Issues in the News

It was just two years after 9/11 when I met Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when we jointly served the new coalition dedicated to uniting American religious leaders in expressing a shared vision for peace between Israel and Palestine, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (we call it NILI for short.)  I was immediately impressed with Imam Rauf’s gentle, quiet manner, his articulate and nuanced approach to Jewish-Christian-Muslim collaboration, and his progressive, peace-minded approach.  His leadership was evident to all of us, and was reinforced when we read his (then) new book “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”

Imam Rauf and I became colleagues and friends, and I was pleased to invite him to join my congregation for Shabbat worship and to address us, teaching an appreciation for the peace-loving, respectful, kind and universal messages of Islam. Coming from the Sufi Muslim tradition, a mystical strain within Islam that focuses on the shared love of all of humanity, Imam Rauf taught us of the perspectives of ASMA, the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Our community was warmed and impressed. We felt the political backlash against Muslims after 9/11 could and would be moderated through our partnership with communities such as those led by Imam Rauf. We felt hope in the face of our country’s fear.

I had the privilege of sitting with Imam Rauf and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, our friend through NILI, for a BBC interview. We chatted amiably as friends, expressing hope for a collaborative approach to a negotiated Mideast peace.  We weren’t being naïve; we understood the obstacles. But our friendship and shared concern emboldened us to feel optimistic.

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Imam Rauf very much since then, as he has been traveling the country and the world teaching this peaceful, inspiring message.  He has been tending to his community, long resident in Manhattan, as they grew and expanded their mission as peace-loving Muslims in a torn and traumatized city.

Imam Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, who is the Executive Director of ASMA, has made a significant name for herself as a teacher, leader and community organizer. She has many media credits, with a reputation for bringing Jews, Christians and Muslims together. As her bio says, “Khan frequently organizes and co-sponsors interfaith cultural events, including an interfaith banquet called The Cordoba Bread Fest in which Muslims, Christians and Jews — Children of Abraham – join to celebrate their common traditions as represented by a simple food: bread.”

Having been a friend and supporter of the work of Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy, I was particularly distressed to read reports of the opposition to their community’s efforts to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. In a way toward promoting reconciliation and transformation, their community sought to bring the presence of loyal American, compassionate and peaceful Muslims to a place marred by the hateful people who used their distorted version of Islam to murder and destroy. This redemption is not for them alone; it is a contribution of neighborly friendship to a community emerging from mourning to rebuilding.

Yes, there are hateful, angry radical Muslims who threaten us.  This is a frightening, painful, difficult international problem. But Imam Rauf and his community are not them. They do not threaten us. On the contrary, they seek to work with us to wipe out hate. They offer friendship and a contribution to American society. This is reminiscent of the generations of immigrants, our grandparents, who made America the rich multi-cultural tapestry that we cherish.

Those who speak angrily of Imam Rauf are spewing the very hate they seek to suppress from others. It is my hope that we can work together to expose the fallacies of this opposition. It is hope that we can join hands with our brothers and sisters of different faiths to bring about a new era of collaboration, friendship and healing.

I quote below Imam Rauf’s letter to his mailing list after the Community Board voted to allow his mosque’s project to proceed.  Congratulations, my friend.  Let us know how we can help!

Cordoba House – Community Board One Approves Community Center

By Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

May 27, 2010


As-Salamu Al-Aykum,

Many of you have been reading about the Cordoba House: our plan to build a world-class community center in Lower Manhattan.  I am pleased to announce that on May 26th, Manhattan Community Board One has given their overwhelming endorsement, with a vote of 29 to 1 (with ten abstentions) for the Cordoba House project. See images of Community Board meeting

Their vote of confidence represents a community that shares our excitement in assisting with the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan by providing a model for robust interreligious cooperation that will be open to all.

I have worked as the Imam of Farah Mosque in Lower Manhattan for 27 years, I am tremendously grateful to Community Board One and Chairperson Julie Menin for allowing us the opportunity to give back to a community that has given us so much over the past three decades.

The goal of Cordoba House is to help individuals move past mere tolerance and into a realm of acceptance, peace and interdependence.  The decision of Community Board One represents a watershed moment in acknowledging the important nature of religious freedom in America.

