Letter to President Obama from American Rabbis

Dear President Obama,

We are writing this letter to you as American rabbis, cantors and rabbinical students, serving a wide range of Jewish communities.   We were dismayed to learn that, immediately following the recognition by the United Nations of observer status for Palestine, the government of Israel issued permits to begin development of two large tracts of settlement housing in highly contested areas in  East Jerusalem (E-1) and the West Bank (Maaleh Adumim.)

As you well know, these expansion permits are damaging not only to prospects for Palestinian self-determination but also for peace in the region.  We urge you in the strongest terms to use your full authority to oppose these expansions, which are illegal under international law and which also make impossible any hope of creating a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank.

We represent a growing voice within American Jewry which seeks an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its stranglehold by blockade of the people of Gaza.  We believe that the aggressive expansion of settlements in the Occupied territories constitutes a deliberate strategy to obstruct a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  We believe further that the United States, as the primary global source of financial and political support for the  Israeli government, has an obligation to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for these actions, which thwart the possibility of peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It is no longer the case — if it ever was — that the Jewish community in the United States  is unified in its support of the policies of successive Israeli governments, which have sought to create “facts on the ground” that obstruct the hopes of independence and sustainability for the Palestinian people.  Absent active intervention by the United States and other nations, Israel will surely continue to implement these destructive policies.

As leaders of the American Jewish community, we join you in hope for a just peace for all the peoples of the region.  Please know that you have our strong support for demanding that the government of Israel reverse for this latest action and for all that you can do to lead the way to a fair and sustainable resolution.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbi Margaret Holub

Rabbi Brant Rosen

Rabbi Brian Walt

Rabbi Lynn Gottleib

Rabbi Joseph Berman

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

Rabbi Julie Greenberg

Rabbi Borukh Goldberg

Rabbi Eyal Levinson

Rabbi David Mivasair

Rabbi Rebecca Lillian

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Alana Alpert

Cantor Michael Davis

Rabbi Michael E. Feinberg

Rain Zohav

Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer

Jessica Rosenberg

Ken Rosenstein

Rabbi Shai Gluskin

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert

Ari Lev Fornari

Rabbi Art Donsky

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom

Rabbi Linda Holtzman

Rabbi Leonard Beerman

Rabbi Alexis Pearce

Rabbi Sarra Lev

David Basior

Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel

The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s “compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”

We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.

The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”  The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.

It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs -– including Social Security and food stamps –- to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy.  Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?

While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israel’s security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israel’s primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians – – and true security for all who live in the region.

As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.

We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest.  We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.

We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.

Signed (list in formation):

Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student

JVP Rabbinical Council Says No to an Attack on Iran!

We, the undersigned American Jewish clergy, are deeply concerned about reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu will demand of President Obama, at their meeting at the White House today, that either the United States attack Iran, or else, Israel will.

We do not welcome the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. We call on all the military forces in the region – including Israel’s – to divest themselves of their nuclear armaments and renounce any belligerent nuclear aspirations.

The State of Israel refuses to acknowledge its own nuclear arsenal or to submit to international monitoring. We believe it is hypocritical of Israel to demand of Iran what it refuses to agree to itself.

Most of the people of the State of Israel oppose Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military threats against Iran. They fear the consequences of an attack on Iran. As Jewish leaders, we too believe that the path of wisdom towards achieving peace and stability in the region is through dialog and engagement and not through acts of war. We call on the United States government to safeguard the interests of the people of Israel and Iran.

Nine years after the United States launched a war against Iraq that is widely recognized as having been badly executed and unjustified, Israel would have the U.S. implicate itself in a new war in the region, this time against Iran. We believe that Jews, and other Americans, will not support more reckless adventurism in the Middle East.

In this election year, we call on President Obama not to give in to warmongering. As Jewish leaders we cannot endorse an Israeli act of war against the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Bible teaches us: “bakesh shalom v’rodfehu –  seek peace and pursue it.” We urge President Obama to stand firm and to use his power as Israel’s chief supporter to draw Israel to the path of peace and justice.

Cantor Michael Davis, Evanston, IL
Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, Re’ut, Israel
Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, Malmö, Sweden
Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, Lanesboro, MA
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Evanston, IL
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Margaret Holub, Albion, CA
Rabbi Shai Gluskin, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer, Claremont, CA
Michael Ramberg, Rabbinical Student, RRC, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jamaica Plain, MA
Alana Alpert, Rabbinical Student, Hebrew College, Boston, MA
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Stony Point, NY
Rabbi Howard Cohen, Bennington, VT
Rabbi Brian Walt, West Tisbury, MA
Rabbi David Mivasair, Vancouver, BC
Rabbi Eyal Levinson, Israel, OT
Rabbi Alissa Wise, Oakland, CA
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, Madison, WI

Moment of Truth for Liberal Zionism

For the last ten plus years, advocates of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine have been warning that the “window of opportunity” for a two-state solution is closing fast.

