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Local rabbis sign on to new centrist pro-Israel group

Rabbis for Israel offers option between AIPAC and J Street

A new pro-Israel organization that aims to give rabbis a middle ground between AIPAC and J Street has the attention of several local rabbis.

Rabbis for Israel, launched last month by Rabbi Michael Boyden of Hod Hasharon, Israel, bills itself as a centrist group dedicated to a two-state solution with peace and security for Israel. More than 230 rabbis, including six from Northern New Jersey, have signed on to the group’s mission statement.

“I was amazed that so many leading rabbis from all streams and from all over the world, including North America, Israel, and Europe, should have chosen to identify with Rabbis for Israel in such a short space of time,” Boyden said in a statement. “The response shows the degree to which many Jewish leaders are thirsty for an advocacy group that represents the middle ground in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

Rabbi Jonathan Woll, of the Progressive Havura of Northern New Jersey in Glen Rock, met Boyden during a visit by the Israeli rabbi to Woll’s now-defunct Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn. When Woll heard of Boyden’s group, he quickly signed on because of its centrist position.

Woll had been an early supporter of J Street, which hailed itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, but he became disappointed with it.

“When we came to the flotilla incident,” and J Street’s swift condemnation of Israel, “my disappointment … really gave way to some kind of uncertainty in their position,” he said. “I do respect [J Street founder] Mr. [Jeremy] Ben-Ami. I think he’s a highly intelligent individual. His positions are not for the most part untenable.”

Who’s signed on?

Rabbi Bruce Block, Tenafly
Rabbi Neal Borovitz, Temple
Avodat Shalom, River Edge
Rabbi Ken Emert, Temple Beth
Rishon, Wyckoff
Rabbi Debra Hachen, Temple
Beth El of Northern Valley,
Closter
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner,
Temple Emanu-El, Closter
Rabbi Jonathan Woll, Progressive
Havura of Northern New Jersey,
Glen Rock

.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge echoed Woll’s disappointment with J Street, which, he said, wrongly equates equality with equity, assigning equal blame to Israel and the Palestinians.

“They’re looking at it to a certain degree through a colored lens that doesn’t let them see the reality of where the Middle East peace process has gone over the 33 years since [the late Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat came to Jerusalem,” he said.

Borovitz, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, didn’t shy away from criticizing AIPAC either.

“AIPAC has taken an unrealistic view of the Middle East peace process that is far too hardline for me on issues of the territories and settlements and defending what I think are indefensible actions,” he said. “Both of these very vocal pro-Israel lobbies — and I believe J Street is pro-Israel as well — have found themselves caught up in both American and Israeli partisan politics and are failing to represent a moderate centrist voice that is critically supportive of Israel.”

Disagreeing with specific Israeli policies or actions does not negate overall support of the Jewish state, said Temple Emanu-El of Closter’s Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who recently returned from three and half weeks in Israel.

He pointed to the recent flap over Arizona’s immigration law. Just because he disagrees with the law does not mean that he will not visit Arizona or stop loving America, he said. Similarly, American Jews need to be able to equally express criticism of Israel without abandoning support of the Jewish state.

“We can be a liberal and love and support Israel and we can be a conservative and love and support Israel,” he said. “It should be something that is part of the core of every Jewish person — even those secular and non-Jewish people who can appreciate what Israel brings to the world.”

For the complete statement, go to www.rabbisforisrael.org

 
 

GreenFaith taps Temple Beth Rishon to help support EPA rule

GreenFaith, an environmental group that works each year with some 200 congregations around the country — many of them in New Jersey — recently called upon Wyckoff’s Temple Beth Rishon to help with an important initiative.

The synagogue, a participant in the group’s certification program, is rallying support for a new national rule aimed at reducing the emission of mercury and other toxins from power plants nationwide.

“This rule will prevent thousands of people from serious illness and death — particularly those in poor communities near many power plants,” said Rabbi Kenneth Emert, the religious leader of Temple Beth Rishon. “It’s the right thing to do, and we are proud to support it.”

On March 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the rule, which is open for public comment.

Founded in 1992, GreenFaith’s mission is to educate and mobilize diverse religious communities to be environmental leaders, said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, the group’s executive director.

“This rule will save lives as soon as it is implemented,” he said. “Temple Beth Rishon is offering important leadership by encouraging its members and community to voice their support.”

According to Harriet Shugarman, co-chair of the synagogue’s T’Green Olam Committee, Beth Rishon is “the first Jewish house of worship in GreenFaith’s certification program. We helped them pilot it two years ago,” she said. “We hope to become certified soon.”

“We look at sustainability issues inside the synagogue and how to reach out to the wider community,” she noted, describing the work of her committee. “We partnered with GreenFaith to get structure for what we were doing.”

Shugarman, who spent years working as an economist at the United Nations, said she is now focusing on environmental issues at a different level. The chair of Wyckoff’s environmental commission, she also maintains a website and blog called Climate Mama (climatemama.com).

At the synagogue’s Mitzvah Day on Sunday, May 15, a petition will be circulated in support of the EPA rule.

Stephanie Perl, a member of T’Green Olam, is working with her teenage children to create posters and signs describing the importance of the initiative.

“We’ll go around and have people sign the petition,” she said, adding that Mitzvah Day usually attracts at least 200 people. Signatures will also be collected on May 18, when the synagogue hosts a speaker from the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel. (See related story.)

Harper said GreenFaith was approached by the EPA “because they understand the importance of the religious community in terms of mobilizing public support around the common good.” He noted that he’d been aware of the fact that the agency was planning to issue a rule requiring power plants to install new equipment to reduce mercury emission. “I knew there would be resistance in the business community because of increased costs,” he said.

The GreenFaith leader said the proposed rule would require many power plants to install widely available pollution control technologies that would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. In addition, it would reduce the number of cases of childhood asthma and acute bronchitis.

“Half of our electricity comes from coal plants,” he said. “Right now they are not only creating power but releasing mercury into the air, which is killing people. The rule will improve the situation. We think people ought to be aware of that and support these measures. It’s our responsibility as consumers of energy to make sure the energy we use is healthy and clean.”

Congregations that receive GreenFaith certification work over a two-year period on a significant number of environmental projects, integrating them into worship services and synagogue activities; reducing waste and becoming more environmentally responsible in their own facilities; and engaging in advocacy.

According to Shugarman, a participating congregation does an audit of “where you’re at and what you’re doing. It made us take stock,” she said, adding that thanks to the efforts of her co-chair Mark Neiderman, “we took a look at how we can [realize] energy savings in the temple. By being more diligent, at little or no cost, we’ve saved $30,000 over two years.

“It’s all part of a bigger picture,” said Shugarman, “[of] how to make our homes and our congregations more sustainable and how to move outside and have an impact on the world around us. There’s no downside. It’s all part of what we’re trying to do to be better people.”

For more information about Temple Beth Rishon’s environmental efforts, visit www.bethrishon.org. To learn more about GreenFaith, visit www.greenfaith.org.

 
 
 
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