Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, speaking at the J Street National Conference in 2018 (Photo/JTA-Michael Brochstein-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, speaking at the J Street National Conference in 2018 (Photo/JTA-Michael Brochstein-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)

Back-and-forths continue as our readers debate J Street, settlements

A better genealogy source

Thank you for your recent article (“Who is a Jew? DNA home testing adds new wrinkle to age-old debate”) and the two related articles. They were informative and thought-provoking.

Your article mentioned and 23 & Me, excellent and trustworthy DNA testing companies. Readers considering DNA testing for themselves or family members should also be aware of Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), the third major DNA testing company. It was founded by Bennett Greenspan while searching for his own Jewish heritage.

When I was focused on researching my family history, I was told by several genealogists that FTDNA was the best company for testing people with Jewish heritage. According to their website, “FTDNA’s Jewish comparative databases are the largest in the country, containing records for Ashkenazim and Sephardim as well as Levites and Cohanim.” Although some of my family members tested through more than one company which is recommended whenever possible, I found FTDNA especially user-friendly and helpful when it came to uncovering my Jewish family tree.

Having discovered firsthand the profound insights and meaningful connections that can result from DNA testing, I hope your readers will consider all three DNA testing companies as they seek to learn more about their Jewish roots.

Judy Brodkey
Iowa City

Turns out my friend is my cousin

As a person who has developed an interest in my family history, I enjoyed the articles in the recent J. Over several years, I have found and connected with family. And last year I learned a close friend is also a third cousin to me. The best resource has been a genetic search through, as it has the largest database of Jewish people.

Karen Epstein
Foster City

Big-stick approach to conflict

Two recent letters in J. made the case supporting the legality of Jewish settlement and annexation of the West Bank. Although I’m used to reading right-wing Likud opinions in the letters that J. publishes, these two letters really shook me.

Before Trump’s presidency began in 2017, calls for annexation were limited to Israel’s extreme-right fringe. Emboldened by Trump’s victory and support, Likud members have introduced bills to annex not only the Jordan Valley, but also the entire West Bank. In fact, in 2017 the Knesset passed the “Regularization Law,” which established criteria for “legalizing” unauthorized Jewish outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Annexation of the West Bank, along with its large and growing Arab-Palestinian population, will propel Israel rapidly toward a politically apocalyptic binary choice: They either grant West Bank Arabs full voting rights and lose the Jewish (majority) State of Israel as we know it, or they withhold voting rights and further imperil Israeli democracy by establishing an apartheid-like political system that disenfranchises the majority ethnic population. The State of Israel that we all know and love is a democratic Jewish state; annexation would force Israel to choose between democratic and Jewish. Do they (we?) really want to have to make that choice?

In his letter on Nov. 29, Jeff Saperstein wrote that annexation of the West Bank “may be” justified. He is wrong: Under international law, annexation of conquered territory is not recognized as legal. I may feel justified in expropriating my neighbor’s property based on past history, but unless the courts find in my favor, such an action is unjust and illegal. To support annexation and the big-stick approach to political conflict, Saperstein cites several recent examples: annexation of Kashmir (by India), Tibet (by China), and Northern Cyprus (by Turkey). So let’s ask, how did these work out for the annexed population? Unrest and political resistance are ongoing in these three regions, as is rejection of the authority of the annexing governments. Is this really what Israel wants?

Todd Silverstein
San Rafael

Clear and present danger

I am very glad and relieved to read that bail was revoked for Ross Farca, the East Bay man who threatened online to kill Jews. This should have been done long ago. He is clearly a danger to the public.

Lea M. Delson

Yiddish is alive in the Bay

Kudos to Liz Harris for the fine article about Yiddish singer and private eye Gale Kissin (“Q&A: A Yiddish-speaking gumshoe with a tapping toe“). Gale has a beautiful voice in any language and is particularly heartwarming in Yiddish.

