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All are welcome! A response to the Jewish community’s standards for inclusiveness

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All are welcome!

In just under a month’s time, Jews across the world will celebrate the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Synagogues will open their doors and welcome the entire community. Uniquely in the Jewish tradition, the Yom Kippur liturgy opens with a proclamation of welcome: all may pray with us, including the sinners.

This sounds banal and obvious. Which house of worship turns people away?

But this Yom Kippur, as in years past, one group of Jews will stay away. These are Jews who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for justice. I regularly hear from young Jews in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and beyond who tell me how they will have nothing to do with the synagogue of their youth; they say they do not feel welcome there. They know from experience that they will only be accepted if they hide a part of themselves, the part that stands for Palestinian human rights. When they have spoken freely they have been told: “you have placed yourselves outside the Jewish community”; “the Jewish community is only for Zionists”; “you are an enemy of the Jewish people.”

I know these statements of exclusion very well. I have heard them myself.

The single campaign that unifies Palestinians across political ideologies, geographical location and religions is the three-point 2005 BDS program (that calls or equality under Israeli law, resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem and ending Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank). Jewish community organizations have responded to the non-violent Palestinian call for solidarity by, among other steps, shunning its Jewish supporters. They pitched a self-styled “Jewish Big Tent”, simultaneously excluding Jews who support BDS while – and by – including those who voice milder criticism of Israel. Any Jew who is not a Zionist or is not sufficiently supportive of Israel is left outside the tent. Big Tent Judaism’s exclusionary terms are spelled out in so-called: “policies of inclusiveness.” The only principle for inclusion in the Jewish community under Big Tent Judaism is Zionism. Thus, the “Jewish Big Tent” has become home to those who would illegally annex the occupied Palestinian territories to the State of Israel alongside “leftwing Zionists.”

So, in 2014, I set out a vision for an inclusive Jewish community. I founded a national organization of rabbis committed to an open Jewish community. We pledged to never exclude anyone from the Jewish community on account of their Israel/Palestine politics. We specifically included Jews who endorse BDS. After a campaign with organizers across the Jewish denominations and throughout the U.S., some 80 rabbis signed the pledge. This is less than 2% of the total number of rabbis and other Jewish clergy in the U.S.

Over the past few years, the shunning of Jewish solidarity with Palestinian liberation has only intensified. The organized anti-BDS campaign entered the sphere of government and the courts when legacy Jewish organizations made common cause with Christian fundamentalists and agencies of the State of Israel to criminalize and otherwise punish BDS supporters. These steps include punitive legislation in the U.S. Senate. The Senate bill would impose heavy penalties against BDS supporters, including imprisonment and bankrupting fines. At the state level, workers have been denied employment; businesses have been denied contracts with state government; hurricane relief aid has been denied to those who endorse Palestinian liberation. At the same time, the State of Israel, whose Declaration of Independence enshrines the Jewish State as a safe haven to all Jews, has barred and turned away Jews – including rabbis – who support justice for the Palestinians from entering the country.

This summer’s Greater Chicago Jewish Festival (the biennial gathering of the Chicago Jewish community) exemplified how the campaign to ban and shun Palestine solidarity plays out at the local, Jewish community level. The 2018 Chicago Festival, serving the metropolitan area’s quarter of a million Jews and sponsored by many synagogues, states that it brings “together every facet of the Jewish community…and all segments of religious practice and political thought,” but it explicitly barred Jews who support BDS from participation. At the same time, some of the most extreme and dangerous Jewish groups were featured participants, including the Jewish Defense League. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Jewish Defense League (JDL) as a violence-preaching “hate group”. The JDL defended the mass murder committed by its member Baruch Goldstein against 29 Muslims kneeling in prayer. But the Chicago Jewish Folk Festival welcomed this hate group along with other anti-Palestinian advocacy organizations even as it barred supporters of the non-violent Palestinian call for equality and justice.

While I don’t know of synagogues which impose exclusionary policies on membership, and obviously, members of any synagogue are free to privately hold whatever views they choose, the prominent display of Israeli flags in sacred space, the liturgical use of the Israeli national anthem, the requirement by rabbis and synagogues of a declaration of loyalty to the State of Israel for prospective converts to Judaism, the pro-war rallies in sanctuaries, the sermons excoriating Palestinian solidarity and the anti-Palestinian groups that synagogues regularly endorse leave no room to doubt what the official position of most synagogues is.

