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Letters to the Editor 

Week of April 3, 2002

The Radical Rabbi

The reality gap: As a former member of Dr. Lerner's organization -- five years ago called "Politics of Meaning" -- I read your feature with curiosity ("The Rabbi Who Would Save the World," March 20). I look back on that time with fondness and gratitude, because of many people I met then whom I still like or respect today.

Back then, I had no personal conflict with Dr. Lerner, unlike some other people, whom I witnessed undergoing struggles, tears, anger, and disillusionment with what they saw as his authoritarian leadership.

His approach eventually became irrelevant to me, however, because his utopian idealism, though inspiring, was too abstract and intellectualized. Too large of a gap existed between idealism and realism.

The message I got from him at the time was an important one -- that too much realism and not enough idealism leads to cynicism and despair. Conversely, however, too much idealism, unleavened with realism, leads to isolation in a fantasy world. History is full of examples. So many social formations, founded on an excess of idealism, have rendered otherwise mature adults vulnerable to childish dependency on charismatic leaders to do all the thinking, with tragic results.

Therefore I'm relieved to find out that Dr. Lerner's world has not collapsed in some terrible way, as I had feared it might. As for me, I believe the path of tikkun olam ["healing and repairing the world"] is a humble, step-by-step, and balanced walk. By planting one foot in realism and one in idealism, and keeping a small enough gap between them, I know real progress is possible.

Emily Han Zimmerman
Upper Noe Valley

Um, but Savage Love was funny, huh?: Peter Byrne and his editor are guilty of the most disgusting, biased, distorted, and insulting kind of writing (to use the word "journalism" is an insult to the field), as it attempted to create juicy, titillating copy at the expense of truth and fair play. [Byrne's] article about Rabbi Michael Lerner and his "controversial positions" has little basis in the truth of Michael's message and dismisses the importance of it with the cynicism that is too common in our society.

With all the horrible things happening in this world it is incredulous that you would create a hit piece against someone whose sole mission for the past decades has been to bring some sanity to horrific entanglements in which the world in general and the Middle East in particular are stuck. This should have been an article that elevates Rabbi Lerner as a person of uncommon will and spirit, whose attempts to spread a vision of a world where people see the beauty of creation and goodness in each other are to be applauded, not torn down. I cannot protest enough the vile way your article portrays Rabbi Lerner.

Larry Newhouse
Mill Valley

If the rabbi ruled the world: In the early '80s I attended a talk given by Michael Lerner during his left-wing radical phase. As he discussed the state of American politics, I was struck by his utter disdain for democracy and those who voted. It quickly became clear that Michael Lerner believed the world would be in much better shape if only people would recognize his genius and let him run things. It looks as if this megalomaniac has finally realized his dream by passing himself off as a New Age rabbi who now has God on his side.

Peter Goodman

Thanks for -- wait a minute, the Klan?: Thank you for your article about my rabbi, Michael Lerner. I enjoyed reading it but felt that the author misses the point of what Rabbi Lerner is about.

My wife and I determined that we would help Rabbi Lerner start the Beyt Tikkun synagogue, which we did. [We] went on to other endeavors, but I return occasionally, as Rabbi Lerner is the only rabbi I really connect with spiritually. However, Rabbi Lerner is not my guru, he is my rabbi.

His teachings, that the core message of the Hebrew scriptures is the creation of a world based upon love and caring, touch those of us turned off by a world whose direction is toward war, propagation of hatred, greed, turning [its] back on the homeless and hungry, and the missionizing of nonwhite peoples to make them subservient to the 25 percent of the world that controls 95 percent of the wealth.

During the turbulent '60s, I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (I was not then a Jew). I later became a Jew only after I had learned on my own that the Torah and the early sages of the Jewish people had taught that the world did not need to be of the same religion, race, or identity to be righteous. [It] only needed to recognize that God is the power of transformation and healing in the universe.

The teachings Rabbi Lerner proposes give me hope for the future of this planet.

Gershon Caudill
Rabbinic Pastor
El Cerrito

A Matter of Taste

Seeing red over Bloo: Greg Hugunin's review of Bloo is ridiculous ("Singing the Bloos," Eat, March 20). Having lived in the Haight for 11 years, I am relieved to have a good restaurant with fair prices in the neighborhood. Anybody with a hint of good taste will be happy.

Olga Esque
Lower Haight

Driven to Desperation

The need for Civic Center parking: The discussion about the proposed Hastings College garage has been all too typically San Francisco-centric ("No Parking Zone," Matt Smith, March 20). However, many of the institutions and agencies at Civic Center are regional or national in scope.

A case in point is the Asian Art Museum, scheduled to open next January in the old Main Library Building. Although nominally a city agency, the museum will be the largest and most prominent museum devoted to Asian art in North America. Its daily average attendance is projected at 1,000 people a day, which could double or triple in the opening year. The great portion of these visitors will be people from the region, many of whom will drive because transit is not available or inconvenient.

The Asian Art Museum is mirrored by the symphony, opera, and ballet. The new Federal Office Building on Mission Street will also draw from the region, as do the state and federal courts.

The environmental document prepared for the museum said that Civic Center would have a parking deficit of 700 spaces. The existing Civic Center garage is frequently at capacity.

The proposed Hastings garage would help [alleviate] the parking shortage in the Civic Center area. Thus, the Asian Art Museum has strongly supported it. However, whether it is built or not, parking will remain a severe problem in the area until another large garage is built.

James W. Haas
Bernal Heights

Fan Mail

Well, we read the whole articles, and we couldn't agree more: For those of us who actually read the whole articles in SF Weekly, I for one have always looked forward to new Lisa Davis articles ("We're Honored," Letters, March 20, announcing Davis' national IRE Award for "Fallout," an investigative series on the mishandling of nuclear waste at Hunters Point Shipyard). For the past five years I have been awe-struck by the depth and breadth of her writing. Davis has the determination and persistence to follow long, complex issues that others usually avoid. She is also able to conjure up clear, human images of the people she writes about. It should come as no surprise that she is winning awards and bringing prestige to the paper. When can we expect her first book?

Chris Cobb


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