Jewish Congregation Applauds U.N. Vote on Palestine

Even though B’nai Jeshurun, an Upper West Side congregation that is known as a place of liberal Jewish thought, has consistently staked out a position on the left of the Jewish political spectrum, some congregants thought that the celebratory tone of the e-mail went too far. The governments of the United States and Israel, and many mainstream Jewish community organizations had opposed the move by the United Nations, on Thursday.

“The vote at the UN yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world,” the rabbis wrote in the e-mail, which was sent Friday night. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition. Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this.

“Every people has the right of recognition, every person has the right of recognition,” continued the rabbis, Roly Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol, and a cantor, Ari Priven. The note was also signed by the synagogue’s board of directors and executive director.

Reaction within the congregation, which is not affiliated with any denomination, was immediate. Some, members said they were appalled.

“We are just sort of in a state of shock,” said Allan Ripp, a congregant. “It’s not as if we don’t support a two-state solution, but to say with such a warm embrace — it is like a high-five to the P.L.O., and that has left us numb.”

Other congregants, however, thought it was a bold move that they welcomed.

“I thought it was great; I thought it was very courageous of them,” said Gil Kulick, a congregation member. “I think as of late there has been a reluctance to speak out on this issue,” he said, “and that’s why I was really delighted that they chose to take a strong, unequivocal stand.”

Several liberal Jewish advocacy organizations, including Americans for Peace Now and Partners for a Progressive Israel, have also endorsed the United Nations vote. And some rabbis in White Plains have circulated an e-mail, taking a cautious but positive stance toward the vote.

Here is the text of the B’nai Jeshurun letter:

Dear Friends,

Yesterday’s vote at the UN on Palestinian membership was a day which will go down in history, although what history will write about it only time will tell.

In this week’s Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob battles with the angel and earns the name Israel. It is the first time we are recognized as the people of Israel. Our own struggles were rewarded exactly 65 years ago on 29 November 1947 with the UN partition plan that acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to an independent state.

The Parasha also tells us how Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau again, 20 years after fleeing from him. The risks are real — Esau has threatened to kill him. This meeting is the biblical prototype of confrontation between Israel and the nations. Before the meeting with Esau, Jacob prepares in three ways: he divides his camp in two, he prays to God, and he sends Esau gifts and conciliatory messages. These three tactics mirror the basic strategies that Israel has at its disposal: preparation for battle, prayer, and diplomacy.

We as a nation have had to rely on all three at different times. Today we feel it is critical that we remember the crucial role that diplomacy played in achieving independence for the State of Israel.

The vote at the UN yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world. This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition. Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this. Every people has the right of recognition, every person has the right of recognition.

As Jews deeply committed to the security and democracy of Israel, and in light of the violence this past month in Gaza and Israel, we hope that November 29, 2012 will mark the moment that brought about a needed sense of dignity and purpose to the Palestinian people, led to a cessation of violence and hastened the two state solution.

We continue to pray for a lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 4, 2012

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the congregation at one point.  It is B’nai Jeshurun, not B’nai Jeshrun,

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Jewish Congregation Applauds U.N. Vote on Palestine
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