Ken Burns speaking at the Library of Congress in 2019 (Photo/Shawn Miller-Library of Congress)
Ken Burns speaking at the Library of Congress in 2019 (Photo/Shawn Miller-Library of Congress)

JCRC mayoral forum should be more inclusive; Ken Burns wrong on FDR; etc.

JCRC mayoral forum should be more inclusive

On Sept. 15, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council will present the “Jewish Community Oakland Mayoral Candidate Forum.” Unfortunately, JCRC may have made a potentially serious error when they invited only three out of 10 eligible candidates to participate in their sponsored forum. Not only does the omission deprive the Oakland Jewish community of hearing from all candidates on relevant topics, but the metric the JCRC seems to have used for selection early in the campaign cycle was “top three fundraisers.”

Given the astounding financial inequalities in Oakland and the top-heavy nature of political fundraising, using a financial metric may send a negative message about the Jewish community. Should the Jewish community only get to hear from candidates with early fundraising success, rather than those with fresh ideas?

It would be far more inclusive, in my opinion, to grant all eligible candidates an opportunity to address the Oakland Jewish community. Ben Zoma’s line from Pirkei Avot 4:1 further underscores the need to invite all candidates: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.”

Jonathan Carey

Ken Burns wrong on FDR

Your Q&A with filmmaker Ken Burns said that “widespread anti-immigrant sentiment … hampered President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ability to liberalize the country’s immigration policy” (“Ken Burns on his new series, ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust,’” Sept. 16).

But public opinion was not in charge of U.S. immigration policy. President Roosevelt was. It was FDR who decided to suppress immigration below what the existing law permitted. Public opinion did not force him to do that.

By piling on excessively burdensome regulations and requirements, the Roosevelt administration ensured that the quota of immigrants to the U.S. from Nazi Germany was filled in only one year during the Hitler era (1933-1945); and in the majority of those years, less than 25% was filled. More than 190,000 quota places that could have been used for Jewish refugees instead sat unused. That wasn’t because of public sentiment; it was because of President Roosevelt’s policy.

Burns is mistaken when he claims that the number of refugees the U.S. admitted during those years (he estimates 225,000) was “more than any other nation.”

In fact, the British authorities admitted more than 315,000 Jewish refugees to the United Kingdom, to British-ruled Palestine and to other British-governed territories. And the Soviet Union took in some 300,000 Jews fleeing from Nazi-occupied Poland from 1939 to 1941. Both of those figures were far more than the number of Jewish refugees the Roosevelt administration admitted during those years.

Rafael Medoff
Director, David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies
Washington, D.C.

Law dean omits a vital right

I was offended by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s recent whitewash of the antisemitic BDS activity at UC Berkeley (“Dean of Berkeley Law: Don’t generalize about BDS on campus,” Aug. 29).

Chemerinsky’s failure to provide unequivocal support for the Title VI rights of Jewish and Israeli students is but a sad commentary on the intolerance that prevails in academia.

Kevin Gross

A modern Rip Van Winkle?

After reading that Erwin Chemerinsky has spent 15 years as law school dean at UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, I am reminded of the story of Rip Van Winkle. Asleep for 20 years, he woke up, surprised at all he had missed.

Chemerinsky seems surprised, too, by the current epidemic of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, antisemitic activities sweeping across U.S. university campuses.

He claims there’s often a “false narrative” about college campuses — including Berkeley’s — “that there is significant antisemitism and that [many campuses] are not hospitable for Jews.” That, Chemerinsky declares, is “nonsense.”

The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)
The Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. (Photo/Tristan Harward via Wikimedia Commons)

At Berkeley, he adds, “I have seen little antisemitism among our faculty, staff and students at Berkeley Law or on the campus.” Contrary evidence exists, as documented by the Amcha Initiative, which investigates, documents and monitors antisemitism on some 450 U.S. campuses. Dean Chemerinsky fears that the media “is using this minor incident to paint a misleading picture” of his law school and campus. (Minor? Several Berkeley Law student groups demanding a “No Zionist speakers” compliance from other law student groups?!)

