Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Betrayal, Disappointment and Anger in the Wake of the UCC's Anti-Israel Votes

Over the past 28+ years, the many opportunities with which I have been blessed to work in partnership with liberal Christian Clergy have enriched my rabbinate in numerous ways.  The friendships I have forged, the bonds of fellowship and communion we have shared together and the common search for God’s presence through study, prayer and activism have been transforming in multiple arenas.
This past week, I happily rejoiced with men and women of many faith communities as we celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to make Marriage Equality the law of the land.  The week before, I joined with a diverse group of clergy and laity as we came together to grieve and pray in solidarity with the victims of the horrific massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  I believe strongly in the prophetic tradition of crying out in the face of injustice regardless of whenever and wherever it is found.   I also value and celebrate the vitally important partnerships that liberal Jewish movements have been able to forge over the years with many mainstream Protestant denominations as we have worked hand in hand to expose and erase institutionalized prejudice in our nation.
It is for this reason that I felt a sense of betrayal, disappointment and anger when I learned of the recent decision by the top legislative body of the United Church of Christ (UCC) to divest from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.  If that wasn’t enough, a motion to label Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as Apartheid received a majority of votes, but was defeated on the floor only because it did not garner the requisite two thirds majority required for passage.
As upset as I was over the outcome of these votes, unfortunately I was not surprised.  Increasingly, many liberal Protestant denominations have been moving closer and closer to adopting a one-sided, anti-Zionist position which places blame for all of the problems in Israel and the Territories squarely on the Jewish State.  This is a theology and a political philosophy that focuses exclusively on Palestinian suffering and ignores Israel’s need to defend herself against an enemy bent on her destruction.  It turns a blind eye and, in many cases justifies Palestinian aggression and terror while simplifying and distorting key facts in order to demonize and delegitimize Israel’s actions by utilizing a one-sided and skewed approach towards understanding the conflict. 
Additionally, the fact that Israel has been singled out for perceived injustices when so many other countries and organizations – among them:  Syria, Iran, China, Russia, Pakistan ISIS and others too numerous to mention with far worse records on human rights are ignored by the UCC in their condemnation must cause any rational person to question why this august body is focusing exclusively on Jews.
The truth is, the UCC and other mainstream Christian denominations have been shrinking in both size and influence on the world stage for many years.  As such, their direct impact in minimal.  And yet, other organizations can and will use their vote to reinforce attacks against Israel and the Jewish people.  The fact that a small and vocal group of radical anti-Zionist Jews who do not represent the Jewish people was used to placate and mollify the delegates who cast their votes does not in any way mitigate the damage that this action has caused to relationships between our communities.  The sense of betrayal and anger that I and the vast majority of the mainstream Jewish community feel will not be so easily passed over.
Like most of us, I pray for a day when the State of Israel will be able to live side by side with her Palestinian neighbors in peace. Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) only serves to pit the world against Israel.  It does not promote the cause of peace – it is yet another weapon that is being increasingly effectively wielded by those whose ultimate goal is Israel’s destruction.  By lending their voices to the mob calling for Israel’s demise, the UCC, instead of working for peace, is adding to the conflict.
I pray that those of conscience within the Mainstream Protestant community will rise up in protest against this act of injustice and prejudice. While I will not go so far as to call the UCC anti-Semitic, their embrace of BDS strengthens those who are. I pray that the bonds of partnership that I have so cherished over the years are not irreparably broken and that, in time, we will once again be able to sit in dialogue together. I do not see this on the horizon, I'm sad to say. There is a great deal of healing that needs to be done. May it come soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yet Another Prayer In The Aftermath of Tragedy

Tonight, I will be representing the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council at a Prayer Vigil in response to the tragedy that took place at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.  This is what I will be saying:

Prayer for the Vigil at Shorter A.M.E. Church
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
President, Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council
Sr. Rabbi – Temple Emanuel – Denver, CO
June 18, 2015

Our God and God of all people.  We come together tonight in solidarity – in grief and in hope.  We feel the pain of loss, O God.  We remember and grieve the murder of nine of your saints - precious souls whose blood flowed in your holy sanctuary for no reason save that they were the in the proximity of a disturbed and poisoned young man who was given a gun for his 21st birthday.
O God – we long for the day when violence and hatred will disappear.  We pray that the worship of weapons that exists in our society will be replaced with the promise of peace.
We long for the vision of the prophet Isaiah who urged us to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks…..
Our Jewish tradition teaches: "He who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe" (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Today we in the Jewish Community stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the African Methodist Episcopal community as we pray for those who were murdered and send our thoughts and strength to the families of the victims and those who were wounded. 
May it be your will O Eternal that we might learn from the pain of this tragedy.  May some good come from this evil act. May people of good will of every race and nation find the courage to stand together in solidarity and scream:  “Enough!  Enough hatred.  Enough Violence. Enough mothers grieving the loss of their babies!”
We need Your presence O Blessed One.  We need to feel the comfort of Your love.  May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing – and let us say, AMEN