Here’s Jordan’s King Abdullah II using the image in a 2005 speech:

Israelis and Palestinians must take advantage of a “small window of opportunity” for peacemaking, he warned. “If we don’t do it, I think the Middle East will be doomed, unfortunately, to many more decades of violence.”

From a 2007 Boston Globe report:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a “two-state solution” in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami, writing in a 2008 Forward op-ed:

The window is closing on a two-state solution, and Israel’s prospects for a second, safer 60 years grow are growing ever dimmer.

And as recently as two weeks ago, Ben-Ami used a different metaphor to underscore the urgency of the latest “moment:”

If this round of talks breaks down yet again – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single observer who’ll argue that they won’t – then Israel, like the boater on the river, can briefly revel in having avoided the risk of heading to shore.

But bear in mind that “sitting this one out” isn’t an option. The waterfall is still dead ahead.

As someone who’s invoked the “closing window” more than once myself over the years, I’m quite familiar with this pedagogy. Time is running out for a viable negotiated two-state agreement between Israelis and Palestinians – and thus the future of a Jewish and democratic state. The status quo – namely unrestricted Israeli settlement of the West Bank, coupled with an ever-increasing Palestinian birth rate – simply cannot be sustained.

At a certain point, however, I think it’s fair to pose the challenge: how many times can you repeatedly warn of a last chance before the notion is rendered devoid of all meaning? How long can advocates of a two-state solution invoke the urgency of a fleeting opportunity before admitting that this solution is simply no longer a realistic option any more?

To be sure, with each passing day, the warning of a last chance opportunity appears increasingly toothless. The latest “window of opportunity” occurred earlier this month when it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was “mulling gestures to Palestinians to keep the peace talks going.” Barely a week later, we learned that Israeli officials had formally informed the PA of its position that West Bank settlements “must be a part of the Israeli State.”

Such a position, of course, makes a complete mockery of any suggestion of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. It lays bare the truth that Israel is not really interested in two actual states, but merely the formalization of an inherently inequitable status quo.

The political realities here are stark and undeniable. Israel’s settlement of the West Bank continues with impunity and the US continues to provide its “closest ally” with all the diplomatic cover it needs to do so. Politically speaking, it is no longer possible to invoke windows of opportunity with a straight face. Perhaps the real question before us is not “how many times have we missed these opportunities?” but rather, “did they ever really exist at all?”

So what happens now? It’s reasonable to assume that this paralyzed, inequitable status quo will continue apace into the indeterminate future. Israel will continue to create facts on the West Bank with the tacit permission of the US, creating a conditions that no Palestinian leader could possibly be expected to accept.

Under such circumstances, it is equally reasonable to expect the reality for Palestinians on the ground to grow increasingly oppressive and dire. As this occurs, their plight and their cause will be more difficult for the world to ignore. Governments, individuals and institutions will increasingly rally to Palestinian requests for support, most prominently the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

In turn, Israel’s actions will be increasingly more difficult for its supporters to defend. As the status quo is allowed to languish, the state of Israel will become further and further isolated from the rest of the world community and more pressure will be brought to bear upon the political elites to fundamentally change their approach to ending this conflict.

While these are certainly sobering and painful prospects, I don’t think they are exaggerated or far-fetched. On the contrary, I believe the burden of proof is on those who believe the same tired approach to the “peace process” will somehow yield results in the future when it has failed repeatedly in the past.

Once we accept that a division into two states is no longer realistically possible, the calculus is sobering, to put it mildly: we will be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic apartheid Jewish state, in which a minority rules over a majority or a civil democracy in which all citizens have equal rights under the law.

For many liberal Zionists, this unbearably painful decision will represent a profound moment of truth. If forced to choose, which will it be? A Jewish state that parcels out its citizens’ rights according to their ethnicity – or a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens?

I truly believe this is more than an academic question. Perhaps it’s time to stop talking about mythic “windows of opportunity” and open a new discussion: what will it take for us to admit that it is finally closed? And what will our options be then?

