American Rabbi Finds More Open Debate in Israel

American Rabbi Finds More Open Debate in Israel

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (the largest gay synagogue in the world) is visiting Israel.  Interviewed in Ha’aretz, she expresses surprise that there is still an atmosphere of healthy disagreement among many Israelis.  She makes the point that it is not easy to be critical of Israel in the American Jewish community.  Basically, she confirms what most of us know, that many rabbis are careful not to criticize Israel for fear of upsetting their congregations or board of directors. –Lilly 

Rabbi Kleinbaum in Israel, Sept. 2; photo by Moti Milrod.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum was chastised during the Gaza war for her recognition of Palestinian suffering.  . . .
By Judy Maltz | Sep. 4, 2014
. . .  In recent weeks, she’s been vilified by members of her own congregation, as well as many others in the New York Jewish community, for using the pulpit to deliver a political message. During a recent prayer service, Kleinbaum read out the names not only of Israeli casualties during the latest war, but also the names of Palestinian children killed in the fighting. For a member of the board and several members of the congregation who resigned in protest, Kleinbaum had crossed a red line.  . . .
It’s not the first time events playing out in the Middle East have stirred up emotions and controversy in the otherwise famously liberal New York Jewish community. But something was different about this round, she reflects. “The degree to which the conversation has been shut down was maybe the most disturbing thing about this war, . . .”
Which is why she felt so inspired during a trip she took to the south of the country earlier this week. She visited residents of Sderot, as well as several agricultural communities on the Gaza border that had been under constant Hamas attack during the seven-week war.
“This guy I met at [moshav] Netiv Ha’asara, which is right on the border, told me he’s angry that the government’s reaction to all this is to hide behind more concrete, rather than reaching a political solution to the problem,” she says. “When I told people down there what I’d been through at my own synagogue, they were absolutely shocked. Americans assume, by and large, that there is only one voice in Israel, and I was very moved to discover during my trip down south that there is certainly more than one voice.”
. . .  Does Kleinbaum agree with other liberal Jews finding it increasingly difficult to love Israel these days?
“I think it’s like with family,” she responds. “Do we love everything about the people we love most in the world? Not all the time. Not at every moment. I feel now, more than ever, we need to be able to stand with Israel, but not with the Israel of a certain what I believe to be misguided and shallow point of view. As a progressive Zionist, I’m deeply committed to the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel and the values it represents. I want to fight along with the Israelis who share my values, and there are many. I’ve met so many this week, which makes me very proud.”
When asked if she supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Kleinbaum is noncommittal.
“I’m not a sophisticated politician,” she says. “I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the answer lies in a deep conversation, which includes sitting down and really trying to understand the other side. I’ve been struck, both in Israel and America, about how little both Israeli Jews and American Jews understand the Palestinians. There’s a moderate middle it behooves us to reach out to. Radical Islam will only be defeated by moderate Muslims.”
Does she believe the Israeli government engages in “pink-washing” – flaunting its record on gay rights to distract attention from its violations of Palestinian rights?
“I happen to be someone who can hold two truths at once,” she responds. “I don’t think the granting of gay rights was done to create a fig leaf, and I’m proud of what Israel has done for gay rights. But at the same time, I do believe that Israel violates the human rights of Palestinians every single day. Both things are true.”

The entire article can be read online by clicking this link:

By | 2014-09-09T11:45:00-04:00 September 9th, 2014|Blog|0 Comments

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