I spent much of my childhood at the foot of the bimah. Whether it was at Jewish day school, temple, or summer camp, I always idolized and cherished the words of those who stood behind the lectern.
In addition to their calls to repair the world, these rabbis and Jewish intellectuals often spoke of our duty as Jews to support the Jewish state no matter what. Israel was our best bet for safety, ensuring the Holocaust would never happen again. I absorbed these messages like a sponge; I developed an unquestioning love for Israel and an unwillingness to criticize it. The fact that these views were shared from a raised platform, lit by an eternal flame, with an ark containing the Torah as a backdrop, gave their words a spiritual authority.
This is the power Congregation Emanu-El is awarding David Brog when he speaks from their pulpit on Sept. 7. Our bimahs are sacred places, imbued with the precious obligation to shape the next generation of Jews. As a member of IfNotNow, I will not sit quietly while groups like Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and Brog, its founding executive director, deride our tradition and confuse its moral compass. We deserve truer allies, and a brighter future.
In an op-ed written for J., Brog accused IfNotNow of being “extremists” for having this vision. We see nothing extreme in imagining a better future for our community, where our community no longer supports the Occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We see nothing extreme in easing restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, or offering enough electrical power to Gaza to run its hospitals. The Occupation is a daily nightmare for Palestinians; for our community, it is a moral disaster exemplified in the very event we are petitioning against.
Where is the extremism in inviting our community to join us in the work of social justice, in the values of freedom and dignity so deeply rooted in this tradition we love?
Perhaps Brog has been so close to hate speech and extremism for so long that he can no longer recognize it.
Perhaps Brog has been so close to hate speech and extremism for so long that he can no longer recognize it when it’s right in front of his face. Pastor John Hagee, Brog’s close colleague of many years, is an expert in hate speech and a true extremist. Hagee, the millionaire televangelist and current head of CUFI, claims that Ebola was God’s judgment for Obama’s policies on Israel. He preaches that Hitler was sent by God in order to chase us from Europe to the Middle East. And yet we are the “extremists.”
Let’s not forget CUFI’s close ties to the current White House administration. In March, Hagee praised and shook hands with President Trump, who, after Charlottesville, was unwilling to explicitly condemn neo-Nazis. This past July, one of the most anti-LGBTQ elected officials in our country, Mike Pence, headlined CUFI’s annual summit to raucous applause. This is the company David Brog keeps. These are the allies he wants for our community.
Our Jewish values are being strongly tested at this moment. Jewish organizations have fallen into the trap of allying with anti-Semites, failing to condemn white nationalists because of their fear of offending pro-Israel donors. For the sake of our community’s future and for the sanctity of the bimah, we are asking our community not to do the same.
IfNotNow, a movement of young American Jews trying to end our community’s support for the Occupation, does not represent extremism; we actively combat it. We have done so by joining and sponsoring the peaceful Bay Area Rally Against Hate in Berkeley just two weeks ago. Members of our movement are doing so at this moment on the march from Charlottesville to D.C. alongside our allies against white nationalism, demanding Trump’s impeachment. We will do so on Sept. 7 at our counter-event outside Emanu-El, “Christian Zionists—Why We Deserve Better Allies.”
In our alternate programming, Jewish and Christian clergy will speak. We will call on prayer and song from our tradition, feature testimonial from IfNotNow members raised at Emanu-El, and provide a vision of a Jewish future with love for others and ourselves. We represent the deep thirst for justice of our people; we represent its future.
As a young Jew who used to look at the bimah with reverence, I ask our entire Bay Area Jewish community to join me and IfNotNow at our alternative programming. Help us usher in a future of freedom and dignity for all people.