B’nai Jeshurun ‘Regrets’ UN Letter

B’nai Jeshurun ‘Regrets’ UN Letter

Under pressure, rabbis say letter on Palestinian vote was ‘unedited draft’ and not nuanced enough.

The sanctuary at B'nai Jeshurun. Photo courtesy B'nai Jeshurun
The sanctuary at B'nai Jeshurun. Photo courtesy B'nai Jeshurun

Stung by criticism over their e-mail to congregants lauding the United Nations for recognizing the Palestinians, the rabbis of B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side sent a new e-mail Thursday morning to express regret that their original e-mail did not convey the proper tone.

“We regret the feelings of alienation that resulted from our letter,” the rabbis wrote.

The letter, which triggered a front-page article in the New York Times because of the critical opinions it generated from congregants, was sent prematurely, the rabbis revealed.

“While we affirm the essence of our message, we feel that it is important to share with you that through a series of unfortunate internal errors, an incomplete and unedited draft of the letter was sent out which resulted in a tone which did not reflect the complexities and uncertainties of this moment,” the rabbis wrote.

On Tuesday, The Jewish Week sought comment from officials at B’nai Jeshurun and was told they had been in a meeting all afternoon about the letter. They promised to respond but never did.

The original letter, which was sent last Friday, called the previous day’s UN vote “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,” it said.

“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.”

In the Times story, congregant Allan Ripp was quoted as saying of the letter: “We are just sort of in a state of shock. 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.”

The Palestinians’ decision to seek an upgraded status at the UN was criticized by the United States, Israel and most major American Jewish organizations because the Palestinians had promised to work to achieve peace with Israel through direct negotiations. Going to the UN, they said, bypassed that route and accomplished nothing constructive.

“We have heard from many of you,” the rabbis wrote Thursday. “We thank you for taking the time to write or call to express your opinions. The depth of feeling expressed has moved us. Some of you found our words very upsetting; for others of you, the message resonated powerfully.”

“We genuinely love this community,” they continued. “BJ is our home and we have devoted many years building relationships with so many of you. We have achieved a great deal together. … Although we recognize that not all are in agreement with our views, we trust that we will find a way to live with our differences, challenging as that may sometimes be.”

The rabbis, Roly Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol, stressed that they are “passionate lovers of Israel” who have lived there and have family and friends there.

“We are unequivocally committed to Israel’s security, democracy and peace,” they wrote. “We will continue to devote ourselves to the dignity of Israel, of our people and of all peoples. Let us move forward together.”

They added that the e-mail was a letter from them and erroneously included the names of the cantor, board president, executive director and director of Israel engagement.


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