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Young Jews disagreed with the JCC – and they called the cops on us

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The Talmud says that if dissent is not visible within a Jewish community, the community is not healthy. True Jewish leaders need to learn to build bridges and engage with difficult issues instead of cutting off parts of their community out of fear.

We are young North Carolinian Jews who are invested in Yiddishkayt, our Jewish communities, and solidarity with Palestinians. On Sunday, as we tried to engage in conversation with other members of the Jewish community, community leaders directed police to forcibly remove us from the local Jewish Community Center (JCC) and silenced our voices.

Over two years ago, a multi-faith and multi-racial coalition came together here in Durham, North Carolina to ask the city council to affirm that Durham police would not participate in trainings with the Israeli military, in which police departments all over the United States regularly take part. This April, the Durham City Council unanimously passed a policy that made Durham the first city to bar its police from engaging in international military-style training.

We have watched our Jewish community become increasingly divided over this issue. Members of the right-wing group Voice for Israel called for certain young Jewish women who supported the vote to lose their positions in synagogue leadership and their jobs as religious school teachers; those women subsequently received hate mail and harassment. Others targeted our Jewish mayor, calling him (among other things) an antisemitic Jew. Rabbis and leaders in our community have presented their opposition to the City Council policy as representative of the entire Jewish community, erasing the many Jews who supported the policy.

This past Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill and Voice for Israel hosted an event at the Levin JCC called “Durham City Council Statement Singling out Israel: Jewish Community Responses.” Instead of platforming the diverse array of Jewish community perspectives, the speakers, including a Christian pastor, were from groups that were unilaterally opposed to the City Council policy.

We were disappointed and hurt to find that “Jewish Community Responses” did not include a single voice that represented our opinion. Before the event, we wrote an open letter letter to the organizers asking them to invite a member of Jewish Voice for Peace to speak. They did not. So on Sunday, we came to the JCC to listen to the panelists and ask questions during the question and answer session.

The panelists seemed to take for granted that everyone in the audience opposed the city council statement. Speakers compared the statement to blood libel and colorfully smeared the D2P coalition, blaming the coalition for white supremacist and antisemitic flyers that appeared around town. During the Q&A session, panel organizers screened questions, and ours were discarded.

When we realized that even our questions were being ignored, we started to hand out copies of our letter to the editor to the people at the event. Within moments, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill approached us, accompanied by a couple of police officers, while six or seven other officers looked on from a few feet away. It was clear that the police presence was a premeditated response to the possibility of our own presence; the Federation had decided to forcibly remove us before we ever said a word. At the CEO’s direction, the police ordered us off the premises under threat of being charged with trespassing. As we left, someone in the crowd shouted after us, “You’re not Jewish!” The door closed behind us, and our voices were cut off and silenced.

The Talmud says that whenever the Sanhedrin unanimously condemns a defendant, the verdict must be thrown out. Any time Jewish leadership presents a unanimous opinion on an issue, it means that something is being overlooked, voices are being silenced, and something is very wrong. If dissent is not visible within a Jewish community, the community is not healthy. True Jewish leaders need to learn to build bridges and engage with difficult issues instead of cutting off parts of their community out of fear.

The Jewish Federation claims that they “embrace pluralism and welcome a diversity of beliefs and opinions from every member of our community,” but those values were not reflected in the way we were treated on Sunday. In the aftermath of Sunday’s event, we have heard, as individuals, from someone from the Federation who expressed understanding of our concerns. We expect continued engagement and recognition by Jewish leadership that we are an important part of this community.

An increasing number of young American Jews are getting involved in the Palestinian solidarity movement. If Jewish communities want to weather this quickly changing political moment, leadership needs to value their voices. And if we truly want to see peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians, Jewish community leaders will have to listen to voices they disagree with.

Cops may have removed us from the Jewish Community Center, but we cannot be removed from the Jewish community. Whether our community leaders are ready to acknowledge and accept us is up to them. We care deeply about our Jewish community, and we don’t want to be forced to leave a part of ourselves at the door. We would have loved to see an event on Sunday where Jews on both sides of the issue could come together and share their reactions, process pain and fear, and seek understanding.

The High Holidays are approaching: a time for teshuvah and repairing harm. Our leaders have a responsibility to welcome Jews like us as full participants in our communities. What better time to do it?

About Esther Mack

Esther Mack grew up in Modern Orthodox and egalitarian communities in Cleveland, Ohio, and Jerusalem. In early 2016, she started studying at Svara: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva in Chicago, and enrolled in their full-time program that fall. Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Benay Lappe opened her eyes to radical interpretations of Jewish traditions and halakha, and inspired her to pursue deeper learning through rabbinic ordination. Esther currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-Triangle and volunteers as a street medic, providing first aid at protests.

