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Monday, August 22, 2016

Friday, the rabbi canceled his trip

The rabbi of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, North Carolina announced on Friday that the trip to Arafat's tomb is off.
On Friday, August 19, 2016, 10:15 AM, Beth Meyer Synagogue wrote:
August 19, 2016 
Shalom Beth Meyer Family, 
I write to you with a very heavy heart. 
The past few weeks have been extraordinarily painful for me, Rabbi Jenny, our congregation's leaders, and many in the Beth Meyer family and extended Jewish community. This letter - which admittedly is quite lengthy - is designed to provide a detailed explanation of how this situation came about and how I have chosen to resolve it. 
During my time at Beth Meyer, I have led four "pilgrimage" trips to Israel that visited many of the historic and spiritually-rich sites that lift the soul and build one's love for and connection to the State of Israel. These tours included stops at sites that illustrate the threats and precarious security issues Israel faces on a daily basis. I will continue to offer such tours in the future.  
A few months ago, I invited Beth Meyer members to participate in a trip to Israel and the West Bank under the auspices of MEJDI Tours, a company that provides customized educational tours in regions worldwide suffering from conflict. In this case, the tour was to be a "dual-narrative" tour with both Israeli and Palestinian tour guides that would visit Israel and the West Bank. 
This process began some two years ago when I first heard of MEJDI Tours and began to look into the organization. I learned that MEJDI, in the past, has partnered with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israeli educational institutions and numerous American synagogues. In addition, MEJDI has been featured in a range of respected media outlets, including  Haaretz, Forbes and National Geographic Explorer.  
After thoroughly researching MEJDI's credentials with rabbis and Jewish leaders across the U.S. and Israel, I was comfortable that MEJDI was, in fact, a non-partisan tour operator that offers individuals unique immersive experiences to learn about complex issues first-hand. MEJDI does not preach or support any specific agenda or form of hate, violence or terror. Rather, it is an apolitical organization that believes increased education and understanding can help build bridges across cultures and stimulate peace. 
While studying in Israel in the summer of 2015, I took the opportunity to tour the West Bank in a group that had with it a Palestinian MEJDI guide. It was, to say the least, a profound (and often surprising) experience that allowed me to hear perspectives few of us ever hear. For example, the guide was highly critical of the Palestinian Authority and its leaders, both past and present. He condemned violence by Palestinians and emphasized that he "despises Hamas." When I asked challenging questions, his responses recognized weaknesses in Palestinian positions. Moreover, he mocked the backwardness of the Arab world, as well as its lack of support for human rights and democracy. And, while he did criticize a number of Israeli government policies, his words were balanced, thoughtful and nuanced.  
After reviewing this idea with Beth Meyer's leaders and securing their approval, I invited the Beth Meyer family to participate in a MEJDI tour next spring. I wholeheartedly believed I was helping to provide a rare opportunity for seasoned Israel travelers to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a broader, deeper way. With expert guides who would be both supportive and critical of their own government's policies, I hoped participants would gain new insights and hear from peace-makers working on the ground to make a difference. I thought, perhaps naively, that this MEJDI tour would offer a different kind of experience for Zionist, Israel-loving Jews who want to explore the many intricacies of this terrible conflict.  
For some in the congregation, there was immediate interest in participating and many quickly submitted their deposits. For others, there was no interest at all. Some congregants asked thoughtful questions, and others criticized my attempt to organize such a trip due to their belief that the itinerary was unbalanced. And there were some who expressed serious concerns about the potential damage the tour could cause the Beth Meyer community and the image of the State of Israel. 
While my intentions were pure, my heart broke as I listened to the pain my actions had caused some congregants. I listened carefully to this feedback and discussed what I heard with Rabbi Jenny and synagogue leaders. 
After deep reflection and soul-searching, I have decided to cancel the trip. To anyone who feels confused, hurt or upset on account of my actions, I sincerely apologize and ask your forgiveness. 
Please know my decision was not made because I don't believe in the tour's value - I do. Nor was it made because a handful of individuals outside of our holy congregation - none of whom have ever talked or met with me - spread inaccurate and misleading information about Rabbi Jenny and me that spawned threats of personal violence. In this season of Tisha B'Av when we remember the many tragedies of our people, personally experiencing this kind of sinat hinam (baseless hatred) was especially painful. 
Rather, I made this decision because I deeply love Beth Meyer and what we, as a family, have built these past 11+ years. And I want to emphasize that my love embraces each and every one of you, regardless of where you land on the spiritual, social or political spectra. I am touched that so many congregants pleaded with me to move forward as planned, but I cannot - and will not - do anything that jeopardizes the integrity of the Beth Meyer family. 
I want to thank everyone who has shared their thoughts with me about this issue. Most particularly, I want to acknowledge the input and guidance I received from our President Eric Lamb, the Beth Meyer Synagogue Executive Board, lay leaders and, of course, my wife and partner, Jenny.  
Just as the Torah teaches that God created the world with immense variety, so too my vision of our congregation is one where we accept and celebrate both the common bonds and differences among us. Civil discussion, respectful debate and honoring diverse opinions are Jewish values that our people have embraced for millennia. They are the values that form the foundation of my rabbinate, and they are the values that make Beth Meyer such a welcoming community. 
When appropriate and rooted in Jewish values, I will continue to take public positions on issues where I believe my contribution can be constructive. I want to stress, however, that I do not and never will expect to have consensus across our membership on any issue, least of all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (In fact, if all I heard was a unanimous "Amen," I would think something was wrong. It wouldn't be Jewish, and it wouldn't be the Beth Meyer that I cherish!) 
At some point in the future, perhaps, our congregation may again consider an educational initiative such as a MEJDI tour. But that would happen only after there has been ample opportunity for all interested members to learn about the opportunity and discuss it thoroughly with input from a broad cross-section of our members. 
In that spirit, I invite anyone who has questions about this situation or would like to share any other concerns to contact me via e-mail (rabbi@bethmeyer.org ) or phone (919.848.1420). I will be delighted to sit down and hear your thoughts and ideas. 
This episode, though challenging, has been a valuable learning experience for all of us. I pray that we use it to deepen the bonds we share and inspire us to continue nurturing the Beth Meyer family and strengthening our commitment to and love of God, the Torah, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and one another. 
At this moment, perhaps more than ever, I thank God and each of you for the privilege of serving as Beth Meyer's rabbi. Rabbi Jenny and I, along with our entire family, look forward to welcoming the New Year with our holy, hamish (warm) congregation at the High Holy Days. 
B'ahavah (With love),
Rabbi Eric Solomon
Something tells me there may still be a trip in the future....

