Rabbi Brant Rosen steps down from Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue saying his activism on Israel/Palestine has been ‘lightning rod for division’

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

The Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois is looking for a new rabbi. Rabbi Brant Rosen is moving on. No one who is really going to look Israel in the eye need apply.

Here is Rosen’s letter to the congregation:

It is with sadness that I write to let you know that I am resigning as rabbi of JRC. I have informed the Board of my decision, which will be made effective at a mutually determined date in the upcoming months.

As many of you know, I have long considered social justice activism – particularly regarding the issue of Israel/Palestine – to be a central aspect of my rabbinate. Recently, however, it has become clear that my activism has become a lightning rod for division at JRC. This crisis has taken an increasingly emotional toll on our community – and it has taken a considerable toll on my own well being as well. Given the current environment in our congregation, I believe my decision to resign is the healthiest one for all concerned.

I want to make it clear that this decision is mine alone. The Board has not asked me for my resignation, nor have I experienced any pressure from our congregational leadership to curtail my activism as a result of this controversy. On the contrary, I have been deeply inspired by the efforts of our leaders in responding to this crisis. Our Board has consistently responded with immense thoughtfulness and care for all concerned. For this I will be forever grateful.

My decision to leave JRC is a difficult and painful one. For the past seventeen years, JRC has been a profoundly important spiritual community for my family. Hallie and I have raised our children here, we have created deep and lasting friendships, and we have keenly experienced celebrations, joys and sorrows together with so many of you. JRC will always occupy a cherished place in our hearts.

I know I will have the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to our members during the months ahead. In the meantime, I’d like to express my sincerest gratitude to the JRC staff and leadership – particularly President David Tabak – for their support, their guidance and their faith in me. I pledge to do my utmost to work with them to ensure that the upcoming rabbinic transition goes as smoothly as possible.

However painful this decision, I am looking forward to the future with optimism and hope. While I do not yet know what my professional future will be, I know all too well that our losses invariably lead to new possibilities and opportunities that we might never have dared to imagine. I have no doubt that the same will be true of JRC’s future as well.

In this season of renewal and new beginnings, I know in my heart we will find our way to a future of healing and hope.

Here is the President of the congregation:

These have been challenging years for JRC since Rabbi Rosen began his personal yet public exploration of his relationship to Israel. His activism has deeply hurt some JRC members and greatly inspired others. Rabbi Rosen’s decision to step down as JRC’s rabbi is courageous, admirable and reflects his genuine love of our community. I wish him nothing but success and peace on the next leg of his journey.

There will be a myriad of emotions as a result of Rabbi Rosen’s resignation. It would be unfair of me to ask people to put aside their feelings. That being said, I hope we can all acknowledge that no one has a monopoly on hurt or love for JRC and our mutual goal is a place of healing and community. The work of the recently formed Israel Programming Committee will be integral to that process. We are all the authors of JRC’s future and we have much work to do together.

So what comes next? First and foremost, the functions of JRC will continue. Rabbi Rosen and Cantor Friedland will officiate our High Holiday services. Religious school will be held. B’nei Mitzvah will be celebrated. According to Rabbi Rosen’s contract, he must provide us with six months’ notice and I am grateful for his assistance in ensuring a smooth transition. There will be opportunities, both public and private for proper goodbyes. I will soon convene a search committee. I am sure they will seek input into the qualities our next spiritual leader should possess. I ask for patience and understanding as we navigate these uncharted waters. Please know we are trying our best and only have the good of the community in mind.

JRC is fortunate to have a committed Board, talented staff and dedicated members and I look forward to working together to write the next chapter in JRC’s history.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or suggestions.

The whole thing is sad beyond words – who we have become. Rosen is one of the few rabbis in America with an ethical spine. He’s an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights and co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. I’m not sure what more needs to be said to analyze the situation.

Jewish congregational life, no matter how divided, can’t support Jewish leadership that has the prophetic at its core. All of us know this. Not that Rabbi Rosen rubbed Jewish ethics in the congregation’s faces. By all accounts, Rabbi Rosen is as all around good guy who paid attention to his congregants as persons with personal needs. Perhaps it was just his presence that challenged Jews who feel they’re on the cutting edge of the Reconstructionist sense of Jewish civilization.

Maybe the war in Gaza was the final straw. Rabbi Rosen and his congregation came face to face with the end-times of Jewish history. Rosen stood fast. It seems that Rabbi Rosen’s synagogue leadership blinked. What happened behind the scenes will probably remain secret – except for the voluminous leaks that are part of the vibrancy of congregational life.

Voluntary or forced and probably a combination of the two, Rabbi Rosen has his ticket to ride.

The Jewish rails?

Exile it is Rabbi Rosen! Welcome to the New Diaspora!

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What a shame, but not surprising really.

There is a bright side, though. He’s certainly still “an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights and co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council” isn’t he?

One doesn’t need a synagogue in order to spread the word.

This is discouraging on so many levels. As a progressive Jew, I have come to see Brant Rosen as one of my spiritual as well as political heroes. That he has been able to lead a major congregation for all this time had been a source of optimism that holding progressive views on Israel/Palestine might not necessarily be a career killer for a pulpit rabbi. So much for that. On the other hand, as Brant… Read more »

Just the start of a massive crisis for Judaism. Land or morality . You choose.

I was listening to this today. It reminded me of Yossi Israeli and his grim future and why Rogel alpher is leaving Israel.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, have clarity. And dignity.

Wow – I don’t know if this will turn out a victory or a loss. Rabbi Brant is a hero to me and has demonstrated his integrity many times in my presence. Any activist or religious group would benefit immensely from his participation, and I hope that more than one has the sense to offer him a new professional home.

“the qualities our next spirtitual leader should possess”

They are probably looking for a Dick Cheney type decider who also has good knowledge of scripture and is able to zero on certain topics without paying any attention to the big picture.