Divestment or Dialogue?

This past Friday afternoon in Detroit the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA*, voted 310-303 to divest from three multinational companies, Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard. The PC(USA) chose these three companies because they believe these companies “further the Israeli occupation in Palestine” and that “these companies provide Israel with products that promote violence in occupied Palestinian territories.”

While we might say that this was a close vote, there are so many levels of this that are disturbing. This same resolution was proposed at the last GA of the PC(USA) two years ago and was narrowly defeated by only a few votes. Unfortunately, after much debate on the floor which included speeches made by prominent figures from not only the Presbyterian Church, but also our own Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, the General Assembly has decided to join the ranks of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement that has been very vocal throughout the nation and especially on college campuses.

What is most troubling is that the PC(USA) has chosen to quarantine themselves to a position that closes the door to conversations about creating peace in Israel. This move toward divestment does not send a message of support to the land of Israel, which they profess to care about deeply, rather it sends a message that they are interested in only one voice. If there is a two-state solution, a Jewish state and a state for the Palestinian people, then cutting off one voice is not the way to accomplish this task. The Presbyterian Church has voted to attempt to create economic sanctions to companies that not only have deep connections to Israel, but also play important roles in our lives here in the United States. Are those who voted for this divestment willing to hand over their cell phones, turn off their computers and stop construction because they wish to divest themselves? (I know, I’m being overly dramatic).

What bothers me most about this vote is that there are so many misunderstandings and so much misinformation within documents and speeches. Even the educational document the PC(USA) provides, called “Zionism Unsettled”, is wrought with misinformation and is being used as a teaching tool in their religious education programs. I am nervous when David Duke, long time KKK leader, endorses the PC(USA) movement and there is appreciation of his endorsement by some church leaders. I am concerned that this will create a rift in interfaith relations when we should be working toward dialogue and discussion.

I am grateful to those who fought against the divestment measure and hope that we can raise our voices together to work toward understanding and a lasting peace in the Middle East and throughout the world.

There have been increased instances of anti-Semitism in the past year and months that should cause all of us to be more aware and vocal when it comes to issues like this vote for divestment from the Presbyterian Church USA. We can no longer say, ‘this is something happening in Israel and it does not affect me here in the United States.’ This vote and the BDS movement IS happening here in the United States and I’m concerned for the Jewish community if we ourselves are not aware of these issues and if we disconnect from Jewish community. I invite you…I implore us all, become more aware of what is happening regarding Israel, anti-Semitism, and the Jewish community here and abroad. Be connected to Jewish community, we need this more than ever.

*please note, there are two principal Presbyterian Church organizations in the United States. The second is Presbyterian Church in America who were not a part of this General Assembly.

Articles of interest:

CCAR Statement Condemning the Vote of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly to Engage in Divestment

Divestment Vote Undermines Presbyterian Jewish Relations by Rabbi Rick Jacobs

And May Their Memory Be a Blessing…

 

June 6th marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle at Normandy and Omaha Beach. On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50 mile stretch of beach on the French Coast to fight Nazi Germany. General Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the operation that it was a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” By the end of the day the Allied forces gained control of the heavily fortified beach. But the cost was more than 4000 young lives.

This past September, Alan Weinschel of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, visited Normandy Beach with his wife. They were overcome by emotions when they approached the cemetery and saw the vastness of over 9000 markers with the names and ages of the young men who lost their lives. Their eyes started to focus on the markers with Jewish stars on the top. As he described in his article, The Normandy Kaddish Project on ReformJudaism.org, Alan and his wife started to notice the rocks and even coins left at some of the graves, a reminder that someone visited the site. But there were so many graves left untouched – no rocks or coins of those who came to visit them. They realized there were many whose names are no longer on the lips of those who came after. Many of these young men never had a chance to have a family of their own. But we are their family.

Each week, we recite the names of those in our congregation and in our families who we remember this Shabbat and over the next week. And then I say, ‘we stand together as we remember those who are no longer with us – for those who gave their lives al Kiddush ha’shem, for the sanctification of God’s holy name and for those who have no one to say Kaddish for them. For they are a part of our family.’

70 years ago 4000 men gave their lives and we know that at least 149 of them were Jewish. It is possible that more were more, but these are the names we have.  These are the men who we take into our hearts with our own, for they may not have anyone to say Kaddish for them. They are the heroes who stormed a beach to protect our freedom and to fight one of the greatest evils against our people that we’ve known in our present history. They deserve to be remembered as do all of those who have served our country and died for our freedom.

This Shabbat, when we rise to say Kaddish for our loved ones let us take these men into our hearts as well and ensure that they are not forgotten. And may their memory be a blessing.