The problem with trying to 'understand the other' is that it only works if it's a two-way street. In Israel, much of our population spent 1993-2000 trying to 'understand the other.' Unfortunately, it was never a two-way street (and we suffered plenty of terror attacks during that period) and it ended in a full-blown intifadeh that left hundreds of Israelis dead, wounded, widowed and orphaned.

The 'conflict' is insoluble because only one side is interested in a solution. Most Israelis now have had enough pain inflicted on them that they get that. I hope the rest of world Jewry comes around without suffering all the pain that we suffered.

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At 5:15 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

While his intentions may be good, Rabbi Solomon appears to be addressing the problem exactly backwards. The obstacle to peace is not because Jews do not understand the Arabs. We have long known that Arabs' corrupt leaders indoctrinate their people with hatred and extremism, scapegoating the Jews to gain or maintain their power. Listening to Arabs' false "narrative" is about as useful as visiting Nazis to hear about their theories of racial superiority. It only reinforces their harmful position to treat it as acceptable or valid. It makes much more sense to expose Arabs to Jewish history and culture to break down hateful stereotypes.

Rabbi Solomon writes that he still wants to do the counterproductive trip, just later, apparently after he has had more time to bring more anti-Israel groups to his synagogue to further confuse his congregation. I find it sad that a congregation values this kind of "leadership." They are actually paying someone to defame Israel and to alienate their children from Israel. Where is their self-respect?

Lee Green

At 2:06 AM, Blogger NancyB said...

Thank-you so much for posting this latest follow-up on this saga. This post and the two earlier ones really gripped me and I felt angry that two Rabbi's would even consider such a trip. No other blog or site covered these proposed trips through MEJDI, so once again, I really appreciated your full and transparent coverage. This man could never be my Rabbi, I'm just saying. His naiveté and poor judgement would prohibit me from forming any real or trusting bond. Maybe Rabbi Solomon should read Tuvia's book on Israel; though his blinders would probably be fully still in place after reading it. I certainly do not consider Haaretz to be a respected media outlet.

I agree in total with Lee Green's excellent comment and yours. The death toll of murdered Jews during the Second Intifada (2000-2005) was 1,100 and the number of injured was 8000! While I know that it is not a realistic plan, in my lifetime, in my heart of hearts, I am of the belief that "They Must Go", as Kahane said.


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