Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cheering U.N. Palestine Vote, Synagogue Tests Its Members

At the New York Times:
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, a large synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is known for its charismatic rabbis, its energetic and highly musical worship, and its liberal stances on social causes.

But on Friday, when its rabbis and lay leaders sent out an e-mail enthusiastically supporting the vote by the United Nations to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state, the statement was more than even some of its famously liberal congregants could stomach.

“The vote at the U.N. yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world,” said the e-mail, which was sent to all congregants. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition.”

The statement, at a time when the United Nations’ vote was opposed by the governments of the United States and Israel, as well as by the leadership of many American Jewish organizations, reflected a divide among American Jews and a willingness to publicly disagree with Israel.

Clergy at several Jewish congregations have, in various ways, spoken out sympathetically about the United Nations’ vote. But B’nai Jeshurun stood out because of its size and prominence, and reaction from congregants was swift. Allan Ripp, a member, said he and his wife were appalled.

“We are just sort of in a state of shock,” he said. “It’s not as if we don’t support a two-state solution, but to say with such a warm embrace — it is like a high-five to the P.L.O., and that has left us numb.”

Other congregants, however, said it was a bold move that they welcomed.

“I thought it was very courageous of them,” said Gil Kulick, a congregant. “I think as of late there has been a reluctance to speak out on this issue,” he added, “and that’s why I was really delighted that they chose to take a strong unequivocal stand.”

American Jews have long had a vigorous, and sometimes vitriolic, debate about the positions of the Israeli government and the peace process with the Palestinians. But the tendency has been to keep critical views within the fold.

“At most times we impose a kind of discipline upon ourselves — nobody imposes it on us — particularly on a matter that the Israeli government has asked for unanimous support from the Jewish community,” said Samuel Norich, the publisher of The Forward, a Jewish affairs weekly based in New York. “When they speak out, that is rare,” Mr. Norich said of mainstream congregations.

Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of The Jewish Week, the largest-circulation Jewish newspaper in the country, said, “I think the sense of a need for a unified front in the American Jewish community is breaking down.”
Well, the times they are a-changin'.

But RTWT, via Theo Spark, "USA Jews Don't Have Israel's Back..." (Actually, I think progressive Jews don't have Israel's back. Conservative Jews are at the ramparts of freedom for the West.)