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About Abby Weaver

Abby Weaver is a Jewish studies and theatre student at Smith College, where she also is the co-president of the Jewish community. She grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is a member of Beth El Synagogue.

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16 Responses

  1. Jackdaw
    Jackdaw
    August 30, 2018, 2:49 pm

    “So on Sunday, we came to the JCC to listen to the panelists and ask questions during the question and answer session.”

    So far so good.
    But when your questions weren’t asked, you shouldn’t have interrupted the event by handing out your pamphlets.

    You should have gone outside, and handed out your pamphlets in a public space, and not inside private property.

    Imagine how Starbucks would react if a group entered Starbucks property and started handing out ‘Make America Great Again’ pamphlets to Starbucks customers. The group would be asked to leave.

    You have no clue what I’m talking about, do you?

    • amigo
      amigo
      August 30, 2018, 4:25 pm

      “Imagine how Starbucks would react if a group entered Starbucks property and started handing out ‘Make America Great Again’ pamphlets to Starbucks customers. The group would be asked to leave.” jackduh

      Are you suggesting Starbucks is against America being great again,

      “You have no clue what I’m talking about, do you? jackduh”

      That makes 2 of you .

    • bcg
      bcg
      August 30, 2018, 8:21 pm

      @Jackdaw: Is the issue about following Robert’s Rules of Order, or is the issue something else?

      “Members of the right-wing group Voice for Israel called for certain young Jewish women who supported the vote to lose their positions in synagogue leadership and their jobs as religious school teachers; those women subsequently received hate mail and harassment. ”

      What’s your perspective?

      • Jackdaw
        Jackdaw
        August 31, 2018, 1:54 am

        Persecuting people for their political beliefs is wrong, same as interrupting a private gathering to push your political beliefs is wrong.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 31, 2018, 3:33 pm

        a “private gathering”?

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      August 31, 2018, 5:44 am

      Starbuck’s?
      Jackdaw, you have no clue what Mack and Weaver are writing about here, do you? Perhaps this, from Wikipedia, may help you: “A Jewish Community Center or Jewish Community Centre (JCC) is a general recreational, social, and fraternal organization serving the Jewish community in a number of cities. JCCs promote Jewish culture and heritage through holiday celebrations, Israel-related programming, and Jewish education. However, they are open to everyone in the community.”

      • Jackdaw
        Jackdaw
        August 31, 2018, 10:15 am

        Right, and Weaver and Mack attended the event, but when their precious questions weren’t answered, they disrupted the event.

        Typical holier-than-thou entitlement.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        August 31, 2018, 3:53 pm

        @ jackdaw

        How open is the community facility when they let you in to hear the discussion but effectively you can’t get even one of your questions asked, let alone answered?

    • Talkback
      Talkback
      August 31, 2018, 6:29 am

      Jackdaw: “You should have gone outside, and handed out your pamphlets in a public space, and not inside private property.”

      You should have never entered Palestine without the consent of its people and dispossess them of their private property.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod
      August 31, 2018, 10:25 am

      Just the opposite, Jack.
      It was an event open to the public.

      Your police state mindset doesn’t know what a clue is.

      • Jackdaw
        Jackdaw
        August 31, 2018, 2:10 pm

        Right. It was opened to the public and Weaver and Mack attended the event.

        How freakin dense are you anyway.

      • CigarGod
        CigarGod
        September 1, 2018, 11:08 am

        In jacks police state of mind, freedom is just a parroted word. No one but pre-approved parrots are allowed on a panel, no non-parrot questions are allowed to be asked, no reading material is allowed to be shared, non-parrots may not hand out business cards or network in any way.
        Parrot Sticks and Koolaid will be served after Jacks Utopian Parrot Ministry events.

  2. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    August 30, 2018, 4:18 pm

    Too bad the JCC doesn’t have the common decency of a man like Jeremy Corbyn to permit opposing views and deal with individuals, even disruptive rude yobs as Wes Streeting calls them, after the meeting.

  3. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer
    August 30, 2018, 4:22 pm

    “embrace pluralism and welcome a diversity of beliefs and opinions from every member of our community,”

    You see this claim all the time about Israel, zionism, etc. How there is a robust debate occuring.

    Of course like zionism itself it’s a lie.

    I see Jewish people attacked online all the time for not holding the right opinion. They are labelled asajews, bad Jews, fake Jews. Some of the most incredibly antisemitic things imaginable are thrown at them.

    I guess that’s why they form alliances with neonazis and white supremacists.

  4. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block
    August 31, 2018, 10:03 am

    Mazel tov to these two women – and especially to Durham City Council for not – or no longer? – sending police to be trained by the Israeli military. (This happens in Canada, too.) No wonder they treat the citizens as the enemy.

  5. CigarGod
    CigarGod
    August 31, 2018, 10:51 am

    Beautifully written article from a firm foundation.
    It is nice to see real Judaism referenced once in a while.

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