Chemerinsky is correct: “It is no more antisemitic to criticize Israeli policies than it is anti-American to criticize the policies of the federal government.”

But doesn’t he know that Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine are not criticizing Israeli politics? Doesn’t he know that that “small group of students” (as he calls them) representing the global BDS movement is working to erase the existence of a Jewish state?

June Brott
Walnut Creek

‘Victory’ for Muslim families

I am a Jewish parent of a Jewish alum of the San Francisco Unified School District. Like many readers of J., we went through 13 years of dealing with our religious holiday schedule vs. the SFUSD holiday schedule (“S.F. school board facing legal questions about new Muslim holidays policy,” Aug. 18).

For the High Holidays, the draw of family, culture and tradition won out during some years, and my kid attended services and spent time at home with family. There were other years when the obligations of schoolwork and assignments won out, and there was an empty seat next to me in the synagogue.

This was no different from my own experiences growing up. It is part of being a minority within a larger society. I always felt it is just part of being Jewish in America. At no time did I, and I’m sure my child, feel unseen, unappreciated or unvalued.

I have been particularly disappointed in how the Jewish Community Relations Council has chosen to approach the issue. I question the comments of CEO Tyler Gregory, who in the article stated that the school board’s recognition of the Eid holidays sends a message to the Jewish community that we are “chopped liver” (i.e., unimportant). An email blast also went out to the JCRC list on Aug. 25 titled “Update on SFUSD holiday controversy.” Using such a subject heading is creating controversy where I believe none exists.

There are many ways of recognizing and celebrating the multitude of backgrounds and customs that are present in our community.

I prefer to see this victory by the Muslim community as cause to celebrate with my Muslim neighbors, and as an opening to work with them and others in exploring ways to celebrate my own holidays with them and with the SFUSD community.

Elliot Helman
San Francisco

U.S. should follow Poland’s lead

It is a small satisfaction to me that a psychopath like Jon Minadeo and his friend Robert Wilson were arrested in Poland after holding up their disgusting banners outside of Auschwitz (“Polish police arrest Minadeo during white supremacist tour of Europe,” online, Sept. 4).

Now I would hope that they are incarcerated as Poland’s law prescribes for two years.

These ruffian antisemites are part of Goyim Defense League, a group that has promulgated major antisemitic propaganda in Los Angeles as well as in Northern California. Do you recall the spectacle they created in the streets of L.A. with their virulent signs, slogans and screams?

Two men hold up signs in front of Auschwitz.
Jon Minadeo Jr. (right) at Auschwitz

Minadeo and his followers have gotten away with spreading hatred and lies under the misuse of “freedom of speech.” They have attacked Jewish organizations such as the ADL through social media posts, graffiti, verbal attacks and ugly anti-Jewish flyers, among other things.

In the U.S., there are too many ways that destructive, xenophobic behavior can find protection under the law. We must put in place laws similar to Poland that will fine, incarcerate or punish persons spewing lies and hatred and upholding evil people and events such as Hitler and the Holocaust.

I share this with others in memory of my family and others from Chelem, Poland, who died in concentration camps by the hands of people like them.

Pablo Nankin
Beverly Hills

Stuttering piece was right on

Cantor Malachi Kanfer’s recent first-person piece was truly remarkable (“Sanctifying the stutter: How I embraced my speech disorder as a Jewish cantor,” Aug. 24).

I just wish that every kid in middle school and high school could read his words of being steadfast in overcoming his speech hurdle. Cantor Kanfer could definitely be a role model.

Stuttering affects the Jewish community in the same numbers as any other population, which is 1% of adults and 5% of children. The Israeli Stuttering Association is a dynamic organization. Here in the U.S., the Stuttering Foundation of America ( has a “Famous People Who Stutter” list that has many many Jewish people such as Walter Annenberg, Jonathan Miller, Sidney Gottlieb, Peggy Lipton and many many more.

Adam Lichter
Springfield, Mass.

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