Religious institutions have no place in politics
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 04:12
Brandeis is often seen as a microcosm of the Jewish community, and the fact that we have so many Israel-related groups on campus shows the diversity in views and opinions of college students regarding Israel. From the more liberal J-Street U to the more conservative Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee, Brandeis students’ views of Israel vary from person to person, within denominational religious groups and even within groups about Israel.
If you want to actively support Israel on campus, you can find the group that best matches your perspectives regarding Israel, even if you don’t agree with its stance 100 percent. As the example of the Jewish community that the Brandeis student body represents, it says a lot that the groups about Israel on campus are separate from the religious groups on campus.
A little over a week ago, the non-denominational synagogue B’nai Jeshurun in New York City sent out an email to the congregation applauding the United Nation’s vote to upgrade Palestine to a non-member state. The congregation’s reactions to the email varied from supportive and enthusiastic to frustrated and disappointed.
Because of the size, location and popularity of the synagogue, much attention was given to the decision to send out the email. The synagogue had put forth a political statement that stretches beyond the religious institution that it is.
This controversy brought attention to the greater dilemma of the synagogue’s role in addressing Israel: should a synagogue issue such a strong and opinionated statement to its congregation?
Addressing Israel on behalf of a group stretches beyond the clergy emailing a congregation. Recently, the Union of Reform Judaism issued statements condemning both Israel’s decision to expand settlements and the UN’s vote on Palestine’s status. When such statements are issued, it seems to couple specific beliefs on Israel with a whole synagogue or denomination.
While putting out statements on behalf of a synagogue or a denomination may seem to create a united front on behalf of the Jewish people with regard to Israel and its policies, it’s only masking the many opinions that people have. Jews can be united in their love for Israel while still having different perspectives, just as Jews are all connected through their religion, even though they may have different beliefs and practices.
At Brandeis, there are no political statements issued about Israel by any one of the various prayer services.
All of the religious groups and all of the Israel groups are under Hillel, setting an example to be followed that what one believes about Israel is not coupled to what one believes religiously.
Putting out such a statement may also cause congregants to feel pressured to think a specific way about Israel. If you belong to a synagogue that has one specific stance on Israel, does that mean you have to share that same stance?
And if you disagree, does that mean you have to find a new synagogue?
Putting forth such statements as B’nai Jeshurun did adds a political connotation to the synagogue—if the clergy thinks one way, it can be assumed that the congregants have the same views.
But, because Israel is so closely tied to Judaism, it would be nearly impossible to have a synagogue that removes itself from the politics of Israel.
This gives the synagogue a major role when it comes to the connection between American Jews and Israel.
Thus, the current events regarding Israel and her future should not be ignored or avoided by synagogues.
It is important to keep members of synagogues up to date on what is going on is Israel—but that does not necessarily mean issuing a political statement.
Israel should be addressed in a way that keeps the dialogue open, and a synagogue should be a place where people feel free to express and discuss their thoughts.
This is a daunting task—how does one support Israel and the many different opinions in a congregational or denominational setting? The first step would be eliminating any statements issued on behalf of a group, as they often do not represent the various views that people have.
The next step would be implementing a system where people feel open to talk and discuss Israel.
This could be done by working with other synagogues and Jewish organizations in the area to create joint events where people with different beliefs and backgrounds can come together, much like the way that Brandeis’ different Israel-related groups sometimes hold programs and discussions together.
By opening up the dialogue, there would be less hesitation to share opinions, and more opportunity to listen to each other.
The example we set at Brandeis shows that different opinions of Israel are not limited by the denomination with which you associate yourself.
We are beginning to show that dialogue should be more open not just between factions of Jews, but between everyone interested in the conflict.
Even within the past year and a half of being a student here, I have seen an increase in the amount of collaboration between the different Israel-related groups on campus.
With an open dialogue, we can continue to learn from each other and share what we think, and we can move away from the polarization that is attached to the conflict.