Temple Avodah turns speaker away

By Hye-Jung Yang
Published: November 2010

For a month, Temple Beth Avodah in Newton had been billed to hold a talk between the founder of pro-Israel reform group J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and interviewer Steven Maas, editor of The Jewish Advocate, on November 18. Following outcry from some members of its congregation, however, synagogue leaders decided to cancel the event a few days before it was to occur.
The location of the event was quickly moved to Memorial Spaulding Elementary School, and despite prior protest, it drew a packed house, forcing some attendees to sit in the aisles and on the stage.
According to Rabbi Keith Stern, a longtime leader of Temple Avodah, the synanogue leaders were extremely reluctant to cancel the event. It was only after a difficult discussion that they decided to do so, out of fear that hosting the event would negatively affect the community formed by members of the temple.
“Controversy is a reality in any group of thoughtful people with legitimate differences of opinions on politics, the leaders said in a letter released to temple’s congregants.
J Street, a progressive lobbying group that advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has aroused controversy since its inception two years ago.
The organization states that an end to the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be in the best interest of both the U.S. and Israel, and advocates the creation of a separate Palestinian state.
It also said it supports an American diplomatic policy in the Middle East and a concerted effort by the United States to achieve peace, regardless of whether it goes against the Israeli government.
While J Street claims to “represent Americans¦ who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, the group’s criticism of the Israeli government has stirred protest among the government’s supporters. In July, for example, the White House’s invitation of the group to a meeting with President Obama and leaders of American Jewish organizations stirred protest among mainstream groups.
The organization’s criticism of the Israeli government has not been its only controversy. For an extended period of time, J Street was accused of having received substantial donations and monetary support from multibillionaire George Soros, claims which they initially denied. After The Washington Post published a confidential list of J Street donors two months ago, however, Ben-Ami admitted to Soros’ financial support.
Some, angered by J Street’s stance and the actions it has taken, shouted out in protest at various points of the talk between Ben-Ami and Maas. Most listened attentively to the discussion, and at various points, applauded Ben-Ami’s remarks.
Ben-Ami supports the different points of view on the conflict. “There won’t be dwindling intelligence if you open coversation to various views, if you speak your mind, he said at the talk. “There is a chance to have vibrant community if you open doors to different points of view.

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