“Big Tent Judaism” reduces all of Judaism to a single test: loyalty in the prescribed ways to the State of Israel.

I am therefore proud that my synagogue, Makom Shalom, and some 15 synagogues across the U.S. have rejected this position. Our “open synagogues” are located in every time zone across the continental U.S. and we are opening our doors to the entire Jewish community, regardless of their Israel politics. Makom Shalom and the other synagogues on this list resist the Jewish community shunning of Palestinian solidarity activists.

In some Jewish communities the ostracization of peace activists has been so extreme that new synagogues have emerged to serve those who have been spurned elsewhere. Other “open synagogues” are inclusive of a range of opinion on Israel-Palestine. At Makom Shalom, we pray together not as tacit political partisans on Israel but, simply, as Jews. I explicitly acknowledge our diversity of opinion at the opening of our services. In our pews there are Zionists and nonZionists, BDS supporters and others who stand with Israel as a Jewish State.

On Yom Kippur and throughout the year every Jew should have a synagogue they can pray in.

If you have been made to feel unwelcome in your synagogue on account of your commitment to Palestinian liberation or want to take a stand for an open Jewish community, please check the list and see if there is a synagogue near you. If there isn’t one near your home, you can still pray with one of the communities that will be streaming services online during the High Holydays.

This Yom Kippur, and throughout the year, across the United States, we are opening our doors and building a new, Jewish community that welcomes supporters of Palestinian liberation.

We welcome you!

About Rabbi Michael Davis

Rabbi Michael Davis is a rabbi in Chicago where he co-leads a new, Jewish-Muslim Interfaith group

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36 Responses

  1. Mooser
    Mooser
    August 24, 2018, 5:23 pm

    ” In our pews there are Zionists and nonZionists, BDS supporters and others who stand with Israel as a Jewish State.”

    “This Yom Kippur, and throughout the year, across the United States, we are opening our doors and building a new, Jewish community that welcomes supporters of Palestinian liberation.”

    Good luck.

  2. annie
    annie
    August 25, 2018, 5:55 am

    so sad about this “big tent” thing. i recall when reut first rolled out this pr. the tent is only metaphorical to squeeze people, literally and figuratively, out. at schools/hillel, in the interfaith communities, places of worship. and so thorough to hire a think tank to come up with a slogan to cover up this huge public shunning of people from their communities. thanks to Rabbi Michael Davis and the 79 other rabbis taking the inclusive path. saving your religion one breath at a time.

  3. Shmuel
    Shmuel
    August 25, 2018, 10:06 am

    It sounds like Makom Shalom (Place of Peace) takes the teachings of Aaron (via Hillel) seriously: “Love peace and pursue peace; love people and bring them closer to the Torah.”

    What every synagogue should strive for and what everyone should look for in a synagogue.

    A happy and sweet new year to you, Rabbi Davis, and to your entire congregation.

  4. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block
    August 25, 2018, 5:38 pm

    Thanks for this. I wonder how many rabbis – in the US or anywhere else – have the courage to do this and have not lost their jobs!
    And you’ve reminded me that Ashkenaz, the Jewish (well, mostly Eastern European Jewish) cultural festival is coming up in Toronto. I’ll go, and I’ll wear either my Free Palestine t-shirt or my JNF: 100% Israeli Apartheid t-shirt. Wish I could wear them both at once.

  5. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    August 25, 2018, 7:47 pm

    Sorry for going off topic. Here is a reform rabbi talking about how Reform Judaism is a dying movement. (He offers Zionism as the way to replace it, but whereas I’m sure everyone here will disagree with that aspect, I don’t feel you can dispute his major thesis regarding the state of American Reform Judaism.)
    https://tikvahfund.org/library/podcast-clifford-librach-reform-movement-jewish-peoplehood/

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      August 25, 2018, 8:31 pm

      ” I don’t feel you can dispute his major thesis regarding the state of American Reform Judaism.”

      And if Reform Judaism dies out, the Conservatives and Orthodox will have all the power! Then there will be no stopping Judaism.

    • annie
      annie
      August 25, 2018, 8:41 pm

      this is a fascinating interview. i have not gotten to the part where anyone said reform is “dying”. “where it stands”..is different than dying.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        August 26, 2018, 9:43 am

        Annie- Sorry. Guilty of hyperbole. But he depicts a condition that demands an answer. Those who feel his answer is wrongheaded should offer an alternative answer or express how the condition does not demand an answer.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 26, 2018, 1:14 pm

        ,“Those who feel his answer is wrongheaded should offer an alternative answer or express how the condition does not demand an answer.”

