Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Response to Our Letter to Netanyahu

As we explained in detail in our previous post, Our Letter to Netanyahu, the Board of Trustees sent a letter to Israel's Prime Minister expressing our concern over the situation regarding egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

We did finally receive a response, which we would like to share with you here on our congregational blog:

Our goal was to make a statement, register our protest, and add to the pressure for an equitable solution, and while this response is pretty much pro forma, it does acknowledge the fact that we have added our voices to those of so many others in the Reform and Conservative movement. We hope, and pray, for a just resolution to this issue.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bonds of Faith

Congregation Adas Emuno has certainly been in the news quite a lot recently, and while much of it has involved the controversial resolution to declare Leonia a sanctuary city, Bergen County's monthly 201 Magazine ran a feature about our shul's history in their March issue. Here's how it looked:

And let's take a closer look at those photos:

The color photo is of last year's spiel, and this came out just in time for Purim, which we just celebrated on Saturday evening and Sunday morning! 

We are most certainly the little shul that could!

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Lukewarm Resolution

In a series of posts, we have been sharing the story of the Sanctuary City Resolution proposed by the interfaith clergy of Leonia, and spearheaded by our own Rabbi Schwartz. Here they are in chronological order:

In the end, the weaker proposal to declare Leonia a "welcoming community" was approved by the borough council, as reported in the March 6th issue of the North Jersey Record, in article by Michael W. Curley, Jr., entitled, Leonia Adopts 'Welcoming Communities' Resolution. Here now is how it begins:

The council adopted a resolution Monday night declaring the borough a "welcoming community," pledging to encourage police not to question a resident's immigrant status except if they are charged in a criminal offense.

The move comes after executive orders from President Donald Trump that target undocumented immigrants and seek to punish sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding. Last month, the borough first discussed the possibility of declaring sanctuary city status, spurred by a letter from a resident, and two weeks earlier agreed to vote on a "welcoming community" resolution, drafted by Mayor Judah Zeigler.

Some in the audience at the March 6 meeting urged the Borough Council to include "sanctuary city" in its language, with Rabbi Barry Schwartz of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia suggesting the council use the term as a symbolic, if not legal, gesture. The resolution adopted did not use the term.

We are, of course, quite proud of our rabbi's moral and spiritual leadership on this issue. Even though the interfaith resolution he proposed was not approved, an important statement was made. 

The article continues:

Others, such as Marine veteran Richard Lundquist, urged council members not to declare the status, saying it would go against their oaths to uphold the Constitution and would violate federal law.

Zeigler said that while he believed the president's executive order would not stand up in court, he was not willing to gamble Leonia's tax dollars in a legal battle. He added that although the borough does not receive a lot of federal funding at the moment, it may need it in the future.

"We don't want to put ourselves in that kind of harm's way, but we should stand up and say that we cherish our diverse community, and we're committed to making sure that all who live here are welcome, feel safe and know that this is their home," he said.

Council President Maureen Davis said she had done research on the issue and Leonia's own practices, as head of the police committee, in preparation for the vote. She said it is current practice by the department not to ask immigration status except in the case of an indictable offense, citing then-Attorney General Anne Milgram's directive 2007-3, which advised police departments to ask only in that circumstance.

She said she wanted to put residents' minds at rest that the practice will not change unless the law changes. She added that Chief Thomas Rowe has advised that the borough not participate in the president's directive to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement deputize local law enforcement, even if grants are offered as incentive.

Before voting on the resolution, Councilman William Ziegler presented three amendments. The first was to include a paragraph saying that undocumented status is not a crime, and to substitute the term "undocumented" where the draft used "illegal"; the second, a paragraph endorsing the Leonia Police Department's current policy of not asking for immigration status except in the case of a criminal indictment; the third, a paragraph affirming that the borough is duty-bound to cooperate in criminal investigations and to share relevant information with local, state, county and federal authorities to keep the borough safe.