As our project continues to progress, I continue to share my deepest thanks to you for your support of a brighter future for all of us.  I am beyond thankful to have politicians such as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Councilman Robert Jackson, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Comptroller John Liu who have offered their unequivocal support for Cordoba House and the fundamental American freedoms for which it stands.

With Warmest Regards,
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. ( He is the author of “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right With America.”

Every now and then my husband and I will wonder out loud questions like:” When do we finish paying the kids’ college expenses”, “When will we finish paying that tzedakah pledge?”, “How many more years on our mortgage?” etc.  We used to revel in our observations about the increasing value of our house. But that question ceased to be fun with the plunging housing market two years ago. It’s such a painful thought that it has been a while since we wanted to even wonder out loud. But this week I ventured back into the territory, and we talked about the good old days of the high point and the sobering days of the adjusted value of our house.

Fortunately, we are lucky to live in an area where the market didn’t take a terrible hit, at least relative to horror stories that we have read in the news.  But all of us who own our homes have lost money or value during this Great Recession. In many ways we are still learning lessons and shaping the new normal. The lessons have we learned and the way we respond will be the enduring legacy we will leave for our children.

Watching a segment of Sixty Minutes (CBS) the other night, we were confronted with one of the newest moral challenges of our day. The story (interviewed by Morley Safer) chronicled some homeowners who live in areas where the home values have plummeted, some to just 25% of the value just two years ago. Many people who bought homes in these communities before the market plunged are now saddled with mortgages far exceeding the value of their houses – sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The segment highlighted a growing trend – “strategic default” – whereby homeowners who can afford to make the mortgage payments have decided that it is not in their interest to continue to do so. They walk away from their houses, defaulting on their loans, and starting over again. Several were delighted with their ingenuity; they could pay rent for a couple years, wait for their credit to recover, save lots of money, and then buy their dream house all over again, for much less money. Some were reflective, appreciating the seriousness of this action. Others interviewed knew they could do this, knew their neighbors are doing it, but couldn’t justify it.

As if to emphasize that this is really a trend, just the next day, I heard an interview on WNYC on this same topic by the TARP Oversight panel chief Elizabeth Warren. She indicated that the foreclosure crisis is not going away, even as the economy recovers. In fact, it is heating up as people are walking away from mortgages, choosing to default because of the gap between the loan and the value of their houses. She predicted that this will be a problem for years to come. And the question then arises: who pays for these defaults?

So my husband and I tried to imagine ourselves in the position of the homeowners whose home values have steeply plummeted. Would we, could we walk away? Could we intentionally breach the contract we signed when we arranged our mortgage?  We certainly feel empathy for those who have lost so much, and for their lost or involuntarily downsized dreams for their future. But we all assume risk when we make an investment. We all bet on the market when we buy a house. To default on a loan as a financial decision rather than a moral one is to assume that we are all on our own in a great game of chance. Each person for themselves, each household looking out for its own interests without regard to the interests of others.

Morley Safer asked one of the couples who was quite clear that this was the right choice something like, “How do you think your neighbors will feel?” Each house that goes into foreclosure in a neighborhood brings down the value of the houses around it. And the downward spiral takes on a momentum of its own as more and more people abandon their homes. The couple seemed to have no guilt about this, acknowledging that this would affect their neighbors, but oh well, that’s the way it goes. Each of us has to look out for ourselves.

I’d prefer to a different social contract – one that assumes that we are all in it together. That we each have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our community and our nation. A collective social contract drives people to consider the consequences of their actions beyond their own legal obligations. When we are unable, by virtue of changed financial circumstances, to fulfill our mortgage contracts, we may be forced to hand our house back to the bank. This is a tragic loss – one that millions of Americans have sadly experienced during this recession. Our social contract prompts us to want to reach and take care of those who have been felled by this loss – and in part that was a purpose for government programs meant to bring us back to our feet.

But when we assume that we are each on our own, with no responsibility for each other, we harm one another by breaking our contracts out of financial planning choices. Yes, it is tragic to lose so much when housing prices painfully disappoint us. Yet, the way our society should respond to these disorienting experiences is by learning about the value of community, the value of money and the value of living in a country that accepts and supports mutual responsibility. Don’t we want to live in a society where we care about each other?

