Author Archives: DanielStrum

A Tale of Two Rabbis as Passover Draws Near

By Donna Nevel

An event is taking place in New York City on April 4th to discuss the following questions: Is Israel—or can it be—a democracy? Is there—or can there be—equality in Israel? Can a Jewish state be democratic? The current realities in Palestine/Israel, and deep concerns about justice and equality, make this conversation urgent. Two high-profile rabbis in New York City played key, and starkly contrasting, roles as the planning for this event unfolded.

One rabbi did not want the conversation to happen at all—at least not in any space over which he had control.The very mention of BDS in the flyer announcing the event—that this panel had grown out of questions asked at an earlier panel on BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions]—made the conversation, in his words, “beyond the pale;” it was not going to take place in his “home.” And so he had his assistant cancel the contract the synagogue had signed to rent out its space for the event. (Only when we held him to account with his contractual liability did he grudgingly back down, telling us he wished we would go elsewhere and demanding that we not use the name of the synagogue even as part of the address in our promotional materials lest the synagogue suffer “reputational harm” for which we would be held responsible.) Continue reading

Can Israel be Jewish and democratic? Ansche Chesed cancels forum contract.

Exciting times indeed.

A surprising, even thrilling mix of prominent New York Jews wants to have a discussion about what until recently has been the ultimate unaskable question: can Israel be both a democracy and a Jewish state? And they want to have that discussion in a prominent shul.

The Upper West Side synagogue Ansche Chesed agrees to the forum, until the senior rabbi gets wind of the event and decides to cancel the contract, he says, based on the concern that the topic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) may, possibly, might, perhaps, could potentially…come up in the conversation. (Read the whole breaking story here.)

But the goal-posts for acceptable discourse are shifting rapidly and the tale has a great ending. Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), unafraid of a good debate on an issue people are dying to discuss, has stepped up and will host the April 4 event. (Download flyer here.) Continue reading