"I think that a symbolic reinforcement of the welcoming resolution and the amendments that I'm going to offer — did offer — are important, because they reinforce a value statement we need to make," he said. "I think they define and further clarify our conduct as a municipality consistent with our borough's values and our obligations."

Mayor Zeigler said he agreed in principle with the second suggested amendment, but recommended a change in language, as the police do not have a written policy but are following the attorney general's directive advising the practice. Councilman Ziegler accepted this modification.

The mayor objected to the first amendment, however, as undocumented status is a violation of federal law. Ziegler said he felt it was important to distinguish that undocumented status is not an indictable crime that would, by itself, warrant asking about undocumented status. After some discussion, Borough Attorney Brian Chewcaskie offered the distinction that while undocumented status is a violation of federal law, being of undocumented status is not a crime punishable with imprisonment, which Ziegler accepted.

Councilman Pasquale Fusco said he agreed with the mayor's suggestions, adding that the policy of the Leonia Police Department is one of support and the department should be commended for its behavior.

The resolution passed unanimously, with Councilman Greg Makroulakis absent from the meeting.

Of course, we all know that our congregation has always been a welcoming community, and one that is not afraid to take a stand when it comes to social justice! 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Politics and Religion

 From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Politics and Religion

It used to be said that you should never talk about religion or politics, at least not in polite society, or mixed company. And maybe many still consider it rude to do so. Of course, these are topics that were never entirely taboo, but rather reserved for private conversation among intimate associates, confederates, that is to say, like-minded individuals.

Of course, within the confines of our houses of worship, congregants have no compunctions about engaging in conversation on the topic of religion. As Rabbi Schwartz has so eloquently explained, discussion and debate for the sake of heaven is central to the Jewish tradition. And anyone familiar with Jewish culture would find it hard to imagine us refraining from voicing opinions on matters of mutual concern.

But the rule regarding politics is another matter entirely. Members of our shul who share the same religious heritage may differ significantly in their political views, and the clergy and temple leadership generally try to respect those differences. We do not want the temporal issues that may divide us to overshadow the essential, ancient, spiritual relationships that bind us together with one another.

At the same time, as a religion, we are asked to adhere to a set of moral and ethical standards, and to speak out when they are violated. Leviticus (19:16) famously admonishes us, "do not stand idly by while your neighbor's blood is shed." And our tradition also includes the Kabbalistic notion of tikkun olam, the repair or healing of the world, as our central obligation. This is a precept that has become central for the Reform movement that we are a part of (a movement that is sometimes also referred to as Liberal or Progressive Judaism).

And we well recall the words of Hillel, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?" We recognize that Hillel's three sayings represent a call to stand up for ourselves and our principles, to seek justice and compassion for others, and as a call to action.

Last year, one of our Trustees, Norman Rosen, voiced his concern over the way that the Israeli government has handled egalitarian worship at the Kotel, the Western Wall, which represents the holiest site in Judaism. This is a longstanding controversy, and the Reform movement has been especially supportive of and involved in the Women of the Wall movement. The Knesset approved a compromise regarding the site, which has been under Orthodox control, but the Israeli government has failed to enforce the compromise.

Norm was deeply disturbed by what he had witnessed firsthand at the Wall, and asked the Board of Trustees to send a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following in-depth discussion by the board members and clergy, the proposal was approved, a letter was drafted, signed by the vast majority of the board, and delivered to the Prime Minister's office. [Editor's note: See out previous post,
Our Letter to Netanyahu.] No reply has been forthcoming so far, long delays are commonplace, but the Jewish Standard will be publishing an article based on Norm's experiences that led to this effort.