It is not about what is legal – it seems that for some people this may be legally acceptable. It is about what is moral.  A contract is a contract. It is an obligation not only to the banks, but to all of us.

The following press release from Common Cause expresses my hopes for repairing the enmity across our country this week:

Congressional Leadership Must Jointly Denounce Incendiary Talk and Violence

Common Cause calls on the leadership of the House Democrats and House Republicans to hold a joint bi-partisan press conference immediately to denounce the incendiary language and threats of violence and actual violence against those who voted in support of health care reform.

In addition, Common Cause also calls on Sarah Palin to cease her violent rhetoric – “Don’t retreat, instead reload” – and remove the gun imagery around a list of 20 congressional Democrats who supported health care reform and whose congressional districts appear to be caught in a rifle’s crosshair in an offensive and inappropriate visual on her political action committee website.

“It’s time to restore civility and decency to public debate,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.  “We are all Americans, even when we disagree.”

Common Cause also calls on the leaders of the Tea Party movement to call on its members to stop the heated rhetoric and threats.

Violence and threats of violence have been reported throughout the nation this week in the wake of the passage of the historic health care reform bill. Among a few of them, Rep. Bart Stupak has received death threats on an answering machine, at least four Democratic congressional offices outside of Washington have been vandalized, including the upstate New York office of Rep. Louise Slaughter.  The brother of Rep.Tom Periello of Virginia had a gas line slashed at his home.

Democratic and Republican leaders are reportedly conflicted on how to deal with it. But their silence signals consent to those who may consider such action, as Rep. James Clyburn said Wednesday on the House floor.

“Our political system is based on a belief in ballots, not bullets, votes, not violence” Edgar. “We call on every member of Congress to denounce the despicable violence and threats of violence. To advocate violence – even jokingly or metaphorically – against your political opponents expresses contempt not just for them but for our democracy.”

What a bittersweet few days. I had begun to despair of the possibility that healthcare reform would pass. The shrill, venomous and uncompromising voices of the opposition were such a turn-off that I felt sad for what this represented about America.

But the days and hours leading up to the vote recovered my sense of hope. Perhaps justice and compassion could actually carry the day.

My husband and I watched the deliberations, and when I found some of the speeches painful to hear, I had serious indigestion. But it was too important to ignore, and I was reminded of the adage that legislating is like making sausage: you wouldn’t want to watch either in the making. So I uncovered my ears and eyes, voiced my own responses in the privacy of my home to the speeches that riled me, and I stayed tuned. It was worth it. Watching the vote was both suspenseful and exciting, and it was humbling and uplifting to witness the history-making conclusion. We did it; America is restored as a nation. Justice and righteousness prevailed.

But not entirely. Righteousness was evident as a bit too much self-righteousness. And among those who stubbornly refused to endorse any form of healthcare reform, were some individuals who were more than sore losers. Racial epithets and gay slurs, physical violence and frightening threats have made their mark on this historic moment as well. This is a most unhappy outcome, in my opinion. This is not just a case of sore losers; it’s a contagious bitterness that is pernicious.

Life is an exercise in learning to cope and graciously lose without poisoning ourselves and our adversaries. Most of us are winners and losers in a myriad of ways throughout our lifetimes. The great challenge of life, the defining quality of character, is in how we manage disappointment, learn from it, and use positive energy to continue to be our best self going forward.

The rabbis of the Talmud tell us that the second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam/ baseless hatred. They understood that when a society has reached a tipping point wherein maliciousness spreads like a virus, it can weaken and even destroy that very society.

I pray that in celebrating the passage of this legislation, there is humility and compassion for those who wished for a different outcome. And I pray that the opponents of this reform will take a deep breath and come to find open-hearted ways to approach those on the other side of the aisle in the spirit of concern for doing the best good for all people. This would fulfill the prophetic call for righteousness, the call that has inspired generations and is our hope for the future.

The words of poet Langston Hughes have been reverberating in my mind this week. Let’s say them out loud and spread the dream:

I dream a world where man

No other man will scorn,

Where love will bless the earth

And peace its paths adorn.

I dream a world where all

Will know sweet freedom’s way,

Where greed no longer saps the soul

Nor avarice blights our day.

