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WJC Is Engaged with Our World

Dear Friends,

As the headlines swirl, and our heads along with them, I wanted you to know that we are doing all that we can at the WJC to remain engaged with the issues that concern our community. And we are doing so in a way that hopefully sheds more light than heat, and more hope than despair. To illustrate, I would like to describe our programming this past week and upcoming weekend.

This past Wednesday evening Rabbi Michael Cohen gave a terrific lecture on utilizing the “dual narrative” approach to better understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dual narrative approach requires the student of history or current events to examine a conflict not only from their own point of view, but also from the narrative of his or her opponent. Rabbi Cohen read with us the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government expressed its qualified support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, and UN Resolution 242 of 1967, which addressed a framework for resolving the conflict between Israel and the surrounding Arab states in the wake of the Six Day War. He then described how each side in the conflict read those documents, and where they differed dramatically in their understanding of those documents. This was so illuminating to all of us, as we tend to think that our version of events is the only valid reading of history. For example, Rabbi Cohen convincingly described that while for the Zionists the Balfour Declaration was validation of the Jewish People’s long-overdue homecoming, for the Arabs it was evidence of yet another western imperialist invasion and expropriation of their land. This immense gap of fundamental understanding helps explain both the intractability of the conflict, and the way each side often talks past the other. Rabbi Cohen made a passionate plea for the need to engage the dual narrative approach in order to even begin to resolve any conflicts, and described his many years of applying this approach in Israel with Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Rabbi Cohen also informed us about the scores of organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories who are pursuing similar objectives but who rarely make the headlines. You can find his entire talk published in the International Policy Digest here, and you can learn more about his and others’ work these websites: and

Thursday afternoon my course on Jewish history met for our fourth installment. We are viewing and discussing Abba Eban’s 1984 9-part PBS documentary “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews”, a survey of Jewish history. In this weeks episode, Eban masterfully described the origins and development of Christian European anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages. So many of us in the class were animated by this deepened understanding, and were able to analyze contemporary anti-Semitism in the light of this historical record. Again, without understanding and context, how are we to make sense of current events? I am experiencing a resurgence of my need and desire to study history in order to be an informed citizen of the world. These videos can be found on Youtube, and the text in the accompanying volume that Eban produced.

Tomorrow, Saturday morning, we add our voices to the tidal wave of women who are courageously speaking up against sexual assault and violence. For our commentary on Vayishlach, this week’s Torah portion, Carol Fox Prescott’s theater workshop has taken on one of the most difficult stories of the Torah, the rape of Dinah (chapter 34 of Genesis). Dinah’s voice is absent from this episode, so we have called our teaching “Finding Dinah’s Voice.” The participants will offer a creative Torah teaching that they have developed during their workshop sessions. The Torah is a mirror for our lives, and it is time for us to address Dinah’s plight, and her silence. This is not an easy subject, but it is imperative that those who have been silenced by sexual violence be heard.

Sunday morning we continue our series of “First Sunday” brunches with a presentation by Student Rabbi Emily Cohen, “Jew Too? Tales of the Mixed Multitude.” Over the past decades intermarriage has transformed our Jewish community. Let’s talk about it, and consider not only the concerns but also the opportunities that this trend presents to the Jewish world. Here is Rabbi Emily’s description:

“These days, it’s almost impossible to find a Jew outside of the ultra-Orthodox world who doesn’t have at least one relative, however distant, who isn’t Jewish. Learn more about the growing number of gerei toshav (fellow travelers) holding up the Jewish tent and about the growing number of Jewish leaders, including Emily, who come from interfaith families. Emily will also give all of us an opportunity to discuss the impact of interfaith relationships within our own families and community.”

You can also listen to a podcast that Rabbi Emily has created on this topic:

Hope to see many of you at our wonderful synagogue for these and other occasions,

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

PS And after you brunch, you can support a whole bunch of local artists and craftspeople at our annual Holiday Gift Bazaar, which will be taking place in our building this Sunday from 10am-3pm