Young Israel of Toco Hills Demands Apology

Young Israel of Toco Hills Demands Apology

The dispute between YITH and the National Council of Young Israel is playing out on social media, where the Atlanta congregation is making clear it's upset with the national body.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Young Israel of Toco Hills is “demanding an apology” from the National Council of Young Israel for “recent divisive messages directed at Rabbi [Adam] Starr and our congregation yesterday on Twitter from one of the leaders of NCYI.”

As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, this was the latest turn in the controversy that began Feb. 25, when the president of NCYI issued a statement that endorsed efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring into his electoral coalition a party led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

The apology was sought in response to comments March 4 on Twitter by Yechezkel Moskowitz, the president of NCYI’s advocacy division, the Hovevei Zion Movement.

Moskowitz’s tweet read: “Everyone of the Rabbis on this list from reconstructionist lover @RabbiStarrYITH to tree hugger Barry Kornblau should be ashamed of themselves joining with liberal progressive groups like @IfNotNowOrg in attacking @NCYIYoungIsrael for defending Israels democracy. #NotMyJudaism”

YITH president Marc Sokol sent an email mid-afternoon March 5 advising the congregation that he had communicated the demand directly to the leadership of NCYI and that “The executive board and general board are in the loop on this communication.”

The “reconstructionist lover” remark referred to a gathering that took place on Nov. 2, the first Shabbat after the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, in which 11 worshippers were shot to death at the Tree of Life synagogue. Members of YITH and Congregation Bet Haverim met in the street between their synagogues for prayers, psalms and singing, led by Starr and Rabbi Joshua Lesser of CBH, a Reconstructionist congregation.

Members of Young Israel of Toco Hills and Congregation Bet Haverim met Nov. 2 in the street between their synagogues, in a shared expression of mourning after the Oct. 27 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Rabbis Adam Starr (YITH) and Joshua Lesser (CBH) are center in the photo.

Kornblau is the rabbi of Young Israel of Hollis Hills-Windsor Park in Queens, N.Y.

On Tuesday, Starr responded on Facebook to Moskowitz’s broadside: This is not just an ad hominem attack on me (and Rabbi Barry Kornblau for his tree hugging) but by extension it’s an attack on my Shul and community. It’s also an attack on the other 20 plus well established Orthodox Shuls with rabbis of excellent reputations including the current RCA president and two past presidents.

I am most troubled by the way this man chose to insult me. I want to therefore apologize to my colleague and friend Rabbi Joshua Lesser and to his congregation, our Shuls neighbors Bet Haverim, who are the subject of the insult. This man does not reflect the Orthodox Judaism of myself, of my congregation or of many others. #notmyjudaism

Rabbi Adam Starr of the Young Israel of Toco Hills

The fact that the insult levied at me was based on the unity gathering with Bet Haverim and my congregation the Shabbat following the Pittsburgh massacre is sad. To take something so unifying and healing and make it hateful and divisive is not what our world needs.

Yes, I am a reconstructionist lover, and a reform lover and a conservative lover and an orthodox lover, because I love all Jews. Even those who make mistakes in judgment such as tweeting something like this.

Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim

Lesser used Facebook to reply to Starr, saying: Thank you, Rabbi Adam Starr, for your integrity and your friendship. I witness regularly how you walk the world with great kavanah to honor your Orthodox community and foster an appreciation for clal yisrael.

To be used as a slur to hurt you and your community is painful on two fundamental levels. One to be seen as a slur, a detriment adds to the many ways my Jewish family has treated me and my community. It has actually endangered me or subjected me to some of the vilest and unacceptable forms of treatment. It then is used to delegitimize your rabbinate and your community—and places a strain on an already complicated (though respectful) relationship between us.

This is halbanat panim, public shaming, which the Talmud likens to murder. We must not stand this for this treatment of one another. #notmyJudaism.

The endorsement of Netanyahu’s action received added attention when Holocaust historian and Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt resigned, with regret, from YITH to disassociate herself from the YI national movement.

Deborah Lipstadt has devoted her professional career to Holocaust research.

Lipstadt posted on Facebook Tuesday: “Yuck, this gets uglier and uglier. To those who post such “sinat achim” (hate of their fellow Jew and every[one] else with whom they disagree) I say “Have you lost all sense of decency (menchlichkeit)? Have you no shame?” And bravo to @Rabbi Adam Starr and his colleagues”

Moskowitz’s tweet was in response to a March 1 letter that Starr and Sokol had joined, in which 22 YI synagogues asked the National Council of Young Israel “to immediately cease making all political pronouncements.”

On his Twitter feed, in response to criticism, Moskowitz said, “I don’t represent the young Israel. My tweets are my own, learn to read.”

The Feb. 25 statement that started the controversy came from Farley Weiss, the president of NCYI. “We understand what Prime Minister Netanyahu did, and he did it to have ministers of the national religious and national union parties in his coalition.”

He later attempted to deflect criticism by saying that the statement, issued in the name of the national body, “represented my personal views and that of many on our Board but may not reflect the view of all of the Young Israel Synagogues.”

According to its website, NCYI serves 135 synagogues in the United States, Canada, Israel and elsewhere, with 25,000 member-families.

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