A world I dream where black or white,

Whatever race you be,

Will share the bounties of the earth

And every man is free,

Where wretchedness will hang its head

And joy, like a pearl,

Attends the needs of all mankind–

Of such I dream, my world!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 311.

Campaign finance reform is among the serious issues facing our country today. So much is at stake. See the campaign at Common Cause. I am proud to have been a signator on the letter that was delivered to Speaker Pelosi yesterday.

For the link to this campaign:

As of February 22, 2010

Dear Speaker Pelosi:

As religious leaders, we believe in equality and justice for all people and in building the common good. In a democracy, these ideals cannot be realized, however, if the rules governing the electoral process actively or passively favor one segment of the population over another.

We believe existing campaign finance laws already permit the unfair influence of persons and groups with extraordinary wealth over the political process by providing them with special access to elected officials. This special access ultimately results in legislative outcomes that reflect the needs of those with the financial means to make political contributions, and not the needs of the poor or disenfranchised.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will surely amplify the voices of the wealthy campaign donors and bring new powerful players to fore at the expense of everyone else.

We believe Congress must address both the Citizens United decision and the problems of the current campaign finance system by passing the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826). This measure would empower average people to participate in politics with small donations, and would return the gaze of our elected officials solely to the needs of their districts and the nation as a whole, rather than the interests of those with significant financial resources for campaigns.

We pledge our support and we pledge to work among members of our churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras (a Sikh place of worship) and temples throughout the nation to encourage support for your efforts to bring about reform. As you know, the Fair Elections Now Act was sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in the House. In the House, the legislation has attracted nearly 130 cosponsors. With a strong Fair Elections system in place, candidates will spend less time courting the narrow slice of Americans who currently fund campaigns and engage a larger, more active citizenry.

We hope in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision you will support the Fair Elections Now Act so that Congress can act effectively on the people’s business.

Watching the fretting, pouting, smiling, crying, joy and anger gushing out from the Olympic athletes, it is easy to get caught up on the emotions of the Olympic Games in Vancouver. The athletes are all truly amazingly skilled and their performances can be breathtaking. Their stories are inspiring, and it is important to honor their accomplishments for just having made it to the Games. But are they role models? Of this, I am not entirely sure.

For sure, the athletes who make it to the Olympics have truly exemplary discipline. How many people apply themselves with such focus and work as hard as these athletes? I know that many of us, me included, work very hard and devote ourselves to our work for untold hours. But it is very difficult to achieve the singular focus that world class athletes require. For all the days when I come home wishing I’d accomplished more, I admire the role models of world class athletes.

I try to work out every day but I don’t succeed. A good week finds me on the treadmill or my bike or in a pool 5 days out of the week – but not every week is a good week. Some days I just can’t find the time. And the length of my work-outs is certainly not the mark of an athlete: a one hour work-out is satisfying, and two or three hour long bike rides in the nice weather are certainly some of my best athletic accomplishments. But this pales in comparison with the conditioning of an athlete. Their physical fitness is another reason to find inspiration in the Olympians.

Many true accomplishments take courage. Being an Olympian no doubt requires courage in many ways: the strength of will to decline many social invitations and the courage to push oneself beyond ordinary limits of physical ability. It can also involve risk of injuries. Some of the Olympic athletic feats defy imagination for their level of skill and risk. The bravery of the athletes is noteworthy.

The devotion required to become the top in one’s field can be very great. If all of us demonstrated this level of devotion for the causes that animate our passions, we’d have the ability to unleash huge amounts of human potential. The performances of the Olympic athletes can prompt us to explore our passions and renew our commitment to work that we find meaningful.

But the Olympics also have a dark side. It is found in the tears of the losers. Imagine devoting yourself singularly to reaching the top of your sport, setting aside all other opportunities for personal development and unbridled fun, and leaving the competition a “has-been.” The field of talented athletes includes dozens of accomplished men and women who have reached the top of their country’s teams in their sport. When they don’t win an Olympic medal they are treated as nothings. I can only imagine how terrible that must feel for so many of them.

When Lindsey Vonn won the gold medal in skiing, her interview immediately after the event was telling. She was sobbing, with joy, relief, and not a little bit of release from the intense stress. She said that this was everything she has ever worked for—she sacrificed everything in her life for this. She was so grateful that she achieved her goal. I couldn’t help wonder what she would have been feeling if she lost. What disappointment and emptiness.

