Can the B’nai Jeshurun Rabbis Speak Their Minds?
A Letter of Support from Jewish Clergy
[On Thursday morning, February 27, The Shalom Report sent to our lists of Rabbis and Cantors the following letter from Rabbi Phyllis Berman, inviting Jewish clergy to sign a letter of support for two Rabbis at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in NYC, who were under attack for signing with dozens of other well-known New York Jews a letter critical of AIPAC. By 10 am the next day, 106 Rabbis and other Jewish clergy had signed the letter of support. They came from 36 states, Canada, Israel, and the Virgin Islands. Their names are below, after the text of the letter itself . Rabbi Berman was for twelve years the director of the Summer Program of the Elat Chayyim spiritual retreat center. She founded (1979) and directs the Riverside Language Program, a renowned school in NYC for adult immigrants and refugees from all over the world, teaching English in an intensive-immersion style modeled partly on some ulpanim. She is co-author of Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (Rowman & Littlefield); A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven: The Jewish Life-Spiral as a Spiritual Journey (Farrar Straus & Giroux) and Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia (Jewish Lights). -– From The Shalom Center’s standpoint, this is part of a larger question: Are pressures from the present government of Israel and its US surrogates corrupting and disorting American jewish life and even the life of broader American society — as for instance in the effrts of AIPAC to convince Congress to put the US on a dangerous path risking an unnecessary war against Iran, despite the clear overwhelming sentiment of the American people against such a war? We will be exploring this underlying question further. — AW, editor]
Dear Chevra in the holy Jewish professions –— Rabbis, Cantors, Spiritual Directors, Rabbinic Pastors, Chaplains:
A dear friend of mine in NYC, who’s a long-time member of B’nai Jeshurun synagogue there, has just told me about a very difficult situation for two of the BJ rabbis, Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol.
Recently newly-elected Mayor Bill De Blasio met with members of AIPAC at an organizational gala and pledged to stand with AIPAC. “When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I’ll answer it happily ‘cause that’s my job,” he said.
Then quite a number of well-known and respected Jews in NYC, including Rabbis Matalon and Sol, signed a public letter to Mayor De Blasio saying: “We
do know that the needs and concerns of many of your constituents – U.S. Jews like us among them – are not aligned with those of AIPAC.” Among the
other signers were Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Barbara Dobkin, Sally Gottesman, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Rabbi Ellen Lippman, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Gloria
Steinem, and Rabbi Burt Visotzky.
The result is that the rabbis have gotten a lot of abuse from a small contingent of people in their congregation. A recent article by Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week asserted that a number of members had quit the congregation over the rabbis’ signing of the statement.
This is one of a series of confrontations within the congregation over the last several years in which several wealthy congregants have threatened to pull out their support from BJ unless the rabbis publicly retracted some comment that they had made which was critical of the current Israeli government and those sectors of the American Jewish establishment that brook no criticism of Israel.
I know that we are not all in agreement about the current Israeli government, about the settlements, about the treatment of Palestinians and of the Israeli Bedouin, and about the AIPAC position relating to Iran and the U.S.
I’m not writing to debate these points of view.
I’m writing those of you who are Rabbis, Cantors, Spiritual Directors, Rabbinic Pastors, Chaplains, or students of those sacred professions.
I am writing to ask for help from those of you who want to send support and encouragement to our colleagues Rabbis Matalon and Sol at a time that they’re being hounded to apologize and to step back from their beliefs and statements.
If you want to join in signing the letter below, please write me your title, your name, your city (and affiliation, if you’d like).
Please write me not later than 10 am Eastern Time tomorrow, Friday morning, February 28.
If you sign by then, your name will be added to the letter.
This letter will become part of the BJ Kabbalat Shabbat service that many congregants are organizing in support of the rabbis.
Please feel free to forward this letter to others among our chevra, inviting them to sign.
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, 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 J Street, 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, cantors, spiritual directors, chaplains —- 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 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.
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