The Kehilla Statement of Values on Israel/ Palestine was passed by the Kehilla Board of Trustees in September. That Board resolution was only the last stage of a long process.
It was in the making for several years and has involved many educational gatherings, surveys of the community, open meetings to discuss proposed language, and a survey to assess support for wording of this statement. That survey indicated overwhelming support.
But why have we done this at all?
Kehilla was specifically started as a politically progressive, socially activist, spiritually-oriented congregation by Rabbi Burt Jacobson. It would combine a Jewish Renewal spirituality—such as that inspired by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi—with activism in the prophetic tradition—as exemplified by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel among others. Kehilla was to attract people who felt left out in other synagogues, especially those who felt out-of-place because they experienced restraint or censure for expressing dissent about Israeli policies, among other concerns.
In 1985, Kehilla took a survey over wording of a statement that called for negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization toward the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. This was highly controversial in its time eight years before the Oslo accords. It passed almost unanimously. We were out of step with the established leadership in the Jewish community.
In the wake of a Kol Nidre sermon by me in 2002 looking at alternative narratives about Israel and Palestine, we engaged in a several month study as a congregation that eventually resulted in our Brit Shalom, “covenant of peace.” It was inspired by Martin Buber’s I-Thou philosophy calling for non-violence, reconciliation, and the need to recognize the history and human needs of all who live in Israel/Palestine as the parties moved to build a new reality that would resolve the conflictual reality there. These two statements, that of 1985 and the Brit Shalom document, impliedly rejected the occupation of the Territories, but did not do so explicitly, largely because the expectation was that any true resolution would end on a dissolution of the occupation. However, since the time of Brit Shalom, during the years of the Netanyahu governments, as settlements in the West Bank increased in size and expanded further into the territory, the prospects for a reconciliation and resolution have become more remote, and the military control over the lives of the Palestinians under occupation has become increasingly severe. Many of us have become alarmed at the very real prospect of a permanent occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.
Our Middle East Peace Committee held a series of panels, movies, lectures, and compassionate listening gatherings about the occupation. Two years ago, the MEPC’s survey of the congregants showed that there was diversity about what strategies or tactics we as individuals, or as a synagogue, should do in response to the occupation. However, we saw in the responses that there were common themes, common values shared by people in Kehilla, both those who supported boycott, divestment and sanctions, and those who opposed BDS. Likewise, there were common values expressed both by those who supported a two-state solution and those who supported a one-secular-state solution. We decided to develop a congregational statement of values rather than a platform with descriptions of any ultimate resolution to the conflict.
We wanted a congregational statement because silence about the occupation implies support for its continuation. Also, the silence of the established Jewish communal leadership has been an encouragement for Netanyahu’s and prior Israeli governments’ policies that have vastly expanded settlement activities in the West Bank. Pursuant to Kehilla’s founding raison d’etre, we felt that we could not participate in this silence, and we wanted to be an encouragement to the increasingly large number of Jews opposed to the continuation of the status quo.
Over 90% of respondents favored or strongly favored this wording as reflecting their values. Kehilla congregants are not uniform in their feelings and we recognize that, too. But we hope that this statement is a basis for discussion across the Jewish world and beyond, and that it reassures the large number of Jews who feel similarly, that they are not alone.