        And why does this demand an answer from anybody but each individual Jew?
        Are you expecting the Gentiles to make laws integrating Jewish particularism into American law?

        “He offers Zionism as the way to replace it, but whereas I’m sure everyone here will disagree with that aspect”

        Does it ever occur to you to ask if Jewish people agree “with that aspect”?

    • Keith
      Keith
      August 26, 2018, 12:44 am

      WONDERING JEW- “(He offers Zionism as the way to replace it, but whereas I’m sure everyone here will disagree with that aspect, I don’t feel you can dispute his major thesis regarding the state of American Reform Judaism.)”

      I didn’t listen to the podcast, however, I strongly suspect that he echoes Jacob Neusner in advocating Zionism as a reworking of the myths of Classical (medieval) Judaism in modern form. That is, a continuation of Jews as a people apart bound together by tribal/kinship solidarity. An ideology which depicts Gentiles as an eternal enemy. A surprisingly successful ideology which has aided the meteoric Jewish power acquisition by, among other things, the exploitation of the Holocaust. Tribalism while preaching multiculturalism for others sheltered by deference to the Holocaust and the aggressive application of weaponized charges of anti-Semitism. Zionism has dealt the Jewish enlightenment and assimilation a major defeat. And if and when Gentile pushback arises, how shall we label that? A quote from your link.

      “In “Paying the Price for Abandoning Jewish Peoplehood,” published in Tablet, Rabbi Librach laments the current state of Reform Judaism, painting a picture of a movement that allowed its fierce commitment to universalism destroy it from within. In this podcast, he joins Jonathan Silver for a discussion of the Reform movement’s history and current troubles, the dangers of repudiating Jewish particularism, and the ray of hope offered by the success of the modern State of Israel.” (Clifford Librach) https://tikvahfund.org/library/podcast-clifford-librach-reform-movement-jewish-peoplehood/

  6. eljay
    eljay
    August 25, 2018, 8:44 pm

    || wondering jew: Sorry for going off topic. Here is a reform rabbi talking about how Reform Judaism is a dying movement. (He offers Zionism as the way to replace it, but whereas I’m sure everyone here will disagree with that aspect, I don’t feel you can dispute his major thesis regarding the state of American Reform Judaism.)
    https://tikvahfund.org/library/podcast-clifford-librach-reform-movement-jewish-peoplehood/ ||

    The “state of American Reform Judaism” – bad or good – doesn’t justify Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism, colonialism or (war) criminality.

    It’s funny – but not surprising – that in the one snippet I listened to the (presumably) pro-Zionism panelist reduced Jewish to religion.

    • Shmuel
      Shmuel
      August 30, 2018, 6:05 am

      The “state of American Reform Judaism” – bad or good – doesn’t justify Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism, colonialism or (war) criminality.

      Hi eljay, WJ,

      In the words of Ahad Ha’am (borrowing from the talmudic sage Ula), written in 1913:

      I cannot abide the idea that our brothers are morally capable of treating the members of another people in this fashion, and I cannot help but think, if this is the way things are now, how will we treat others should we ever attain sovereign power in the Land of Israel? Indeed, if this is the ‘Messiah,’ let him come, but let me not see him.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        August 30, 2018, 9:35 am

        Shmuel,

        Cannot make head or tails of that. This is being said by a guy from Kiev who, nine years later, moves to Palestine to participate fully in the illegal invasion.

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel
        August 30, 2018, 10:07 am

        echinococcus,

        Cultural Zionism and the “binationalism” to which it gave rise are not easy to understand, especially when viewed with post-Nakba hindsight. Ahad Ha’am’s writings are full of contradictions (as are those of the Brit Shalom crowd – Buber. Magnes, etc.). That is not to say that they had nothing of value or relevance to say.

        In this case, I thought Ahad Ha’am’s remark — essentially, if this is what “redemption” looks like, count me out — was apt in the context of a discussion of the future of Judaism (Reform or otherwise) at the cost of racism and war crimes (shorthand for everything wrong with Zionism).

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        August 30, 2018, 10:43 am

        Thank you, Shmuel, for the explanation.
        No post-Nakba hindsight is needed, though: that’s the necessary result of any colonization at all.

