A Purim party among the trees at Chabad of Grass Valley, which serves Jews throughout Nevada County. (Photo/Courtesy Chabad of Grass Valley)
A Purim party among the trees at Chabad of Grass Valley, which serves Jews throughout Nevada County. (Photo/Courtesy Chabad of Grass Valley)

Anatoly Smolkin needs help, not prison; How Nevada City used to treat Jews; etc.

Anatoly Smolkin needs help, not prison

It is disappointing that the “mental illness” part of J.’s headline “Local Jewish man with history of mental illness convicted of threatening S.F. synagogue” (Aug. 8) wasn’t the focus of the story when it should have been.

The issue is this: Why has someone so obviously dealing with mental challenges — that apparently are treatable — been thrust into the criminal justice system for over 12 years, when what he clearly needs is mandatory mental health support?

The Jewish institutions that the now-convicted Anatoly Smolkin verbally threatened are no doubt big proponents of tikkun olam.

So why do they turn a blind eye toward Anatoly’s unfortunate situation? 

The judge in the case would not allow evidence that he is a different person when on medication. As a family friend, I was a character witness for Anatoly during the trial. The judge had my comment to that effect struck from the record and told the jury not to consider the statement.

Is the answer to throw this man in jail again, kick the problem down the road, have him commit another felony for threatening behavior when he is eventually released (keeping in mind that he has never hurt anyone), and basically ruin the rest of his life?

Or should we help an extremely intelligent and compassionate individual become a productive member of society?

I suggest the Anti-Defamation League, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Congregation Emanu-El, etc. should view these mental illness situations through the lens of tikkun olam, and not assign criminal intent to a man proven incapable of controlling his own unfortunate verbal outbursts. 

Michael Marcus

Brightening the world

The opinion piece “Judy Heumann changed the lives of disabled people like me — on land and even at sea” (July 12) by Paul Bendix deeply resonated with me.

It reminded me that every bridge we construct in our lives paves the way for others to follow, and they, in turn, can build even more bridges, creating a beautiful symphony of change.

Each endeavor we undertake becomes a part of our lasting legacy. It fuels hope and strength for the generations that will come after us. That famous quote, “You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it,” serves as a powerful motivation to keep pushing forward. Our efforts leave an impact that ripples through time.

Let Judy’s story remind us all to build bridges of compassion and empowerment. With every step we take, we contribute to a brighter, more inclusive world, ensuring that our collective work becomes an enduring beacon of hope for the future.

Yasher koach, Paul!

Helena Weiss-Duman
Castro Valley

Balancing the scales in Israel

A recently published letter from Jon Kaufman of Oakland (“Dark times for Palestinians,” Aug. 1) questioned if the current democratically elected coalition government has “forgotten what democracy really means.”

He further asserted:  “The removal of the reasonableness clause and other actions by the current government undercuts democracy.” Sadly, he failed to explain how the actions of a democratically elected government undercut democracy itself.

The “reasonableness clause” itself is very troublesome to many legal minds because “reasonability” has not been codified in law and remains a subjective test that has different answers to different people.

One cannot have a rule of law if the law itself is not defined and applied uniformly to all. If such subjective tests remain a valid legal practice, then we have the rule of men, and not the rule of law.

Robert Fliegler
Daly City

DeSantis is not to be lauded

I am responding to Steve Astrachan’s letter of June 20, “Weaponizing the Holocaust,” in which he responded to my May 25 letter “Erasing History in Florida.”

He equated my comment that in Ron DeSantis we are seeing the “spreading of the banality of evil” with the accusation that this is “weaponizing the Shoah for political purposes.”

That comment is as shameful as it is insulting.

Mr. Astrachan makes the point that in 2020 DeSantis put into law a requirement that school districts teach Holocaust education. That is just fine, but has Mr. Astrachan considered that this requirement might just very well be about controlling what is taught about the Holocaust, so that it conforms to DeSantis’ anti-woke ideology. The banning of numerous books on the Holocaust in Florida would suggest just that.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a Jerusalem Post conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on April 27, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a Jerusalem Post conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on April 27, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)

The Anti-Defamation League has pointed out that “Florida is home to an extensive, interconnected network of white supremacists and other far right extremists.” It further points out that there is a significant rise of hate crimes and hate language in the state.

Could some of this be related to DeSantis’ use of Larry Jinks — a pastor who wrote on Facebook, “It’s a shame that the Jews, who should know better, reject their own Messiah (who fulfilled everyone of their prophecies),” meaning Jesus — in his campaign ads?

And where is the denouncement by DeSantis of the people with flags displaying Nazi insignia at Disney World in Florida recently? Many of these people were holding signs in favor of DeSantis.

The truth is that DeSantis wants it both ways: to hold on to his supremacist base and appease Jews. The spreading of a banality of evil? Yes, indeed.

Bruce Farrell Rosen
San Francisco

How Nevada City used to be

I was surprised and intrigued to read Dan Pine’s article on Jews finding tranquility in the Sierra foothills (“Jews are returning to Gold Country after panning city life,” Aug. 4).