God Is In This Place

by Rabbi Alissa Wise

This sermon was given Sunday, January 23, 2012 at St. Johns Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Many thanks to St. Johns for the invitation and exceptionally warm welcome. The ideas within are in part thanks to the good thinking of JVPers who came before me and the work I did with my comrades at Jews Against the Occupation in NYC 2001-2004, among other smart people.

In Genesis we read:

Jacob woke from his sleep and said, surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!

It happened for me like that too. Well, maybe not exactly. Let me tell you what happened.

In the summer of 2007, while I was studying to become a rabbi, I lived in the West Bank for two months. One day I planted trees in a destroyed olive grove outside of Nablus. I was working with local Palestinian farmers and a group of activists from Sweden. None of the Swedish activists were Jewish; most of them were anarchist college students who were on the first trip to the Middle East, there just for a couple weeks to support Palestinian non-violent resistance.

Before we set out for the day, we exchanged information in case of arrest or injury, chose individuals to negotiate with the army, and reminded each other to follow the lead of the Palestinian farmers, to retreat when they wanted to and not to stray from the group.

As we walked the four miles out to the plot of land where the olive trees had been uprooted and now would be replanted, we got to know each other a bit. The Swedish internationals were intrigued that I was becoming a rabbi, and on our long walk out to the grove, they questioned me about what I believed about God. As happens a lot when I am with anarchists and activists who don’t like or trust organized religion, there was a skepticism, or at least a confusion about my religiosity; especially as the nearest religious Jews were the ones who did the uprooting. I would often dodge the question about God in this kind of situation.

But, at that moment I had an answer. As if, I, like Jacob suddenly woke up.

There I was on the lookout for Israeli military snipers or jeeps and being pressed to answer what I believed about God, in a land full of claims on God. I scanned my history with this land—my family’s connections to Jerusalem, my teen camping trips in the North of Israel, my dance club days in Tel Aviv in college — and I came to truly understand for the first time that it was against all odds that I was standing there. I had planted trees not too far from Nablus before with the Jewish National Fund — before I knew their participation in the erasure of Palestinian history. Yet there I was, a middle-class American Jew raised in a right-wing Zionist Jewish home, and now I was helping Palestinian farmers plant trees as an act of resistance in the occupied West Bank. It was in response to this question asked of me in Nablus that I filled in the blank about God:. God is the impulse in me to serve the Other out of a sense of responsibility that stems from the Source of redemption.

God was in this place and I did not know it.

And, then I did. I never looked back.

My responsibility to the other — the most intimate and the most distant — is what brings me to and sustains me in the work seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

We all have a responsibility to hear from those directly affected by occupation and oppression how we might support their struggle for dignity, self-determination and equality.

After all, these demands are basic — as much as we might hope for ourselves – as the Golden Rule teaches — treat others as you would like to be treated. So simple, so basic — so incredibly challenging.

In 2005, a Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) was made by over 120 organizations in Palestinian civil society. This call, a request for solidarity, urges those concerned with Palestinian human rights to take action in their local communities by organizing consumer boycott and divestment campaigns — like the effort underway in the Presbyterian church to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

Make no mistake about it — the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions made by Palestinian civil society is a rebuke of the current policies and actions made by the Israeli government. This includes the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and the lack of basic civil rights for non-Jewish Arab citizens of Israel.

Several Christian denominations, including your own, have made brave, constructive decisions to investigate whether their churches’ investments contribute to violence and oppression in Israel and Palestine. Churches are reviewing investments as a means to ending the humiliation and brutality faced by Palestinians under occupation — an occupation that causes great harm to Israeli society as well. As long as one nation occupies another, neither can enjoy  true peace and security. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, no one is free until we are all free.

The churches engaging in this review and calling for divestment understand that investing in corporations that profit from the occupation is unethical.  Examining the impact of their investments is a practical, effective way for American Christians to do good rather than cause harm — and is an answer to the Palestinian call for solidarity.

The decision to divest from the occupation is also critically important for Jews everywhere.

All too often, when a non-Jewish group or individual, speaks out against blatantly unjust Israeli policies and actions, they are accused of acting on that unreasoning hatred of Jews and Judaism that is commonly called anti-Semitism.

Anti-semitism, like all forms of oppression, seeks to lump all Jews together and assign us a set of characteristics–some negative, some positive.  In the lumping, we are made less human, no longer seen as individuals with our own individual lives and characteristics. Saying that all Jews support Israel unconditionally is in itself a kind of anti-Semitism, then, as it denies us the right to form our own opinions, beliefs, and relationships with Israel as whole people.

