This week, the Jewish Community Center In Newton, Massachusetts will earn the unwelcome distinction of being the first major JCC in the nation to sponsor a divisive movie which demonizes fellow members of our community.
While the so-called documentary, “The J Street Challenge,” a one-sided screed filled with distortions, smears and personal attacks, has been shown in select venues across the United States, the organized Jewish community has largely maintained its distance, with few exceptions.
The screening in Newton, a suburb of Boston and center of Jewish life in New England, is especially egregious because the JCC, as its very name denotes, is a place for our community to come together, a space where all can coexist. It’s where we send our kids to summer camp, work out in the gym, swim in the pool and attend cultural and educational programs. That feeling of safety and acceptance is now compromised.
What makes this even more worrisome is that by sanctioning attacks on the pro-Israel, pro-peace group J Street, the leadership of the Newton JCC appears to have joined a dangerous trend within our community of shutting down a meaningful conversation about Israel.
We encourage Jewish institutions–JCCs, synagogues, federations, Hillels–to foster honest and respectful dialogue on these important issues. But there is a difference between debate in which all viewpoints are heard, and the kind of response engendered by “The J Street Challenge.”
We’re taught by our sages that one of the reasons the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed was because of “sinat chinam”–the baseless hatred that divides us one from the other.
“The J Street Challenge” is an example of such baseless hatred. Its intention is to divide and vilify. Of course, in America we have freedom of speech and anyone can produce a movie saying anything they like, whether true or false. But it’s a different matter when an official body within our community such as a JCC provides a platform to attack other members of the community, fellow Jews and lovers of Israel.
That’s the tragedy of this decision. “The J Street Challenge” isn’t just attacking an organization with a board and a budget. It’s attacking family, friends and neighbors who simply have a different idea of what it means to be pro-Israel. Indeed, the film may alienate more people than its producers realize, considering that the large majority of American Jews agrees with J Street, that we must act urgently to help Israel reach a two-state peace accord with the Palestinians.
This is especially unfortunate at a time when the Jewish community is struggling to engage the next generation. Too often, it sends the opposite message—that thousands of Jews who want a meaningful relationship with Israel simply don’t belong.
Our institutions should be promoting honest debate – not divisive, harmful attacks designed to question the legitimacy of fellow supporters of Israel and to drive them away.
We challenge the JCC, and other Jewish institutions, to be leaders in bringing together our diverse community and celebrating our diverse perspectives.
This op-ed was co-authored by:
Paul Egerman, of Weston, MA, a retired software entrepreneur and most recently served as the finance chair for Elizabeth Warren. Egerman is a member of J Street’s Advisory Council and J Street Boston’s Leadership Council.George Krupp of Chestnut Hill, MA, a founding partner of The Berkshire Group, a real estate and financial services/investment company.Krupp is an active member of the Boston Jewish community and is a member of the J Street Boston Executive Committee.
George Krupp of Chestnut Hill, MA, a founding partner of The Berkshire Group, a real estate and financial services/investment company.Krupp is an active member of the Boston Jewish community and is a member of the J Street Boston Executive Committee.
Alan Solomont of Weston, MA, former U.S. Ambassador to Spain
and Andorra. He is currently the Dean of Tisch College of Citizenship
and Public Service at Tufts University. Solomont is a member of the J
Street Board and J Street Boston’s Leadership Council.