Mondoweiss: Synagogues celebrate Jewish festival of… AIPAC!

Mondoweiss: Synagogues celebrate Jewish festival of… AIPAC!

Temple Israel in Westport, CT, hosts an AIPAC event featuring Israeli journalist David Horovitz, 2016.

Numerous synagogues around the US not only publicly support Israel, they support the Israel lobbying organization AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The promotion of AIPAC shows how monolithic the American Jewish community largely still is in support of Israel… 

By Philip Weiss, reposted from Mondoweiss

Next week the Jewish high holidays begin. And countless synagogues will have Zionist statements in their services, even if it’s just the Israeli flag on the altar. (While a very conscious minority of synagogues will offer open services that do not include paeans to Israel.)

One stark measure of devotion to Israel is the promotion of AIPAC, the Israel lobbying group, from the bimah. I’ve seen AIPAC’s logo in synagogue sanctuaries on a number of occasions, so I began to collect AIPAC info a few months ago with the headline above in mind.

Here are a dozen and more instances of rabbis celebrating the American Israel Political Affairs Committee– AIPAC– as a good neutral cause. You’d think AIPAC was another Jewish holiday!

As you read through this (too long) list, reflect that AIPAC is not even liberal Zionist. It devoted tens of millions of dollars to trying to defeat the Iran deal, it pushed the Iraq war, and it backs the Netanyahu government come hell or high water, because its raison-d’etre is that there must never be daylight between the Israeli government and the American government. So it has also kissed up to Trump.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a Reform congregation in NY, devoted a sermon to celebrate last March’s AIPAC policy conference:

“Have you ever been in a hall with 18,000 other Jews?.. It’s actually an exhilarating experience, so many Jews divided on so many issues all coming together united in support of Israel.”

Hirsch was on a panel at the AIPAC conference espousing Zionism as a progressive cause. “Zionism is a liberal idea… It is a movement to liberate the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of a prestige Reform congregation in NY, the Central Synagogue, has a discussion at the synagogue in November 2016 that is sponsored by AIPAC.

Elliot Cosgrove, a liberal Zionist, assures his congregation at the Conservative Park Avenue Synagogue in New York in February 2016:

I will be eating that chicken dinner at AIPAC this year.

Westchester Reform Temple sent 20 participants to the 2017 AIPAC conference. Rabbi Jonathan Blake gave a sermon praising the conference as a progressive Jewish festival:

AIPAC is for everyone… Jewish people of every denomination, young and old, clergy and lay leaders, and thousands of non-Jewish delegates too, all part of the multiracial, bipartisan network of pro-Israel activists. WRT brought an enthusiastic delegation of about 20 participants including high schoolers, graduate students, lawyers, doctors, financial professionals…

I was honored to add my voice to these conversations about how progressive values can inform our advocacy and how the Jewish character of the Jewish State can and must remain compatible with Democracy, and vice-versa..

Blake praised Leon Wieseltier, right along with Trump officials:

At this year’s conference, we heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, Vice President Mike Pence, Tony Blair, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Kirsten Gillibrand, and many more.

Last spring, Beth Israel of San Diego, a Reform temple, promoted a 12th grade trip “to experience the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.” The students learned about advocacy for Jewish issues and Israel-related policies and the synagogue published a photo of its senior rabbi at the policy conference.

Rabbis at the Reform temple, Congregation Beth Israel of Houston, often invoke AIPAC. Senior Rabbi David Lyon said that AIPAC is much misunderstood as a conservative organization when it’s a liberal group. Then he reported on last year’s conference.

[T]he highlight, without question, was the appearance of and message by U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. Her recent remarks about the U.S.’s support of Israel, and her command of our nation’s moral authority on the subject of Israel’s sovereignty, right to exist, and ally status, earned her the audience’s longest standing ovation.

At Anche Chesed Fairmount Temple in suburban Cleveland, Callyn Weintraub spoke about her trip to Israel with AIPAC at a Shabbos service.

There were times in Jewish history when our people were helpless.  But this is not one of those times.  This time, we have a voice – and history is calling to us once again…It is up to us – pro-Israel Americans Jews – to stand up for what’s right, and ensure that wherever we stand, politically, ideologically, socially – that we stand with Israel at this critical time. Because Israel isn’t just a light – it bursts with light, and it shares light. Flaws and all, Israel lights up the other nations as much as its own. And it is our duty to make sure this light beams for generations to come….

