Larry Snider

Synagogues are not for prophets

The title of this piece is taken from an article by Marc H. Ellis in Mondoweiss; “Brant Rosen’s prophetic voice elevated him beyond the rabbinic politics of our day”. Being neither a Rabbi nor a prophet, (and residing a good distance from events in Evanston, Illinois),
I can only offer a humble comment from pretty far up in the peanut gallery on the resignation of the Rabbi.

Once upon a time, some fourteen years ago, I challenged my relationship with my own Reconstructionist Rabbi, Sandy Roth, of blessed memory, when I announced to her that I had planned a program that would bring the Israeli Consul General and the Deputy Director of the PLO to our synagogue; Kehilat HaNahar; The Little Shul By the River in New Hope, PA. I was at the time Social Action Chair, VP of the synagogue and a general go to problem solver. But in this case after spending a good year studying the situation, I decided to bring an important and difficult conversation to New Hope.

I digress a bit because the process of doing this confronted both Rabbi Sandy and the congregation in ways that neither was prepared for. Sandy was the founding Rabbi who had just completed her rabbinic studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and had a small congregation made up of upwardly mobile suburban Philadelphia Jews, mostly lacking any experience with this fourth branch of Judaism, (including yours truly). What is critical is that Sandy knew the political makeup of her congregation well and its breadth and depth as she listened to my excited proclamation and was scared. I knew there were a group of liberal Jews including some good friends who would support me and what I planned. There were also some conservatives and ardent conservatives including a former IDF member who would be astonished and angry with a capital A. To make matters even more difficult, I had planned this with the help of the Executive VP of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Marc Seal, who was Treasurer of the American Friends of Peace Now, (and he would be participating on a second panel).

So I put Sandy in a box without thinking it through, naively believing that she would be pleased. She wasn’t. She added it to the agenda of the upcoming Board meeting, (at the time we called it our Tribal Council), and then told me. I turned multiple shades of red and my blood pressure rose to what I am sure was a new and unsafe level. I had worked hard to put this together and no one, not even my Rabbi was going to deny me. Ultimately, I was ruthless and the Board recognized that they had better find a way to let me have my way, which they did. We held “An Educational Forum For Peace & Understanding” in New Hope High School on March 26, 2000, with police present and the two main speakers; Dan Ashbell and Khalil Foutah got along well in the short lived period leading up to Camp David and we learned a great deal.

Over the years I helped Rabbi Sandy and our Little Shul by participating on an Interfaith Committee to respond to the splashing of anti-Semitic graffiti on our synagogue, represented KHN at JRF and brought a series of Israeli peacemakers including Devorah Brous and Gila Svirsky to speak in our synagogue. Rabbi Sandy who had numerous relatives in Israel kept studying and growing and reaching out to many constituencies on her own. In 2007 I asked for her help and involvement in putting together the Delaware Valley Interfaith Delegation to Israel/Palestine and with her help and that of others we built a group of twenty Muslim, Christian and Jewish clergy and lay leaders and traveled in March of 2008 on a listening mission in partnership with Leah Green and her Compassionate Listening Project. We sat down with many different people including David Wilder, Spokesperson for the Jewish Community in Hebron and Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. We returned home and shared our stories with over 150 audiences.

Prophets come and prophets go, but I believe that most speak to an audience that needs guidance and love and support. While I don’t agree with all the positions of Rabbi Rosen, it is clear in his writing on his blog, “Shalom Rav;” and through his work as Rabbinic Co-Chair for the Jewish Voice for Peace, that he is a brilliant spokesman against the occupation who favors resistance that includes BDS, (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), and loud protests organized by JVP against pro-Israel presenters and their organizations. One member of his synagogue, Rhonda Present, said in a Chicago Tribune article about the resignation; “Rosen was always careful to specify that his views on Israel were not a reflection of the congregation’s position and that she supported his right to speak out.”

I have met Rabbis who find it necessary to be quiet on Israel, others who lead and gather support and still others who find themselves caught between the left and right and their contracts are not renewed. It is hard to be one person in print and another in ones place of business. Especially if your business is to lead a flock of the faithful on a path that is fraught with pain and problems and promise. I support my friend Mitch Chanin, who founded the Jewish Dialogue Group here in Philadelphia to help congregations and their Rabbis to learn how to have respectful discussions about Israel, war and peace:  It is hard in the middle of a war to publicly express a position that is in conflict with a significant number of the membership of one’s congregation and outside the bounds of the Jewish mainstream. Does that make him a prophet or a propagandist? I continue to look, listen and consider.


About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.