Rabbis Defend Colleagues Against AIPAC

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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:
Let us not silence one another with money as, in some countries, they have silenced one another with death.
28 February 2014
Dear Roly and Felicia and members of the B’nai Jeshurun Congregation: We, your undersigned rabbinic colleagues and friends from all over the United States and beyond, representing at least 26 states, Canada, Israel, the Virgin Islands, and Poland, are writing to support your signing the letter to NYC Mayor De Blasio, letting him know that AIPAC doesn’t speak for every Jew.
At a time that organizations such as JStreet, T’ruah, Jewish Voice for Peace, Open Hillel and others are emerging to represent the many voices within the Jewish community that are not represented by AIPAC, or by the current Israeli government, or by the Israeli settlements in the territories outside of the green line, we stand with you as rabbis and rabbinical students, cantors, chaplains, and spiritual directors, many of us with family members who live in Israel, many of us who have ourselves lived in or visited Israel, all of us inspired by Jewish values, to affirm open dialogue on this divisive subject within the American Jewish community. We send you thanks for speaking out with so many other NYC Jews, we encourage you not to apologize for freedom of speech, and we support you in saying out loud that AIPAC does not speak for us either. It is, indeed, a shameful time in American Jewish history if we cannot voice differences of opinion about what we believe is best for Israel and for the Jewish people. It is shameful that some can attempt to silence others. You have followed proudly in the footsteps of your predecessor and mentor, Rabbi Marshall Meyer, and his mentor, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. We urge your congregation to stand proudly with you and with all Jews and with all Americans in upholding the value of the freedom of speech, even when we don’t always agree with one another’s opinions. Let us not silence one another with money as, in some countries, they have silenced one another with death.
We hope that someone from the congregation might be able to read this letter of support, collected over a 36 hour period from 105 Jewish professionals as of 11 a.m. this morning, and/or that this letter can be sent out to the entire BJ membership.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Phyllis Berman, NYC and Phila PA
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Ann Arbor MI
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen, Wayland MA
Rabbi Ethan Bair, Reno NV
Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, Williamstown MA
Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berman, Petersburg VA
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, Los Angeles CA and Warsaw, Poland
Rabbi Leila Berner, MD and VA
Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Washington DC
Rabbi Dr. Reeve Robert Brenner, Bethesda MD
Rabbi Barnett J. Brickner, Alameda CA
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, Ottawa, Canada
Rabbi Samuel G. Broude, Oakland CA
Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, Bradenton FL
Rabbi Josh Chasan, Burlington VT
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen, Los Angeles CA
Rabbi William Cutter, Los Angeles CA
Rabbi Art Donsky, Pittsburgh PA
Rabbinical student David Eber, Phila PA
Rabbi Renee Edelman
Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Los Angeles CA
Rabbi Mark Elber, Falls River MA
Rabbi Dr. Andrew Vogel Ettin, Salisbury NC
Rabbi Ted Falcon, Seattle WA
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer, Claremont CA
Rabbi Brian Field, Denver CO
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Boulder CO
Rabbi Serena Fujita, Lewisburg PA
Rabbi Jack Gabriel, El Cerrito CA
Rabbi Ruth Gais, Summit NJ
Rabbinical student Moshe Givental, Newton MA
Rabbinic Pastor Andrew Gold, Santa Fe NM
Rabbinical student Shelley Goldman, Phila PA
Rabbi Maralee Gordon, Crystal Lake IL
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, CA
Rabbi Art Green, Newton MA
Rabbi Frederick E. Greenspahn, Boca Raton FL
Rabbi Victor Gross, Boulder CO
Rabbi Bonny Grosz, Reston VA
Pre-rabbinical student Roberta Gross-Torres, Newton MA
Rabbinic Pastor De Fischler Herman, Takoma Park MD
Rabbi Judith Halevy, Malibu CA
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Phila PA
Rabbinic Pastor Eve Ilsen, Boulder CO
Rabbi Daria Jacobs-Velde, Youngstown OH
Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde, Youngstown OH
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Teaneck NJ
Rabbi Nancy Kasten, Dallas TX
Rabbi Joanna Katz, New Paltz NY
Rabbi Justin Kerber, St. Louis MO
Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum, New City NY
Rabbi Beth H. Klafter, Commack NY
Rabbi Lori Klein, Capitola CA
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, NYC
Chaplain David Daniel Klipper, Stamford CT
Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Portland OR
Rabbi Suri Krieger, Westchester NJ
Rabbi Michele Lenke, Needham MA
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Berkeley CA
Rabbi Eyal Levinson, Israel
Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Los Angeles CA
Rabbi Ellen Lippman, Brooklyn NY
Rabbi Shaul Maggid, Sea View NY
Rabbi Paula Marcus, CA
Rabbi Natan Margalit, Newton MA
Rabbi Jeff Marker, Brooklyn NY
Rabbi David Mivasair, Vancouver BC
Rabbi Stephen Moch, St. Thomas US Virgin Islands
Rabbi Linda Motzkin, Saratoga Springs NY
Rabbi Yitzhak Nates, Narberth PA
Cantor Steven Puzarne, Long Beach CA
Rabbi Laura Owens, Los Angeles CA
Rabbinical student Danielle Parmenter, Phila PA
Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Boston MA
Rabbi Rayzel Raphael, Elkins Park PA
Rabbi Victor Reinstein, Jamaica Plain MA
Spiritual Director Heena Reiter, Charlottesville VA
Rabbinical student Heath Mackenzie Reynolds, Phila PA
Rabbi Joshua Rose, Boulder CO
Rabbi James B. Rosenberg, Providence RI
Rabbinical student Ken Rosenstein, MA
Rabbi Jonathan Rubinstein, Saratoga Springs NY
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Boulder CO
Rabbi Howie Schneider, Aptos CA
Rabbi Elyse Seider-Joseph, West Chester PA
Rabbi Art Segal, Hilton Head Island SC
Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Chevy Chase MD
Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro, Springfield MA
Rabbi Mark S. Shapiro, Northbrook IL
Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel, Boston MA
Rabbi Joel Soffin, NYC
Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman, Atlanta GA
Rabbi David Leipziger Teva, Middletown CT
Rabbi Shulamit Barbara Thiede
Rabbinical student Shifrah Tobacman, Emeryville CA
Rabbi Lila Veissid, Emek Hefer, Israel
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Phila PA
Rabbinic Pastor Ellen Weaver, Phila PA
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Phila PA
Rabbinical student Alex Weissman, Phila PA
Rabbi Melissa Wenig
Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, Hollywood FL
Rabbinical student Ora Weiss, Newton MA
Rabbi Jonathan S. Woll, Glen Rock NJ
Hazzan Gregory Yaroslaw