When I traveled and studied in Israel, I knew that fulfillment in my life would be enhanced by combining a meaningful job with Jewish service.  For me, AIPAC was that job.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Cloister, NJ, sermonized on the 2017 AIPAC policy conference, and his anger at the protesters outside:

For the past six-years at AIPAC, Israeli innovation has been highlighted. This year, we learned about technology that pulls water from the atmosphere and is being used in drought ridden countries. …

Are you protesting innovation? Are you protesting helping others?

During the opening plenum, we were introduced to Youssef, a sweet Palestinian boy that needed lifesaving heart surgery when he was in infant. Through the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, this child was able to be healed and now, as a young boy, could thank the Peres Center on the stage for saving his life and supporting his family through this harrowing journey.

Is your protest to insinuate that AIPAC supports Palestinian oppression? That is simply preposterous. Your promotion of such a falsehood is almost as criminal as the allegation in the first place. AIPAC has one simple mission: to promote a strong relationship between the United States and Israel. Why could anyone protest about that?

Rabbi Steve Morgen of Beth Yeshurun in Houston in 2015 told of attending six AIPAC policy conferences and of two synagogue rabbis attending that year, and tried to massage away the differences between Obama and Netanyahu over the Iran deal.

We are hoping to get the largest ever group of Beth Yeshurun members to attend [AIPAC] – over 100…

You may have heard that Congress has invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak at a joint session of Congress around that time, and that Netanyahu will then also address the AIPAC Policy Conference. You may have also heard that there was some political wheeling and dealing involved in all of this, protocols not being followed, and President Obama not being happy about it. I am not going to get into the politics of this. It is a very poorly kept secret that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu do not get along well. Whosever side you are on in this personal dispute (and personally I think there is plenty of blame to go around between the two of them) it is crucial for all of us to remember that Netanyahu will not be Prime Minister forever, and President Obama will not be President forever. The relationship between Israel and the United States is far too important – for both countries – to allow political shenanigans to interfere with that relationship.

AIPAC had nothing to do with the arrangements between Netanyahu and Congress. AIPAC is neither liberal nor conservative; neither Republican, nor Democrat. It is vital that we all prevent the U.S./Israel relationship from becoming a partisan tool of one party or the other. AIPAC is therefore explicitly and tenaciously non-partisan. Its sole mission is to educate Congress about the value of Israel for strategic, scientific, technological, medical, and other reasons, and to strengthen the U.S./Israel relationship.

Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen sermonized on Rosh Hashana at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel South Orange, NJ on his trip with AIPAC to Israel during the assault on Gaza in 2014:

My friend Mike posted that his eldest son had called him to say goodbye. He would be out of contact for the next few days as he and his IDF unit prepared for a possible ground assault into Gaza…

I found myself feeling… angry.

I was angry that my Israeli family and friends had to live like this on a daily basis.

I was angry that Hamas was terrorizing the Israeli people.

I was angry that Hamas was terrorizing the Palestinian people of Gaza.

Kehilath Jeshurun is a power modern orthodox synagogue in NY (associated with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, et al). Here’s Rabbi Elie Weinstock promoting AIPAC attendance to Jews everywhere in the country:

Our legislature, our congressmen want to hear what we have to say, our congressmen need to see us present…. [The AIPAC policy conference is] a time for us to go and stand before them and say, Here we are, we’re here to support the American-Israel relationship… we’re going to thank you for your previous support.”

From the bio of Stacy Friedman, chief rabbi of Rodef Sholom of San Rafael CA:

Rabbi Stacy is a rabbinic fellow with AIPAC where she has met with leaders in Israel to devise new ways to engage U.S. synagogues with the Jewish state.  She has joined rabbis across the country to fight Presbyterian divestment in Israel.

Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach promotes a partnership with AIPAC as being in the national security interest of the U.S.

AIPAC’s staff and citizen activists educate decision makers about the bonds that unite the United States and Israel and how it is in America’s best interest to help ensure that the Jewish state is safe, strong and secure.

Beth Sholom Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz led a trip to Israel with AIPAC in 2016. She has been “deeply in love” with Israel since going there as a teenager (link no longer available):

[A]midst all the maddening moments, there were profoundly joyful and proud moments for me as well, moments that demonstrated Israel’s vitality, ingenuity and tenacity, despite its outrageous neighborhood. But here, I’m going to start with a Palestinian story.  One of our great frustrations with the Palestinians has been how seemingly little they have done to build a future for themselves despite the abundance of international aid.

