Not Quite a “Big Tent”

Yesterday, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations rejected an application from J Street to join the organization.

One can only surmise that those who voted against the application presumed that J Street did not sufficiently represent “mainstream” Jewish opinions and that its opinions and actions are dangerous to Israel and to the Jewish people. It is only fair to note that there are various political voices represented on the Conference including those of  progressive organizations but this decision regarding J Street strikes me as a significant statement and a statement which concerns me deeply.

I want to leave aside for the moment any consideration of the issue of the views of J Street vs. those of any other Jewish organization which voices opinions on Israel. That is not my issue at this moment.

My issue is rather an issue of inclusion.

We are currently seeing efforts by all denominations within Judaism to be more inclusive: to be more respectful and more welcoming to people who would have been ostracized from communal Jewish life in the recent past. Whether it is outreach to interfaith families, LGBT individuals and families, those without financial means, those who have been estranged from Jewish life and have not had Jewish experiences in their lives, those in prison, those who suffer from addiction or those in countless other situations, we have realized as Jewish leaders that we must be open to all. We profess that all Jews who strive for Jewish life should be welcomed into communities and embraced in the name of Jewish tradition. This is the way it should be because all of us, at some point in our lives, find ourselves in a situation which might have been a basis for exclusion in the past. Our community is healthier when we all realize that all of us belong in the tent sitting next to each other, learning from each other and celebrating with each other.

It is in this context that the decision of the Conference of Presidents concerns me most deeply.

Suddenly, in this very symbolic gesture, a group of leaders has decided that those who profess a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” stance through J Street are not worthy of sitting at the table.

If you go to the website of J Street, you will find a list of hundreds of Rabbis and Cantors who are part of the “J Street Rabbinic Cabinet”, those Rabbis who support the positions of J Street or at the very least support the idea that wide ranging dialogue concerning Israel must take place in the Jewish Community.  I know many of these Rabbis and Cantors. They are proud to be known as Zionists, proud to take congregants on trips to Israel, proud to support the State and proud to teach and preach about Israel and its importance to all of us from the pulpit. I am proud to be one of those Rabbis.

But, the specific of the political opinion aside, can our Jewish community afford to make a statement that a particular viewpoint concerning Israel is sufficient grounds to consider a person as outside of the tent of the Jewish community? Are we prepared as a community to send a message to all of those Rabbis and Cantors and all of those who agree that they are “beyond the pale”?

I have talked with many people, including most importantly, many young people, who are concerned that they are not being listened to when they express concern for some of Israel’s policies. As those who know me know, I agree with many of those concerns. But even if we disagree, are we prepared to allow this discussion to be the wedge that drives people away from organized Jewish life in an era in which we are doing all we can to send the sincere message of inclusion to those who have been ostracized in the past?

Whatever one thinks about the pragmatic effect J Street has on the dialogue regarding Israel, I believe it is counter-productive and dangerous to exclude based on political viewpoints those who profess and live out a love and concern for the Jewish people.

The tent must continue to be enlarged.



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