      • Maghlawatan
        Maghlawatan
        August 30, 2018, 10:44 am

        Shmuel

        When it all collapses people will read Buber etc and think there was another way.
        Or maybe WW2 trauma meant that Israel could only ever become cruel and shortsighted and only ever fail.

  7. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    August 27, 2018, 7:51 am

    This is a unique moment for American Jews of the liberal persuasion, because of our utter alienation from Trump contrasted with Netanyahu’s utter identification with Trump. Add this tension to the continued policies of occupation and status quo maintenance make this moment unique. (There have been various moments when the two state solution has been declared dead and every day the distance from Rabin’s assassination increases. These are incremental changes that are essential, but are not as glaring (in their suddenness) as the Trump-Netanyahu versus liberalism tension.)

    My decisions regarding how to identify (which as of this moment is with Peter Beinart and not quite with If Not Now) will be some combination of logic and emotion and it might be helpful to delineate the variables involved in this decision.

    I offer this despite its being addressed specifically to Jews and despite the unfriendliness of certain members of the immediate audience:

    There are many elements that go into the evolution of a policy and an overriding attitude towards Israel/Palestine.

    Family/tribe- How close are you to family? How close are you to the Jewish tribe? When I use the term Jewish tribe how do you react intellectually and emotionally?

    Religion- Do you believe in God? Do you believe God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai? Do you believe there is significance to the idea of “God chose the Jews”? (Do you believe in fate? Do you believe that God has a good ending in mind for the planet, for the Jewish people?)

    Holocaust- Is the Holocaust near your thoughts? Is there an “answer” to the Holocaust?

    Ideal society- Is the building or conceptualization of a better world near your thoughts? When you discern the distance between the current tense and the ideal, how do you react?

    Safety versus adventure- Are you risk adverse? How deeply invested are you in the maintenance of the status quo?

    Do you have people you love (or are close to) on the ground in Israel? Are there young Jews in America that you love (or are close to)? Do you question the Jewish future in America?

    Reactions are welcome, friendly or not.

    • catalan
      catalan
      August 27, 2018, 8:40 am

      “This is a unique moment for American Jews of the liberal persuasion, because of our utter alienation from Trump contrasted with Netanyahu’s utter identification with Trump.”
      That might be true. I am an American Jew of the sceptical persuation and don’t feel the need to either extol or hate any particular individual leader. They are all temporary. To see just the amount of animosity towards Jews all I have to do is open the mondoweiss comment section. I don’t believe in utopias. In life, you get what you fight for (with your friends and against your enemies).

      • eljay
        eljay
        August 27, 2018, 9:50 am

        || catalan: … To see just the amount of animosity towards Jews all I have to do is open the mondoweiss comment section. … ||

        The conflation of Jews with Zionism and Zionism with Jews is a perfect example of animosity toward Jews. Why, I continue to wonder, do Zionists hate Jews so much?!

        || … I don’t believe in utopias. In life, you get what you fight for (with your friends and against your enemies). ||

        And yet you routinely ridicule BDS – the fight for justice, accountability and equality in I-P.

        You’re almost but not quite as funny as Jack Green.

      • catalan
        catalan
        August 27, 2018, 11:27 am

        “The conflation of Jews with Zionism and Zionism with Jews is a perfect example of animosity toward Jews.” Eljay
        I don’t think all Jews are Zionists. I am not for one. I don’t even care that much about animosity towards Israel. However, it is my perception that much of the animosity here is towards Jews as such (their perceived power, their holidays, their whining about the Holocaust, their tribalism). In your case, this hostility is expressed in the constant need to define Jewish identity (like, it would be strange if every day I wrote how Singaporean is some such and such identity). It’s kind of cute that you either don’t realize or more likely pretend not to realize that your droning about “religious based” and so on is actually very offensive.

      • eljay
        eljay
        August 27, 2018, 12:12 pm

        || catalan: … I don’t think all Jews are Zionists. I am not for one. … ||

        Of course you are, you funny man!  :-)

        || … In your case, this hostility is expressed in the constant need to define Jewish identity … ||

        I don’t “define” what is Jewish identity – without any hostility I merely state what it obviously is.

        || … It’s kind of cute that you either don’t realize or more likely pretend not to realize that your droning about “religious based” and so on is actually very offensive. ||

        It’s kind of sad – and, quite frankly, puzzling – that you are very offended by the fact that your identity is religion-based.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 27, 2018, 4:14 pm

        “To see just the amount of animosity towards Jews all I have to do is open the mondoweiss comment section”

        And who is forcing you to open the mondoweiss comment section? And that’s not “animosity”, it’s concern.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 27, 2018, 4:18 pm

        “In your case, this hostility is expressed in the constant need to define Jewish identity (like, it would be strange if every day I wrote how Singaporean is some such and such identity). It’s kind of cute that you either don’t realize or more likely pretend not to realize that your droning about “religious based” and so on is actually very offensive.” “catalan”

        Gee, “catalan”, what made you decide to tear into “Yonah” (“wondering jew”) like that? You pinned “Yonah” right to the mat!

