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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Synagogue cancels appearance by J Street's Ben Ami

A Reform Temple in Newton, Mass. (yes, my hometown - although this is on the south side and I grew up on the north side) has canceled a 'conversation' that was to be held in the Temple on Thursday night between J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami and M. Steven Maas, the editor of the local Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Advocate. The 'conversation' has been moved to the Spaulding School, a public elementary school located nearby. And the synagogue's rabbi seems a bit embarrassed about the whole thing (Hat Tip: Lance K).
Rabbi Keith Stern, who has led Temple Beth Avodah for more than 13 years, said a “small, influential group’’ within the congregation voiced strong opposition to hosting the event. Synagogue leaders decided to cancel after “an agonizing process,’’ he said, because they felt the controversy would “threaten the fabric of the congregation.’’

“The understanding was that it was going to be what I considered to be an honest and open conversation with a liberal Jewish organization, but I clearly did not understand how deep the antipathy is among a group within the Jewish community toward J Street and toward Jeremy Ben-Ami,’’ he said.

The event had been scheduled at the suggestion of J Street about a month ago, Stern said. There had been no formal vetting process, and he said he had not anticipated how much consternation it would cause.

“I deeply regret the inconvenience to J Street, and the difficulty that created for them,’’ he said. “I feel badly that people got so exercised here, through a gesture I really believed was about bringing an opportunity to the congregation.’’
I want to note a few things here before we move on. First, this is a Reform Temple, a 'liberal' congregation. If J Street arouses antipathy in these people, they have little or no support in the Jewish community. These people are their natural constituency.

Second, J Street suggested that they be 'invited' to this event. Once upon a time, J Street was new and flashy and Liberals wanted to believe in it, and they were invited almost everywhere (I say almost everywhere because if you look at the list of congregations the article cites, there's not a single Orthodox congregation on the list). Now, they aren't even invited to speak to the Liberals. They have reached the point where they have to ask (beg) Liberal congregations to 'invite' Ben Ami to speak.

Third, it's billed a conversation - and not a debate - because Maas is nearly as far Left as Ben Ami is. Hold that point for a minute - and I want to go back to some of the reactions in the article.
In a phone interview yesterday, Ben-Ami said he was surprised by Beth Avodah’s 11th-hour decision to cancel.

His appearances, he said, frequently provoke controversy, but rarely result in cancellations.

“My reaction is really one of sadness that this is the state of the conversation in some parts of the Jewish community,’’ he said. “That a small handful of zealous donors to an institution can prevent a larger community from an open and honest conversation is a real shame.’’

Maas said he was disappointed that the event had been moved “just because I think this only adds to the divisiveness, having this behind the scenes, . . . and it distracts from the topic at hand, namely the future of Israel and the peace talks.’’

Alan S. Ronkin, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston, said J Street is a member of the his group’s council of organizations, and that its voice should be heard.

“It’s deeply troubling that there are people in the community who would prefer to stifle debate, rather than engage,’’ he said.
I told you that Maas is nearly as far Left as Ben Ami. If this were really about 'open and honest conversation,' or an attempt to 'stifle debate,' don't you think we would have someone other than Maas there to represent another point of view? There's a liberal Jewish law professor in Boston named Alan Dershowitz who could probably dismantle Ben Ami in a debate in about ten minutes. If this were really about an 'open and honest conversation' and not stifling debate, wouldn't someone like Dershowitz be sitting on the stage instead of Maas? If it had been Dershowitz there, the Temple wouldn't have canceled the event - it would have been standing room only.

Dershowitz isn't the only one in the Boston area who could answer Ben Ami - I mention him because he's clearly a Liberal.

But lest you get the wrong idea, unfortunately, the extreme Leftist viewpoint that J Street represents hasn't yet become anathema in the Boston Jewish community. It's just that people are disgusted with the lies being told by the organization, with its connection with George Soros (who is a despised figure in the American Jewish community across the board) and with the fear that... I'll let Jonathan Sarna describe it.
Jonathan Sarna, a historian of American Judaism at Brandeis University who moderated a panel discussion with Ben-Ami at Temple Emanuel about 18 months ago, said Ben-Ami’s disclosures about Soros’s involvement had hurt his credibility and fueled questions about the organization’s posture toward Israel.

“I have no doubt that there are some people who would vilify anybody to the left of them,’’ he said. “I actually think, in this case, it’s all about the community’s question, which is totally legitimate from my perspective as an observer, of ‘What is J Street?’ Is it simply a progressive organization that supports a different policy for the state of Israel, or is it a Trojan horse for anti-Israel activists?’’
Even in Boston and even on the Left, J Street is viewed as a Trojan horse. I don't think they'll be around much past the end of President Obama's term in office. Good riddance!

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At 3:29 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

"I clearly did not understand how deep the antipathy is among a group within the Jewish community."

What a cop out. Obviously he does not want to jeopardize his own position by offending the many liberals that are on board with Soros Street. He relies on them for dues to the congregation. He can't possibly let be any suggestion that it is any more than some obscure "group," and not any particular consensus.

V'lamalshinim al t'hi tikvah.

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan Sarna was a friend of our extended family when he was starting out in Cincinnati. He stands out for his role and prominence in the Jewish community-but he's an exemplar of Jews who identify with Judaism and not a left-wing doxology soaked in anti-Zionism. Ben Ami doesn't even blink before dismissing a congregation's objection as the work of "a handful of zealous donors"--personal ad hominem that pretty much matches the prevailing rhetoric against the "Israel Lobby". Shouldn't mosers be inviting themselves to Methodist conclaves?

At 5:54 AM, Blogger ais cotten19 said...

Our shul experienced a nasty split about 8 or 9 years ago because the Rabbi at the time wouldn't stop pushing his anti-Israel agenda. Fortunately we have a new, smarter Rabbi now. Splitting up shuls is not what we pay them for, regardless of their affiliation.


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