexistence look like.

We see the attacks on Ms. Billoo as exactly what the JCRC decries: dividing and besmirching such efforts.

Elliot Helman

San Francisco

Living in color

I’m a longtime reader of the J. and Janet Silver Ghent’s writing. I laughed out loud as I read her column about picking paint colors  (“If you want to live in a Smurf house, I can help with colors,” Dec. 2). I completely related. I was not laughing a few years back when having my living area completely redone. At last it was time to select the paint for the walls. I had some idea of the color palette that I wanted, but when faced with the endless choices, I nearly gave up. Finally I did manage to find two interesting gray, beige, taupe tones for my adjoining living and dining rooms. No one besides me can see that they are not the exact same color … you just need the right lighting!

Bette Siegel

Castro Valley

Jewish indigeneity is important

In his op-ed, “Jewish college students don’t belong on the front lines of fighting antisemitism,” (Dec. 14), Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman points out that ”students share experiences of being denied entrance to different groups because of their connection to Israel.”

A recent ADL report, “The Anti-Israel Movement on U.S. Campuses, 2020-2021,” identifies the campus anti-Israel movement as being led by “certain professors” as well as “Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)” which are “allied often with like-minded organizations such as to Young Democratic Socialists of America, Palestinian Youth Movement and American Muslims for Palestine.”

I therefore wonder why Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman’s terrific list of what we should be teaching our kids in college is missing lessons regarding the connection of the Jewish people to Israel. If Jewish kids don’t know about the importance of Israel to the Jewish people and are unable to confidently articulate it, they will be unable to fight this generation’s version of antisemitism, regardless of whether or not it is what they want to be doing. The opposite of “occupation” is “indigenous” and every Jewish kid needs to know that.

If we don’t teach our kids about their people’s long and strong connection to the land of Israel and how to counter propaganda and misinformation, we are doing ourselves and them a great disservice.

Sheree Roth

Palo Alto


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