Monthly Archives: October 2011

Getting banished by the Jewish Federation on Yom Kippur.

What does Chabad Rabbi Manis Friedman have that I don’t have? Is it the beard? The religious authority? Or is it the record of advocating for the killing of Arab women, men and children?  Why does he get to stay on the Jewish Federation’s much promoted Jewish Heroes competition list, while I was unceremoniously deleted- without explanation- this morning, less than 24 hours after a story about my nomination appeared in JWeekly, the Bay Area Jewish paper.

Friedman and I have been running in the top ten for Jewish communal professionals for weeks. And though he’s a rabbi and I’m not, I was nominated by a young rabbinic student sincere in his commitment to a Jewish future. Heck, I even once helped raise thousand of dollars for the Fed after going on a mission to Israel– and my uncle was once a 6-figure fundraiser for the Federation and board member. But my nomination represents hundreds if not thousands of Jews in communities across the US who are heroically working to make equality between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis a reality.

Which is, presumably, why it was nixed and my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, made subject to a modern day form of Jewish banishment. This despite the competition’s tagline: “We honor those making strides to repair the world.” (Picture at left: my nomination page now says Page Not Found and is blank.  Here is the cached version-what it used to look like before today. And I’m off the leaderboard completely.)

But what about Friedman, who still remains riding high at number 4 on the leaderboard?

While he has written a lot about love, and famously brought Bob Dylan to Chabad–which gives him hipster points–that’s not what Friedman is most famous for. When asked by Moment Magazine a few years ago, “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?”, this was Friedman’s response as reported in the Forward:

“The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” Friedman wrote in response to the question posed by Moment Magazine for its “Ask the Rabbis” feature.

Friedman argued that if Israel followed this wisdom, there would be “no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.”

“I don’t believe in Western morality,” he wrote. “Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.”

Yes, Arab men, women and children don’t even rank as civilians. After a firestorm of criticism, he gave a half-hearted apology which the people who know him well didn’t find compelling.
So, what exactly are we to conclude about Jewish Federation values? There are numerous examples of policing on the left (banning groups like JVP and other human rights organizations) while remaining wide open to supporters of illegal settlements and even groups that arm settlers and giving standing ovations to the most right-wing and destructive Prime Minister in Israeli history. Though they do not openly advocate settlements, declared illegal by international law and considered by many to be the number one barrier to peace, they have defacto historically been one of the great supporters of the settlement project.

But something else is true here- groups like JVP are fully committed to nonviolence. Not so for Friedman and supporters of offensive Israeli militarism. And so when nonviolent Jewish activists are violently attacked by other Jews, (attacks on Palestinians are daily occurrences) whether in Anatot- or the Jewish Federation General Assembly- or in Congress–or at a community meeting –and communal Jewish professionals remain silent, this silence speaks volumes. The same can be true here. What does it say that nonviolent leftists are being shunned and banished?

When I look back on the wise and amazing work of JVP members over the decades- everything we said came true. We said the occupation must end, the settlements must stop, all citizens must be treated fairly- that otherwise there would be more bloodshed and that Israel would become a pariah. It doesn’t feel good to be right, not one bit. But the knee-jerk and policing response by much of the institutional Jewish world has already been shown to be wrong. And self-destructive.
My family has a tradition of Hasidic rabbis who didn’t look or likely think that differently from Rabbi Friedman. But my parents’ generation and certainly my generation has changed in our thinking and values to embrace a more universalist view of humanity while still being committed to Jewish continuity. That generational change is being repeated literally millions of times over all over the world. Look at this amazing video of young Jewish adults and their statement of values and identity. You’re looking at the future.

Disappearing JVP’s/my nomination is the perfect metaphor for an older generation’s fearful attempt to disappear an entire generation. Their children and certainly grandchildren are increasingly embracing the values of equality, going to the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem to see for themselves the horror wrought by the illegal occupation and a dream built in many ways on the backs of Palestinians.

But we can’t be so easily disappeared with the click of a mouse. Not by a long-shot. And frankly-speaking as someone who cares deeply about a Jewish future– the Federation should be thankful for that.
There is real irony that this happened on erev Yom Kippur. It is traditionally a day when even non-religious Jews seek forgiveness, from Gd or from people in our lives who we have wronged. What a way to begin a day of introspection.
Cecilie Surasky, cecilie@jvp.org
Deputy Director
Jewish Voice for Peace