I grew up in Nevada City from the third grade in 1933 — when my mother, father and I moved from Sacramento — until high school graduation in 1943. We were the only Jewish family in town, and we encountered rampant antisemitism.

One of my earliest memories was the day my fellow students surrounded me after school shouting, “Don’t let the Jew go home!” I’ll never forget when my classmate, Wendy Clark, broke the circle and whispered, “Betty, run!”

Wendy became my hero.

Another memory is the day I intercepted a note passed around in class. It read: “We’re having a party Friday night and everybody’s invited but the Jew.”

My mother often heard window shoppers outside our clothing store on Broad Street saying, “That’s a good looking sport jacket, but I won’t patronize the goddamned Jew.”

These are just a few examples of what we endured.

With it all, we survived and prospered. My father insisted we display exemplary behavior, hoping it would replace our neighbors’ prejudices with a positive impression of Jews everywhere. I became the star of the high school play, was valedictorian of my class, and headed to Cal with a scholarship. My folks contributed to the community and had some loyal customers and friends.

Still, all these years later, it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine a menorah on Broad Street.

I’m grateful to Dan Pine for providing me with an opportunity to reflect on the past and for an updated picture of a thriving Jewish community in Nevada City.

Betty Dvorson
San Francisco

Why I’m not in Gold Country

About 14 years ago, my wife and I had very seriously considered moving to the Grass Valley/Nevada City area (“Jews are returning to Gold Country after panning city life,” Aug. 4).

I had served as a locum tenens for a local physician and had even moved some of our belongings to a storage unit in Grass Valley while looking at houses. At that time, there was a very small shul which included two other physicians, who also asked me to join their group.

In the end, we felt that the drive there from where three of our four children live (S.F. Bay Area) was just a bit too far and the Jewish community was so small.

We did, however, love the area. To make a long story short, we moved to Forestville in rural Sonoma County.

Thanks for that great article.

Frank Hochman

Left-wingers will ruin Israel

Contrary to David and Rachel Biale (“Why aren’t American Jews joining Israeli expats in the streets?” July 31), the greatest danger facing Israel is not the attempt to rein in an out-of-control Supreme Court — one that has arrogated to itself the power to overturn any government decision or policy, not on the basis of any legal principles, but merely on the basis of “reasonableness,” that is, their personal opinions and preferences that don’t necessarily agree with traditional Jewish values.

A greater danger to Israel is an attempt by the extreme left to overthrow a democratically elected government and replace it with a regime that will seek to relegate Judaism itself to the margins of society, so people can feel free to flout its laws and commandments with no fear of consequences.

Protestors gather against Israel’s Netanyahu-led government’s judicial overhaul. (Photo/Forward-Mira Fox)
Protestors gather against Israel’s Netanyahu-led government’s judicial overhaul. (Photo/Forward-Mira Fox)

The Jewish nation was founded thousands of years ago on two central principles: the supremacy of God and the truth of His covenant. These are the principles that have sustained us as a people and a nation during 2,000 years of exile, and they are the principles that will continue to sustain us now that we have been restored to our homeland.

Israel’s destiny is to be a light to the nations by returning to the spiritual state we achieved on Mount Sinai, which we can only accomplish by fulfilling the commandments we were given there. We can only achieve our purpose by being true to these core principles, and by not being misled by any political movement, no matter how large, whose ultimate essence is rebellion against God, which can only end in disaster for the Jewish people.

Martin Wasserman
Palo Alto

‘Treyf as a cheeseburger’

In regard to the article “San Anselmo getting its own Jewish deli as Bubbala’s goes brick-and-mortar” (Aug. 1): An article about supposedly Jewish eateries without mention of their kosher status is shameful. Unless under kosher supervision, a restaurant’s fare is as treyf as a cheeseburger.

Yaakov Nurik

Holy Land’s downward turn

We are speaking out as supporters of J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy Jewish Americans.

The recent vote by the Netanyahu government to curtail the Israeli Supreme Court’s authority to overturn decisions that violate its “reasonableness standard” is a terrible blow to Israeli democracy.

This extreme-right Israeli government will now have an increasingly unrestricted hand to enact major appointments, dismissals and policies without fear that they could be overturned by the court.

This will almost certainly include deeply harmful new acts of annexation and expropriation in the West Bank, in pursuit of a one-state nightmare of permanent occupation and exclusive sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

This will continue to chip away at the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, Palestinians (both Israeli citizens and those in the occupied territory), non-Orthodox Jews and many others.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now in the streets, engaging in inspiring acts of protest and civil disobedience. Israeli military reservists, chiefs of staff and other security leaders are accusing the Netanyahu government of sabotaging Israel’s founding values and destroying the social contract with its citizens. These Israelis need the U.S. government’s full-throated support — now.

“Business as usual” from Congress and the White House is a recipe for failure.

J Street will continue to push U.S. officials to effectively challenge and deter the anti-democratic, far-right tidal wave that currently threatens to submerge our ally Israel.

Sarah Pattison & Brian Landsberg
Co-Chairs, J Street Sacramento Region chapter

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