Equal rights for women is, of course, a political issue, as is Israel's governmental policy regarding administration of the Temple mount. But the subject of our letter is also a religious issue, and the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism have long been fighting for official recognition by the Israeli government, for example in regard to marriage, conversion, etc., and egalitarian worship at the Wall is another issue that directly concerns our standing and legitimacy in the Jewish state. In this instance, we are standing up for ourselves as much as for others. If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

At our February board meeting, Rabbi Schwartz brought to the board a resolution crafted by Leonia's interfaith clergy in response to Donald Trump's January 27th executive order that barred people from 7 Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and stopped all refugee admissions. In addition to criticizing the ban, the resolution asks the Borough of Leonia's Council to designate Leonia as a sanctuary city. Just as his colleagues were doing with their own church leaders, our rabbi asked the board if we would sign onto the resolution on behalf of our congregation.

An in-depth discussion of the legal and moral considerations ensued, followed by a vote in which the rabbi's request was approved by a supermajority of over ¾ of the board members present. This was a rare instance in which the board was asked to take a stand on a political issue, and most felt that the actions of the government were so extreme as to merit making a statement, even if it is only symbolic. If I am only for myself, who am I?

One of the questions that came up in our discussions was whether getting involved in any kind of political issue would endanger our 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Here is the explanation that board member Michael Fishbein provided: "The activity that could jeopardize tax exemption is essentially taking sides against or in favor of a particular candidate during an election. Commenting on social issues or issues of human freedom is not barred. So, for example we could advocate in favor of gay marriage, just as another religious organization can advocate against gay marriage. However, we cannot endorse a particular candidate because he or she is pro gay marriage."

Personally, I usually favor having our congregation avoid political controversies, whether it has to do with Israel or the US. What makes any given topic an issue is the fact that there are pros and cons, reasons for and against. Not everything is an issue for that reason. No one is really pro-illness for example, or pro-poverty. But there are reasons why some favor apply Orthodox strictures to the Kotel, and a strict ban on immigration to the US.

But there are times when it is difficult to stand idly by, and I believe that these two instances are exceptions to the rule about not speaking out when it comes to politics and the polite company of our congregation. They are two instances in which the board felt it important to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for others, and to take action and make a statement. If not now, when?

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Gold Standard Resolution

In our previous posts, we shared the Leonia Interfaith Sanctuary City Resolution that our own Rabbi Schwartz helped to compose and that our Board of Trustees voted to endorse, along with the North Jersey Record's report on its introduction at a meeting of the Leonia town council, which we characterized as A Lukewarm Welcoming.

The resolution, and the reasoning behind it, rooted in our religious tradition, was discussed in depth by Rabbi Schwartz in his newsletter column, also posted here, “For You Were Strangers in the Land of Egypt”.

And we are pleased to share with you the fact that the story was also picked up by the USA Today Network, and covered in their local publication, Gold Coast Life, on March 3rd. Here is how it looked:

Regardless of the outcome, we are proud of our rabbi for taking a stand and upholding our long tradition of social justice and ethical conduct. Without a doubt, he has met the gold standard when it comes to spiritual leadership!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Join Us on Saturday for Our Purim Service and Spiel

Come celebrate Purim at Adas Emuno with singing, reading from the Megillah, and a world premier performance of this year's original Purim Spiel, "The Festival of Lots," written by Lance Strate.

A cast of characters features Ahashverosh as the king who gets no respect, Vashti as the queen who would rather be a star, Haman as the villain we love to boo, Mordecai as our favorite good guy, and Dr. Esther as the shrink who cures the kingdom's ills. With special guest star Judah Maccabee, and introducing Purim Person, the spirit of the holiday.

With song parodies of Time Warp, Mack the Knife, Beat It, Achy Breaky Heart, Suffragette City, I Gotta Be Me, Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, Hello by Adele, 1999 by Prince and many other crowd favorites, this spiel will entertain revelers young and old alike.

There'll be pizza at 5:30, and our Purim service will begin at 6:30, with singing and a reading from the Megillah, immediately followed by the spiel. Hammantaschen and other refreshments will be served following the spiel. Open to the community!