Issuing a moral rebuke such as a targeted divestment shows a respect for Jews, and others that support Israeli policies, that is fundamentally incompatible with anti-Semitism.  Such an act is predicated on the belief that the recipients of the rebuke are capable of reevaluating their actions and turning onto a more just path.

I can think of no greater act of friendship than to risk defamation in order to remind one’s friends of their own ideals when they, themselves, have forgotten them. In fact, this idea of sacred rebuke – tochecha – one of my most favorite Jewish concepts/values — is included in the Holiness Code — the section of the Torah that is famous for its focus on moral and ethical imperatives.

Tochecha is about our obligation to tell someone when they have done or are currently straying and behaving wrongly – whether to us, or to another. What’s more, tochecha requires us also to engage with those we are rebuking and assist them and support them in the repair of the wrong you are calling out.

As we learn in Leviticus 19:17:

You shall not hate your fellow human being in your heart. Rebuke your fellow human being but incur no guilt because of this person.

You shall not hate your fellow human being in your heart — this is required for one to engage in tochecha — rebuke. It must be based on love and respect.

We know that Jews will not be truly free or secure until the oppression of the Palestinians ends. By examining the economic underpinnings and voting to divest from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation, that literally have a vested interest in the failure of a just peace, Christian churches are acting as partners with Jews in our own liberation.

Millennia of persecution have left most Jews with deep scars. Whether our relatives perished in the Holocaust or whether they suffered lesser forms of persecution and discrimination, we have been deeply affected by anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately the phenomenon is alive and well throughout the world.  Many still hold wrong-headed beliefs about Jews — that we are miserly, loud, arrogant, or untrustworthy. Or that we are all rich, smart and powerful.

Even if American Jews  are mostly safe and secure, we often don’t feel that way. We remain vigilant and ask our allies to remain alert as well.

Because our wounds run so deeply, it is very difficult for many Jews to recognize that Israel, not Palestinians, hold disproportionate power.

But, even still, that sacred rebuke is essential — even if — and perhaps because – it is difficult for some Jews to hear. It is precisely because of my love for my own family members, my community members that I do the work I do and participate in the call for BDS and see the growing global movement as a path to a lasting peace, with justice.

As a third century rabbi, Rabbi Yossi ben Chanina, taught: “A love without reproof is no love.”  His study partner Resh Lakish added: “Reproof leads to peace; a peace where there has been no reproof is no peace.”

Out of respect and love — highlight what is wrong, and together we step toward peace.

Highlight the harm of settlement expansion and of the various consumer products—like SodaStream and Ahava cosmetics that are profiting off of Palestinian’s natural resources and stolen land. Highlight the acts of Caterpillar which makes millions off of demolishing homes and uprooting olive trees. Each year, U.S. corporations receive an alarming subsidy from U.S. taxpayers. By law, 75% of U.S. military aid to Israel must be spent in American corporations. It is with this money, for example, that Israel buys weaponized bulldozers from Caterpillar.

Highlight Motorola solutions who profits from Israel’s control of the Palestinian population by providing surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and West Bank settlers.

Highlight Hewlett-Packard who provides on-going support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land and allows the Israeli military occupation to grant or deny special privileges to the civilians under its control.

The Presbyterian church’s decision to openly look at your investments, and to call for divestment from the companies stated above – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard – is so brave in part because you are doing it in the face of being painfully and wrongfully accused of anti-Semitism. The legacy of persecution against Jews runs deep and the prejudice is real even today. Accusations of anti-Semitism should not be taken lightly. Nor should they be issued carelessly.

As I see it, the quest for justice is at the core of Jewish tradition and identity. When Jews support the Israeli occupation, we are acting from fear due to centuries of intense persecution and genocide. When the US government supports the Israeli occupation in the face of international human rights violations, it is acting out of self-interests that have nothing to do with Jewish values, traditions or security. The very essence of Jewish values is a tradition of justice.

To the Jewish organizations that wield the accusation of anti-Semitism against those that speak out for justice, I ask, When have  you raised your voice when Israel demolishes  a Palestinian home or uproots a  Palestinian orchard?

The truth is that the majority of American Jews have never felt so distant either from those organizations or from Israel itself. Major studies commissioned  by these same organizations have found  that most young American Jews feel emotionally unattached to Israel and report that peace is a higher value to them than security.

These same American Jews reject the idea that all Palestinians or Muslims support terrorism. Other studies have confirmed that over two-thirds of American Jews are “disturbed by Israel’s policies and actions.”

For many American Jews, maintaining harmony with Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Councils, and the Anti-Defamation League – comes  at the price of the values that most American Jews hold dear: justice, equality and peace.