The commentators on the TV exemplify the dark side of the games. They analyze in excruciating detail every possible mistake of the athletes. Only heroic greatness is cheered. The other performances, in the normal range for Olympic standards, represent incredible personal accomplishments from dedicated athletes. But they are not honored.

Is this the role model we would want for our kids? Would any of us want to experience humiliating defeat for failing to be the absolute best? Is this healthy competition? Most of life, unlike the Olympics, is not a zero sum game.

Perhaps the Olympics present an opportunity for reminding ourselves of healthy expectation management. Focus, hard work, devotion, discipline and courage are all good qualities. But in the real world, in our lives, balance is even more important. And honor should be accorded to everyone who works hard to accomplish hard goals and become something better.

This I write, in honor of all of the athletes, especially those who are going home without medals. They are heroic too.

I grew up during the turbulent 1960’s amidst Vietnam War demonstrations, George Wallace racism, and the age of Rock and Roll. Then, coming of age in the mid seventies, in the wake of Watergate, I was influenced by skepticism about the trustworthiness of our government. Yet, I have fought it back in a kind of religiously driven hopefulness that great leadership could yet arise and together we could fix what was broken. I’ve involved myself a bit in party politics and government, supporting the candidates and causes that reflect my values and passions.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama gave me such outsized hopefulness I felt as if heaven and earth had touched. I was sure a new era of good governance, values-driven leadership, and true compassion (as opposed to the previous administration’s rhetoric) was beginning. Everything felt possible.

It has been downhill from there. I am not one to place the blame on the president’s doorstep even though he has made some mistakes. I find the public impatience to be depressing and troubling. What’s worse is the hostility and obstructionism of the opposition party in Congress. Their behavior is shameful.

Writing in the New York Times on February 8, Paul Krugman (America Is Not Yet Lost) spoke the cynicism and disappointment and fear that I have been feeling. He began with strong words: “We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end…we’re paralyzed by procedure.”

Many judicial and governmental positions have been blocked or frozen – holding the government hostage to personal peeves and demands. It’s a grotesque form of individual entitlement that is the antithesis of leadership.

The use of rules to put holds on essential business is making the nation ungovernable. Krugman writes,

“How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.” Could it get any worse?

Our healthcare system in this country is terribly inefficient, wasteful and flawed. The employer-based, profit driven model of American healthcare serves the needs of the wealthy and those lucky enough to have jobs that include it. Obama’s election brought great hope that we could actually fix the messy problems of healthcare in America. But progress was halted by political sniping. What about offering some principled alternatives instead of throwing tantrums?

Our country and indeed the entire world are facing serious problems and tumultuous change. And our senate is stuck in procedural wrangling and supermajority requirements. Krugman observed, “The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government.”

I am fighting despair by meditating on the hopefulness and joy that buoyed us just a year ago. I hope to recover hope. But we have a lot of work do it to fix these problems. We can’t let obstructionism ruin our country. As Krugman said, “Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.”

Time to rise up to stand for what is right. That’s a lesson I learned from growing up in the 60’s.

January 20: I had trouble listening to the radio today on my usual station — public radio. I asked my husband to turn off the TV news. I barely scanned the newspaper, though I tried several times. I found the news and the banter to be pushing me past my threshold for patience and understanding. I usually devour any news and analysis that I can fit into my busy schedule. But analysis of the Massachusetts senatorial victory, in a race largely focused on the defeat of the healthcare bill, really caused me pain.

With the concept of “civil rights” in the forefront of my consciousness during this week of MLK’s birthday, I have been thinking a lot about what the term means. “Civil rights” isn’t just about race relations. It is about the creation of a just society. The dream of the civil rights movement was/is to transform our society to one that gives all of its people equal opportunity; to make it into a place wherein all people are truly entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But more, where these entitlements, these rights, are ensured and protected by the laws of the land.

So why is healthcare not a basic human right? How is caring for sick not about the protection of life, if not happiness? A society that does not take responsibility to care for its sick sand to promote health is a society that lacks compassion.