Rabbi Jonathan Singer of a leading San Francisco shul celebrated several Zionist organizations in a 2016 sermon, chiefly AIPAC:

At Congregation Emanu-El we will continue to welcome and encourage our members to engage a wide range of Zionist organizations and Jewish leaders as long as they support the right of the Jewish state to flourish in peace. I for one, am grateful for AIPAC and its work to support Israel in congress, JStreet and its efforts to actively engage the peace process, Friends of the IDF, who support Israeli soldiers on the front lines of the conflict, The New Israel Fund…

Congregation Beth David in San Jose bought a block of tickets to the 2016 AIPAC conference and was selling them to congregants at $399 a head.

When they’re gone, they’re gone, and believe us, you don’t want to miss this!

Temple Tifereth Israel of suburban Cleveland:

A strong supporter of Israel, Rabbi [Rosette Barron] Haim is a member of the AIPAC National Board and Cleveland Council; and Vice President of National Rabbinic Board of Israel Bonds; and active with the Friends of the Israel Defense Force. Since 2006, Rabbi Haim has led a congregational family trip to Israel every other year.

Jeremy Barras, a Reform rabbi at a synagogue in Pinecrest, FL, has served on AIPAC’s National Council.

Rabbi Dara Frimmer, a liberal Zionist at Temple Sinai of Los Angeles offered a sermon in 2016 lamenting “bitter cynicism and prejudice” in Israel against Palestinian statehood but she also promote the AIPAC conference:

In March, you can travel with Rabbi [Joel] Nickerson to the AIPAC conference.

Reform Congregation B’nai Jehoshuah Beth Elohim (BJBE) in Deerfield, IL, has regularly held AIPAC events and called on congregants to go to the AIPAC conference.

AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.
March 4-6, 2018
Join Rabbi Kedar and a delegation of BJBE congregants for three days of confirming the support and connection between the United States and Israel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Annual Conference. Over 13,000 people are expected to be at the conference. We will hear from leading U.S and Israeli officials as well as from many experts in international relations. We will also have the opportunity to meet with Senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Earlier this year it had teachings from an AIPAC official at the synagogue:

 Understanding Our World: What’s Happening in the Middle East
Sunday, March 18, 2018, 9:45-10:45 a.m. 
Instructor: Lital Rosenberg, Midwest Synagogue Initiative Director, AIPAC
We live in a complex world. There are shifting economic and political power structures world over, communities are struggling with new understandings of identity, and each week seems to bring new surprises, crises, and opportunities. We will try to sort out what is happening, what is going to happen, and what we can do about it.

So has the suburban Chicago congregation: North Suburban Synagogue Beth El had this AIPAC event in 2012.

North Suburban Synagogue Beth El AIPAC event in 2012.

Temple Sholom in Greenwich, CT, recently welcomed Yossi Klein Halevi to speak in its sanctuary, sponsored by AIPAC. Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz praised AIPAC from the altar and urged congregants to go to the annual conference:

[AIPAC is] an immense resource for us here at Temple Sholom, for so many of our colleagues, rabbis, and cantors here this evening. I know they’d say the same… I just want to personally tell everyone to join us at policy conference in D.C., it’s an amazing thing.

Well I could go on and on. I apologize if I did!

But the promotion of AIPAC that I’ve documented here shows how monolithic the American Jewish community still is in support of Israel. All other political differences vanish when it comes to folks backing the Jewish state. It’s all one big happy family, and the Trump administration and Sheldon Adelson are welcome to join in, no matter how you feel about Trump’s policies on refugees or global warming. Zionism really does define American Jewish identity, officially anyway.

These attitudes are obviously changing among younger Jews. But these synagogues reflect the Jewish establishment, and it’s still four-square for Israel and its powerful American lobby.

P.S. AIPAC of course encourages these relationships:

Synagogues are also the place where the centrality of Israel can become a stronger part of our Jewish identity. AIPAC has developed a menu of resources to help you enhance your synagogue’s offerings for Israel-related education and participation.

AIPAC helps many rabbis write their sermons by sending out a weekly mailing connecting that week’s bible portion to events in Israel. (From Deuteronomy, Moses’s words to the Israelites… “We saw Israel’s commitment to ‘the building of a better world’ recently in the rescue of the 12 youth soccer players and their coach who had been trapped in the caves of northern Thailand.”)

Editor’s Note:

Henry Herskovitz and his group, Jewish Witnesses for Peace, have been holding a vigil outside his synagogue for 15 years. Some Palestine solidarity activists have condemned this action, perhaps unaware of the role such synagogues play in supporting Israel.

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