Ooops! They Did It Again?

B’nai Jeshurun rabbis’ comments on Israel trigger a second angry petition from congregants.

02/07/14
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Congregants of the Upper West Side synagogue B’nai Jeshurun, known worldwide for its spirited services, have for the second time in about a year condemned two of their rabbis’ most recent public statements on Israel, this time in an e-mail petition.

The rabbis spoke out in late January, when Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol signed a letter criticizing Mayor Bill DeBlasio for offering the lobbying group AIPAC an open door at City Hall and stating that AIPAC speaks for Israel's hard-line government and right-wing supporters, but not for all Jews, including them.

That letter, said the displeased group of congregants in their petition, "paints AIPAC into an ideological corner."

“Please understand that your words, besides being factually incorrect, are offensive to many of your congregants,” the congregants wrote in their response, dated Feb. 7, adding that, “You should be standing with Israel.”

The synagogue did not respond to repeated quests for comment.

Forty-eight congregants, about half of whom shared a surname with at least one other signer, signed the letter. B'nai Jeshurun, known as a "mega-synagogue" has thousands of congregants that make its size more comparable to massive churches than to most other synagogues.

"We are a diverse synagogue," said Gil Kulick, 72, a retired diplomat whose has been a member of the synagogue for 11 years and who is an active volunteer with both BJ and JStreet, the lobbying organization known as a left-leaning AIPAC alternative. "I have no doubt that the vast majority of the community support the rabbis' freedom to speak their consciences."

The group that sent the petition is a vocal minority, said Kulick, who signed the letter criticizing the mayor. He believes that many congregants likely agree with the sentiments expressed in the DeBlasio letter, he said.

Last year, the rabbis apologized to their congregants for an e-mail that praised the UN’s vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.

That e-mail, the rabbis said, was sent prematurely, “through an unfortunately series of internal errors.”

"Whether intentional or not," the signers of the current petition stated, "your reckless signing of the Mayor's letter has, once again, deeply offended many of your memberes, and provoked turmoil within our congregation."

Fifty-eight people signed the message to DeBlasio, including feminist Gloria Steinem, writer Erica Jong and musician Emmanuel Ax. Those signatories included at least two married couples.

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This is not the first time beni jeshrun has done stupid things.

Years ago an element at beni jeshrun wanted to honor adam shapiro - the bum who married a "palestinian" woman and became a pal of yassir arafat.

The uproar at bj resulted in the honor being moved outside bj - and bj lost congregants and money.

Time to impeach the "rabbis".

I'm heard of a group calling itself the Jewish Voice for Peace. Where is their sister organization - Muslim Voice for Peace? A MVfP which denounces rocket attacks on Israel, opposes the dehumanization of Jews in mosques?

I have been a member of BJ for nearly 25 years. I am an unabashed supporter (and signer) of the letter signed by Felicia and Roly. The suggestion that they do not "stand with Israel" is ridiculous. However, I have a different nit to pick regarding this story and it is with the reporter: What is your point counting up the married people who signed each letter? Are they not entitled to be counted as individuals even if they have a spouse with whom they agree? And PS, the congregants who were ready to organize to show their support of Felicia and Roly realized that doing so was unnecessary because the tired and false claims of the critics were getting no traction.

Feh on left wing Jews who are anti-Israel and have no interest in Judaism and useful idiot "rabbis."

As a proud BJ member, I can say unequivocally that our rabbis care unreservedly about the safety and survival of the State of Israel. They do however differ from others as to what policy is in the long-run best for Israel's continued survival as a Jewish Democracy. Why is it unseemly for them to claim that AIPAC is not the sole, nor the most reliable, voice when it comes to best looking after Israel's interests?
The spiritual mentor of the congregation is a man called Abraham Joshua Heschel who constantly reminded the Jewish people to see the Divinely-endowed human dignity in all people. (Note: Rabbi Heschel lost his entire family in the Holocaust and it is not at all clear that he would support AIPAC today, despite his ardent love for Israel.)
Furthermore, as a BJ regular I am aware that the vast majority of its members agree with their rabbinic leadership. Inclusiveness means that we also welcome people who chose to pray with us but who do not share the rabbis' views on Israel. It is the right of all to come to BJ. But the dissenting minority do not merit the degree of attention that this good paper likes to afford them. While, I am certain that these sort of controversies happen with regularity in other synagogues, somehow when it happens at BJ it makes the news. This is no "oops."' This is a matter of serious and influential and worthy rabbinic leadership taking a deeply rooted moral position. If it garners attention, it must be a testimony to the vitality and centrality of this congregation. It might even have to do with the way BJ tends to provoke others into examining their
fiercely-held assumptions.

I can unequivocally state as a BJ member that there are many of us who feel that the Rabbis were way out of line for criticizing AIPAC to the Mayor. I did not sign the letter from the unhappy congregants but I wish I had. This may be an oops moment, but honestly they are happening too often.

Freedom of speech allows these "rabbis" to give counsel to our enemies. Freedom of speech also allows these "rabbis" to be chastised by their congregants and members of the jewish community at large.

Also, your headline is not impartial, yet this article doesn't appear to be in an editorial section. If you are simply reporting something, why do you have a headline that implies an opinion on the matter?

Leave them alone, you people who know what is right.

Back in the early days of Communism, Lenin used to refer to naïve, sympathetic Western sympathizers as "useful idiots". Communism is dead but the "useful idiots" live on and now have a pulpit. God help Israel.

Can anyone confirm if these rabbis are really Jewish? If they are converts, did they convert with a real rabbi? I just can't fathom a real member of our community siding with our enemies. Even the Neturei karta would never actively promote actions and measures which would get other Jews hurt or killed!

"Even the Neturei karta would never actively promote actions and measures which would get other Jews hurt or killed!"

You conveniently forgot the neteuri karta delegation at the holocaust denial conference in fascist iran.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Conference_to_Review_the_Global_Vision_of_the_Holocaust

I wish the fake jews of neteuri karta would move to gaza, establish a community of anti-zionist JINOs, living under hamass as dhimmis.

This was not an "Oops" moment on the Rabbis part. They continue to openly offend a sizable portion of their congregants as well as shame and divide the larger Jewish community.
It is unprecedented that a "Rabbi" should chastise a non-jewish political leader for expressing support for the Jewish community. The Jewish experience has been, that we openly sought non-jewish support during times of crisis. Israel is under attack and in crisis, and this act of criticizing the Mayor brings into question the loyalty of these "Rabbis" to the greater good of our people.
They should be roundly condemned. Only the Board and the membership of their temple can decide if they deserve to represent them as their spiritual leaders. If I were on the Board, I would seek to have them dismissed immediately. This time, no one can say it was an "Oops" moment.

I am all for freedom of speech. I can expect that ultra left wing Jews such as Erica Jong and Gloria Steinem would say what they did. But B'nai Jeshrun Rabbis? Really? Question: are they Rabbi's or Imans? We can expect that Imans would say the things that these Rabbi's did.
Like freedom of speech, these Rabbi's have to remember that the congregants pay their salary. Yes, ...sad to say it, have your freedom of speech, but not on my dime.

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