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 27, 2018, 5:56 pm

        ” pretend not to realize that your droning about “religious based” and so on is actually very offensive..”

        Yeah, who would settle for simply being a religion, when, with just a little bit of persuading, you can have all the benefits of being a “race”?

      • catalan
        catalan
        August 27, 2018, 6:36 pm

        “Yeah, who would settle for simply being a religion, when, with just a little bit of persuading, you can have all the benefits of being a “race”?”
        Mooser,
        The terms of this debate (religion or race) are set up for the most part by people who don’t like Jews. It can be both or neither. Like a state of mind. Or a stupid belief. Like if someone beliefs that Jesus is looking out for them, what is my business analyzing this. Why does identity have to be rational anyway?
        My grandfather was a godless communist (like, pretty high in the party) and very Jewish too. People could do that, very much so. So it existed and still does. So what if some idiot can’t get it into his brain?

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      August 27, 2018, 10:12 am

      What are you going on about?

      Why do you have to “identify” with anything?

      Base your overriding attitude on straightforward morality, and forget about that other stuff.

      • eljay
        eljay
        August 27, 2018, 10:24 am

        || RoHa: What are you going on about?

        Why do you have to “identify” with anything?

        Base your overriding attitude on straightforward morality, and forget about that other stuff. ||

        Shame on you for (what else?) anti-Semitically suggesting that y.f.:
        – forgo an identity that empowers him simultaneously to be a confident supremacist and to experience eternal trauma and misery; and, instead,
        – lead an ordinary, morality-based – and perhaps even enjoyable – life.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        August 27, 2018, 7:13 pm

        Sorry. I keep doing that, don’t I?
        I’ll try to stop.

        Note to self: Must not recommend humanity..

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      August 27, 2018, 4:10 pm

      Shorter “Yonah” : ‘You can’t have Zionists and anti-Zionists in the same congregation!’

  8. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    August 27, 2018, 9:20 am

    @Catalan
    ” To see just the amount of animosity towards Jews all I have to do is open the mondoweiss comment section.”

    There are none so blind as those who will not see. What you see is animosity towards Jews. It`s a simple uncomplicated defence mechanism which allows you to avoid seeing and acknowleding the crimes and barbarities of Zionism. So a Palestinian child is murdered/detained/tortured by the supposedly”professional” “moral” IDF s and the act is criticised by amongst others Mondoweiss commentators. Bingo in your warped mindset and lacking the ability to accept the reality of the crime it is miraculously morphed into “animosity towards Jews” and this will apply to your bitter end whether the criticism comes from Mondoweiss Gentile commentators or Mondoweiss Jewish commentators.

    What a sorry sad relic you are.

    • amigo
      amigo
      August 27, 2018, 4:16 pm

      “What a sorry sad relic you are.” 0ssinev to catalan.

      Open the MW comment section and check to see if catalan has ever put forward a plan to restore the Palestinians rights.Has he ever even uttered one word of condemnation of Israel,s policies.Has he ever offered one scintilla of understanding for the plight of the Palestinian People.

      His archives are replete with childish condemnation of BDS supporters who fight for equality and human rights.Do you suppose he silently envies their spirit and commitment to doing what is right.

      catalan is a full bore zionist who only cares about Israel,s Zionist Jews and he probably views non Zionist Jews as the enemy.

      Now that is a full bore anti semite.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 27, 2018, 5:48 pm

        “catalan is a full bore zionist”

        “catalan” never gave Zionism a thought, or a penny, until he bumped into Mondo.

  9. art5779
    art5779
    August 27, 2018, 8:36 pm

    As a young Jew who supports BDS, and believes that Judaism is rooted in the struggle for justice, this article validates my voice. As Israel is spoken of normally in the majority of synagogues (including the one I grew up in) in this country, it is inspiring to know that a shul like Makom Shalom exists, as I feel less alone! A warm thank you to Rabbi Michael Davis for his efforts.

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