The article’s conclusion was misleading in terms of whether one can find Yiddish speakers in the Bay Area: KlezCalifornia runs a monthly salon for fluent Yiddish speakers, and our website identifies 10 classes going on right now plus seven additional informal opportunities to speak Yiddish. For those who don’t want to leave home, there are numerous online opportunities to learn mamaloshen (the language of our mothers). Check it out at!

Judy Kunofsky
El Cerrito

Best part of J.? Letters, obvi

Letters to the Editor are my favorite part of J. It’s the only place I read unequivocal support for Israel, the reality of the non-negotiating Arab neighbors and the misguided perspective of Democrat candidates. Bravo to all the writers in the Nov. 15 issue — Dorothea Dorenz, Julia Lutch, Steve Lipman, Fred Korr, Al Sokolow and Vladimir Kaplan.

Roni Silverberg
San Francisco

The word that got away

One line in J.’s interview with Lynn Mahoney (“New SFSU president takes measured view of Israel fray”) caught my eye: The reporter asks Mahoney “why she believes there is so much passionate criticism focused on Israel, as opposed to other nations that could be considered colonial powers” Colonial powers? Really?

Can it be that a reporter in a Jewish newspaper writes that Israel is a colonialist enterprise — and that a Jewish newspaper allows this to slip by?

What happened to Jewish history, and the story of our return to our ancient home? Can anyone believe that the beleaguered, persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe, the Jews who were forced to flee the Middle East and today’s immigrants seeking refuge in Israel are colonizers? The myth of Jewish settler-colonialism is certainly the cornerstone of the anti-Zionist public relations campaign, but please, people, let’s not buy into it and turn into our own worst enemies.

Malka Weitman

Ed.’s note: The reporter was not claiming Israel is a “colonialist enterprise,” but paraphrasing an argument commonly made by its critics.

The many ways to be Jewish

I have to differ with Martin Wasserman’s letter (“Not enough religion at Z3”) when he says that “the only thing capable of uniting Jews … is belief in the supremacy of God.”

Like many American Jews, I was raised with a strong ethnically Jewish identity that had nothing to do with belief in God. Even though nobody in my immediate family spoke Hebrew, everyone understood the notion of tikkun olam, the responsibility of everyone, especially Jews, to leave the world in better shape than we found it. We were to be a light unto the nations. As a people with a history of horrific oppression, we know that it is our duty to defend and uplift the oppressed, no matter who they are. These are the principles that make me feel connected to our people, proud to be a Jew.

Mr. Wasserman expressed disappointment that “almost all of the speakers were decidedly to the left.” It used to be that there was a reasonable conversation between right and left, with shared values and goals but differing opinions on how to reach those goals. Now there is no conversation, no common ground. Now it seems that Jews and others on the right have thrown out those Jewish values and goals, and instead support and defend authoritarian leaders (Trump, Netanyahu, even Putin) who have no concern for human rights or the values that this country and Israel were founded on.

Danny Yanow
San Francisco

Say it to their face, J Street

In response to my letter “J Street pulls apart Jews,” letter-writer Jon Kaufman (“Distortion of J Street“) claims that “speaking out about Israeli policies and leaders with whom we disagree actually strengthens Israeli democracy.”

It reminds me an old Soviet-era joke, where an American and a Russian are discussing whose country indeed has freedom of speech. The American says: “I can stand in front of the White House and scream, ‘Down with Ronald Reagan!’ To which the Russian replies: “Big deal. I can stand in the middle of Red Square and scream, ‘Down with Ronald Reagan!’ too.”

J Street can, in the comfort of Washington, D.C., endlessly criticize Israel and her government, demanding all sorts of democratic reforms and concessions to the Palestinians. But it is highly unlikely that J Street will dare to stand before the residents of Sderot, Ashdod or, for that matter, any place in Israel and lecture about the virtues of strengthening Israeli democracy.

Actually, the demand for democratic reforms in Israel coming from J Street is hollow rhetoric, as is its motto “Pro-Israel, pro-peace.”

Vladimir Kaplan
San Mateo

J. Readers

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