One of the first acts taken by New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio was to convene a secret meeting with AIPAC to tell the lobby that he will always do whatever it wants. This is, of course, typical behavior for New York politicians but rather surprising coming from a progressive like De Blasio rather than the likes of Ed Koch, Al D’Amato or Chuck Schumer. The only indication that De Blasio knew that what he was doing was wrong was his insistence that the meeting be kept secret. This is also an indication of how toxic AIPAC has become for liberals. (Read the full story of the secret AIPAC meeting here)
Shortly after the meeting, the senior rabbis at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun In Manhattan, Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol, signed a letter to De Blasio which stated that AIPAC does not speak for them. Within hours, a few of the congregational big shots (big money, AIPAC members) condemned the two rabbis and began organizing the congregation against them. This is, of course, what AIPAC types do. Prohibit free thinking on Israel. (They, of course, are all for free speech on all matters relating to the United States.)
The point of the AIPAC efforts is to make the rabbis fear for their jobs. (More than most, I know how that works.) And if the rabbis don’t back down, their jobs could indeed be in jeopardy, in theory at least.
But here’s the thing. Bnai Jeshurun is perfectly suited to its community and so are its rabbis. Located in the heart of Bella Abzug/Ted Weiss country, the congregation is known nationally as one of the safest places to be ethical, spiritual and Jewish especially for young people. I say safe because young people avoid synagogues in general because you never know when the rabbi will start ranting about Iran or reading from AIPAC talking points. That won’t happen at Bnai Jeshurun, which is why, unlike pretty much any other synagogue in America, it is actually a cool place to be on Friday nights. (My younger son lives right nearby so I’ve see the crowds of kids filling the place.)
In short, the rabbis not only did the moral thing in speaking out against AIPAC, it did the right thing for their business: keeping Bnai Jeshurun viable and appealing to Jews (especially the young) who simply cannot stand AIPAC or Netanyahu, if they think about them at all. In other words, the Jews of their community.
Nonetheless, AIPAC now has it in for the rabbis. But, happily, hundreds of other rabbis and Jewish lay leaders are pushing back. Read the letter below. Look at those names. (Hey, where are Rabbis David Saperstein and Eric Yoffie? Oh yeah, they are at the AIPAC conference.) And be hopeful about the future of Jews, at least at Bnai Jeshurun where Judaism trumps politics. Hang in there, rabbis. Judaism’s future depends on people like you. And Israel’s too.
Do not miss the best line in the letter which sums up how the organized “mainstream” Jewish community operates: