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Letters to the Editor

Monday April 30, 2001

New Temple Beth El will be good for the community 


The decision about how Congregation Beth El should build its new synagogue and religious school cannot be made by considering only one special interest, as several writers to the Daily Planet have urged in the past few months.  

This is not simply a traffic issue, a noise issue, a creek issue, a size issue, a historical landmark issue, or an issue of the needs of the congregation. All of these factors must be addressed and balanced to make this project work and, after four years of design and re-design, Beth El's plan does address and balance all of these critical factors in the following ways:  


Traffic and Parking Impacts  

When assessing the traffic and parking impacts of the new synagogue, commentators often write as if Beth El were a new organization moving into the area. Yet, Beth El is now located just two blocks away and has been there for more than fifty years!  

The question is, “Does the new location deal with traffic and parking better than the current location?” You be the judge.  

Beth El's plan calls for more than 30 onsite parking places; the present facility has two. The new site has a drive-through so cars and buses can pick up and drop off children, seniors, disabled people and others. At the current site, this must be done on public streets.  

The move will greatly reduce neighborhood traffic and parking impacts.  



The new building will be much farther from adjoining houses than the existing synagogue. Outdoor activities will be focused toward the center of the site, lessening sounds for neighbors. Most evenings, the congregation's only activities are a committee meeting or an adult education class. When there is a celebration like a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah, Beth El will, of course, continue to conform with the city's noise ordinance and with its own commitment to be a good neighbor.  

There will be less noise in the neighborhood at the new site.  


The Creek  

The Congregation's plan includes significant improvement of Codornices Creek. For 50+ years, the creek has run through a culvert 27 feet underground into an open section with eroding banks that are overgrown with non-native vegetation. Without the Beth El project, erosion will continue and cause problems downstream. From the very start, the congregation proposed to restore and beautify the creek, at its own expense.  

The City's Environmental Impact Report concludes that Codornices Creek will be in better condition after construction of the synagogue than it is today.  

In fact, Beth El's is the only current proposal to commit to making major improvements in the upper reaches of Codornices Creek.  

Importantly, in the plan approved by Berkeley's Zoning Board, there is no driveway, parking, paving, or building over the creek. Those who say otherwise are not telling the truth. The Congregation will plant the creek corridor naturally and will cooperate with the city to create a place for public viewing of the creek, which is not possible now.  

Beth El will be a responsible steward of what has been a neglected, deteriorating creek and property.  



Beth El's building will actually cover a smaller percentage of the land than the buildings on the surrounding block. And because of its design and orientation, the building will appear even smaller than it is.  

Some commentators sound the familiar refrain of opponents to virtually all Berkeley building projects: "Make it smaller." That refrain is misplaced here. Congregation Beth El is building a house of worship, education and gathering. It is not constructing an office building or a store where smaller size means less profit. Here, smaller size means cramped classrooms. 

Congregation Beth El's planned building is the size it needs. No more.  

By any reasonable measure, the building size is appropriate.  


Historical Preservation  

Since the Byrne House burned down many years ago, little or nothing has been done to publicly recognize or enhance the site's historical value.  

Beth El will retain and enhance the historical features identified by the Landmark Preservation Commission. The congregation also plans to install artwork and a plaque commemorating the site's history.  


A Balanced Project  

The Beth El building project addresses and balances all key issues and needs.  

It reduces the parking, traffic and sound impacts of Beth El on its neighbors. It improves and beautifies the creek. It is appropriate in size and style for the neighborhood. It celebrates the site's history. And, last but not least, it supports an institution that serves Berkeley's citizens and its values.  


Harry Pollack 

for Congregation Beth El  



Another side to Israel/Palestine peace issue 



Gregory Hoadley and Will Youmans have used a lot of big words with not one point of backing to give a false impression of both Judaism and Israel (“Distinguish between Judaism and Israel” and “Address Palestinian exclusion from homeland,” April 27). 

First, learned rabbis, not Palestinian activists, decide what is “Jewish.” If you were to ask a group of rabbis whether Zionism and the land of Israel are central to Judaism 99 percent would answer yes, and that they have been so for the past two thousand years of exile. Jerusalem was the birthplace of Judaism, and since the beginning of the Diaspora it has been the center of Jews’ yearning. I won’t tell you what your religion teaches, so please don’t try to teach me mine. 

Second, the anti-Semitic aspects of Student’s for Justice in Palestine’s rally were not “the most trivial aspects that SJP has the least control over,” as is stated. In fact, the most hate-filled moments of the protest came from one of the event’s speakers over SJP’s microphone when he stated that Jews are “conniving” by nature, and that Jews only helped out African-Americans in the Civil Rights Movement for their own benefit. He said all this and received applause, even from the few Jews active in the rally, who are anything but “courageous.” 

Third, the two letters yell and shout to point out and even exaggerate some of the bad acts Israel has carried out while refusing to even concede that Palestinians are anything but saints. Any rational person who reads news reports or has any knowledge of the region’s history knows that the acts of hatred and vengeance are very two-sided. 

Finally, the bottom line is that last summer Israel offered peace; the most generous peace ever offered. Had the Palestinians accepted this peace, or at least given a counter proposal, these futile arguments would no longer be taking place.  

Instead, the Palestinian Authority decided to embark down a path of orchestrated violence to achieve what couldn’t be achieved through negotiations, namely, the destruction of Israel. 


David Singer