Written by Rabbi Meir Feldman, senior rabbi, TEmple Beth-El of Great Neck Friday, 03 May 2013 00:00
To the Great Neck Community
For over 30 years, the rabbis of Temple Beth-El, Temple Israel and Great Neck Synagogue have gathered in the Spring for a Rabbinic Dialogue. This year was no exception. It was a special day. For the last few years, after the Dialogue, we have expressed our desire to do something more, to take this effort someplace new, higher, to a new level of support and collaboration, to a new level of challenging each other. This year, I believe, we should feel an even greater responsibility to follow through.
We, the rabbis of Old Mill Road and of Great Neck at large, should feel deeply concerned about the divisiveness that has come about in the community since the announcement of a highly controversial speaker, Pam Geller, at the Great Neck Synagogue.
The purpose here, in this letter, is to use our bonds of friendship and trust to raise higher our communal conversation. The purpose here is not to change anyone’s mind about Pam Geller. The purpose is to change the nature of our communal conversation. We should begin by making two clear and explicit statements.
First, we should deplore any efforts by Jews or non-Jews to spread hate against Muslims. We should condemn any individual’s explicit attempt to create hate or hateful feelings, towards Muslims or any other group of people. We should condemn, as well, any behavior that insidiously stirs Muslim hatred.
Second, we must state our profound concern about the numerous reports of growing Muslim anti-Semitism and deadly Muslim extremism, in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. We must be allowed to ask publicly what is being taught in the Mosques of our neighborhoods and around the world, about Jews and Israel and about non-Muslims as well. It is critical for Jews and non-Jews to honestly and forthrightly discuss these issues.
The rabbis of Great Neck should acknowledge, as well, that there is a fundamental problem with the Jewish conversation happening in Great Neck. The left creates a caricature of the right and the right creates a caricature of the left.
The left speak as if Jews on the right have no regard for the sanctity of human life, that Jews on the right are heartless and bigoted. The right creates a caricature of the left as well. The right presents an image of left-leaning Jews who are selectively blind to the world around them, who have absolutely no regard for Jewish safety or security, and who would rather pretend that Muslim extremism does not exist, than find ways to talk about a very difficult issue.
The rabbis of Old Mill Road, and the entire Great Neck rabbinate, should see this moment in Great Neck as an opportunity to raise the conversation to a higher plane. Our goal should be for Jews to hear each other’s deep and profound concerns, on the left and right, and to recognize that they are concerns that we all share.
For those of us on the left, we can and must be highly critical of a speaker whose views strike us as breeding hate, as deepening and broadening the hate of Muslims. We must absolutely stand close to our Muslim brothers and sisters here on Long Island. We must communicate our deep appreciation and respect for them, and we must communicate our desire to build even stronger bonds of trust, honesty and partnership.
For those of us on the right, we must continue our committed search for the facts about the risks we face. We must not be censored in our strivings to learn the truth about Muslim anti-Semitism and brutal Muslim radicalism. We must strive to create an open, honest dialogue about Islam, as it is being taught and preached in Mosques around this country and around the world.
In addition, the Old Mill Road rabbis, and the entire Great Neck rabbinate, should offer a strong rebuke to Jews on the left and the right. For Jews on the left, in your Jewish-Muslim dialogues, you must be more direct about addressing the ancient Jewish attachment to Israel and Muslim anti-Semitism.
For Jews on the right, you must more actively affirm the sanctity of all human life and more openly criticize those voices and those statements that promote hatred and enmity toward Muslims. Jews on the right and the left must work more sincerely and diligently at raising higher the Jewish communal dialogue.
Today is Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, a day of great humility in our calendar. The Talmud teaches that a horrific plague struck 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s greatest talmidim, students, and that the plague ended today. Yevamot 62b. Thus, today is a day for celebration. However, we must never forget the cause of the plague. Rabbi Akiva’s most brilliant students died because they failed to respect each other. They failed, we presume, to speak to each other in respectful, dignified ways.
Lag Ba’Omer should teach us that the stakes are very high. How we speak to each other will have a monumental impact on our collective well-being. May we work hard at raising the quality of our conversation here in Great Neck.