Because the organizations of our parents and  grandparents no longer speak for us, groups including my organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, are generating  phenomenal support among American Jews.  Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the largest and oldest grassroots Jewish peace organizations in the US We have a professional staff of seven that supports over 100,000 Internet activists and some 1000 members in over 30 chapters across the United States.

Our work at JVP includes having initiated the largest divestment campaign for Palestinian human rights in US history. This campaign — the We Divest campaign — is now a national coalition effort that is demanding retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from the Israeli occupation. Our petition to TIAA-CREF highlights 5 companies — 3 of which — Caterpillar, Veolia and Motorola Solutions — are part of their “socially responsible investment” portfolio. There is currently no way for TIAA-CREF investors to not be investing in human rights violations against Palestinians.

Daily humiliation at checkpoints, segregated Jewish-only roads, illegal settlement expansion, restrictions on movement and access to jobs and healthcare — all parts of a Palestinian’s life living under occupation must be stopped.

While not all may be ready to hear us, we must continue to speak. Our obligation to sacred rebuke endures — for Jews and non-Jews alike. We at Jewish voice for peace need your help. We cannot end the Israeli occupation alone. We need our allies to stand side-by-side with us.

This work, my friends, is where God resides. God is surely in this place, and, now, I do know it.

And yet, in truth. we do not know for sure what will come of it.

As the book of Proverbs beautifully teaches us in chapter 9 verse 8:

A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.

For decades, churches have led the way in applying the nonviolent tactic of divestment to end violence against civilians all over the world. The Presbyterian Church has shown the integrity, and the courage, to rebuke the Israeli government for its bitter oppression of the Palestinians.

Whether it was intended, or not, this rebuke speaks also to the many Jews, and non-Jews, who support Israel’s oppressive policies, or stand aside and leave them unopposed.  Now we must face the test of our own integrity, and our own courage:  we must choose how we will hear the message of divestment.  Will we be scoffers, hating our friends for challenging our misdeeds, or will we be wise, loving them for reminding us of the pursuit of justice that is our highest calling, and the expression of our better selves?

The answer, of course, is that our response will be mixed, and, at first, the scoffers may well predominate.  Yet I believe that the day will come, be it in one year, five years, or in fifty, when the Presbyterian Church’s action in this matter will be remembered with love and gratitude by Jews around the world.

I am proud to be among the first to say, Todah Rabah, “Thank you!”

If We Bomb Iran, What Will Happen to Iranian Jews?

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Jewish history overflows with tales of sorrow. Are we to endure yet another loss, but this time perpetrated by our own foolish hands? Those who think that  bombing Iran serves a defensive purpose should reconsider and remember a forgotten people, the 35,000 Jews of Iran. What will happen to them?

In 2009 I had the honor to co-lead two interfaith peace delegations to Iran under the auspices of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence and The Center for Interfaith Dialogue in Teheran. These two delegations are part of a continuing global effort to cultivate positive relationships between people of faith in areas of potential or existing conflict.

During both visits to Iran,  we spent time meeting the Jewish communities in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz. I had the opportunity to visit synagogues during prayer services, eat at a kosher restaurant, meet Jewish students at Hebrew school, and enjoy open conversations with Jewish cultural, political and communal leaders in public Jewish institutions and private homes.

Jewish people have lived continuously in Iran for nearly three thousand years. They are guardians of a rite of ancient pilgrimage to the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, the prophet Daniel and the beloved Serach Bat Asher whose stories are well known to the Jews of the Middle East. Iranian Jews possess a 1800 year old Torah in Hamadan and a  rich historical memory. They are proud of their religious Persian Jewish identity. The Jewish communities of Iran should be considered a spiritual heritage by people of faith everywhere.

Jews in Israel, the United States, Europe and elsewhere, should speak up now, before it’s too late and demand that war be taken off the table for the sake of this ancient community that does not want Israel to intervene in their country. Are we to end the life of the ancient Jewish community of Iran by causing instability to be unleashed in their midst?

No serious person with experience in the region thinks initiating a war with Iran will bring security to the United States, Israel or the region. There are many other channels of peacemaking to pursue. If you ask the Jews of Iran, or, for that matter the vast majority of citizens of Iran, they will tell you to please allow them the freedom to do the work of social change in their own country.

Outside military intervention will only make matters worse for everyone.  We have lost enough of our ancient diaspora. Let us not endanger the only continuous Middle Eastern Jewish community in the world today. Let us stand up to the propaganda and fear mongering pushing us toward another disaster.