A society that struggles to be just — while also promoting individual responsibility and empowerment — has a critical challenge in balancing its resources. Our religious tradition teaches us the value of caring for the poor and the sick and the weak and the old. But it also instructs us to help the needy to learn how to support themselves. Yes, individual empowerment and responsibility encourage that. But it is not enough. We do not all have a level playing field. Socio-economic conditions and lack of equal opportunity are part of the reason. Individual differences in ability and sometimes just plain luck can govern how well we do in our own sustenance.

And then there is the complex issue of healthcare. The linking of healthcare to employment and to the fortunes of an employer can even further erode – or destroy – the chances for millions of Americans to be able to afford health insurance. Without that, healthcare is limited or unavailable. Haven’t we heard the stories of those who have suffered? Healthcare should be a basic right, an entitlement of all people, not the privilege of the well-to-do or fortunate. How can we abide by watching this issue tossed about as a political football so fiercely kicked back and forth that the air is seeping out of it? How can we justify – yet again — defeating the opportunity to ensure this basic human right?

If only we could use the might and resources devoted to war to help heal. If we devoted ourselves to our stated values of love and compassion, wouldn’t we agree that caring for the health and well-being of our people is the best demonstration of greatness?

The prophet Isaiah dreamed a vision that “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” How about an added verse: “they shall beat their swords into stethoscopes and their spears into medicines.” Ah, now that would be world that would make me proud.

via American Jewish liberals finding their voice on ‘J Street’ –

I believe that a healthy debate about strategies for security and peace between Israel and her neighbors is long overdue. In the spirit of dialogue that is modeled in Jewish sacred texts, demonstrated by the sages of the Talmud, the the Jewish community can and should welcome differences of opinion. Surely, the sages stumbled when their views were too extreme for the mainstream, when their human foibles got in the way. In those moments, the rebukes, disrespectful comments and verbal attacks surely had consequences. And they taught us about this through the relationships they worked hard to maintain. Their lessons are a healthy caution to us, and certainly not a message that we should silence opposition.

In fact, the American Jewish community is struggling with its unfolding relationship with Israel. in 2004, the Jewish Agency launched an educational project, Makom, which seeks to address the growing disconnect between American Jews and the Jewish nation.  This is a tacit admission that there is a problem.  Makom’s tagline, “Hugging and Wrestling” with Israel, acknowledges that American Jews need a place to explore the challenges posed by Israel’s political challenges. They need a vehicle for developing their engagement with Israel on real terms — as a love for our people, our homeland and spiritual center, while honestly responding to the challenges of creating a democratic, Jewish nation in a hostile neighborhood.

At a conference sponsored by Makom and the Melton Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in December, Israel educators explored principles and practices of Israel education.  One of the most striking things that I noted while sitting in a  session of the conference was the series of presentations about dealing honestly and openly with painful topics. A highlighted program was “Encounter”, which brings Jewish leaders to West Bank communities to learn about the lives and views of ordinary Palestinians.  Having journeyed to Bethlehem last year with Encounter, a day which I found both profoundly painful and significant for my own learning, I was very encouraged that this mainstream Israel education conference gave voice to the need to venture beyond our comfort zone.

JStreet pushes many Jews beyond their comfort zone as well. But I feel strongly that it is in the category of “arguments for the sake of heaven” and thus morally compelling. If we are willing to face our fears and refract them against our hopes, our dreams and ultimately, our values as Jews, we can help advance the cause of peace.

via Women of the Wall Leader Interrogated by Police –

There’s distressing news from Jerusalem. For 21 years the Women of the Wall have been praying at our holiest site, providing crucial opportunity for women to worship together.  Recent tensions after the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel have highlighted the increasingly extreme nature of the rules and supervision at the Wall. It is ugly intimidation, now made that much more disgusting by the police interrogation of Anat Hoffman, who leads the Israel Religious Action Center. Clearly, Anat’s arrest signals just how threatened the Rabbanut has become by the solidarity of women seeking free access to worship, celebrate an gather as women.  The question of the Jewish character of the state of Israel, and the very connection of non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews to our Jewish homeland is at stake.

As Anat observed, “this is a sad moment”, and a painful violation.  We are united with Anat and the women of the wall in solidarity — you are not alone. We honor and thank you for standing for all of us and pledge to do whatever we can to support your efforts.

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