Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beth El Synagogue (MN) - Reinterprets "Conservative"

It was with absolute dismay that I read an article about protest that were held this past week at the Beth El Synagogue in St Louis Park, MN in regards to a fundraiser that was held at the synagogue.

It was even more distressing when I found out that this fundraiser was one of many that have been held at the synagogue.  It appears that the Beth El Synagogue (MN) has decided to reinterpret what "Conservative" means.

The outrage was intensified by the fact that Beth El in the past has invited former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and, most recently, Michael Broyde, the Emory University law professor and rabbi (who advocates torture “under certain circumstances”). The Rice appearance two years ago attracted an action similar to the one greeting [George W] Bush this week.

Being that I have done a lot of research on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)  I know that George W and Rice were frequent speakers at ALEC meetings, but that is only a unrelated footnote, as Fleischer and Broyde have not.

But my concern here is the Jewish community who worship at Beth El.  Have you folks forgotten your roots?  Have you gone absolutely insane bringing these people into your house of worship? 

In another life – I knew most of the “conservative” wealthy people at Beth El – most of them are people who did not work their fingers to the bones to get where they are.  For the most part, their parents and grandparents, worked their fingers to the bone, and  gave them their current position and their wealth in the St. Louis Park and West Minneapolis area.  Most of the "conservative wealthy" at Beth El would know nothing and understand nothing about the plight of the lower and middle class Minnesotan – they couldn’t relate to the needs of middle class Minnesotans – if their life depended on it.  But that's an aside, because Beth El serves a much larger population - many of them not moneyed "conservatives.

The important question is - Have the leadership and the rabbis of the synagogue forgotten history?  Has the congregation of the synagogue forgotten history?  Or have they become so enamored with the moneyed in their congregation that they are turning an eye away from the heinous policies and philosophies of George W and Broyde?

With the High Holy Days and specifically Yon Kippur quickly approaching maybe it’s time to remind the leadership and congregation of Beth El synagogue of a couple of things that they seem to have forgotten or choosing to ignore.  Maybe it's time for some prayers of remembrance?  Have you forgotten your history – not only worldwide – but in Minnesota?

An article entitled "Minneapolis:  The Curious Twin," written by essayist Carey McWilliams, was published in Common Ground magazine.  McWilliams proclaimed that Minneapolis was the "most anti-Semitic city in America."  Although only 4 percent of the population, Jews were publicly and unapologetically excluded from membership in private country clubs, but also Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis Clubs, and groups like the Toastmasters.  Jews were even barred from the Minneapolis chapter of the American Automobile Club. Discrimination had turned away Jewish professionals, and in 1948, frustrated Jewish doctors started their own hospital, Mt. Sinai, after being denied access to Minneapolis medical facilities.  Jews were barred from local chapters of labor unions that had been started in New York by Jewish organizers.  Summer resorts on Lake Minnetonka advertised that they catered to "Gentiles only."  Department stores such as Montgomery Ward refused to interview Jewish job applicants. Many neighborhoods were "restricted," barring Jews, Blacks, and even Catholics and Italians.  Jewish teachers were few and far between.  The discrimination seemed worse in Minneapolis than in St. Paul.

The situation was exacerbated by Reverend William Bell Riley at the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, whose sermons were anti-Semitic diatribes.

As a response to the charges of anti-Semitism, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey appointed a task force to investigate the situation. The task force confirmed the allegations, and also shone light on discrimination against Blacks and American Indians. Humphrey turned the task force into a permanent Mayor's Council on Human Relations. Ordinances were passed in the next two years that outlawed anti Semitic and racist practices in housing and employment.

The resultant migration from Minneapolis was almost complete, with fewer than ten families still attending the Romanian Congregation in South Minneapolis.

Maybe it’s a good time to remind the members and leadership of Beth El that St Louis Park was one of the only cities in Minnesota that welcomed Jews into their community – other suburbs previously had laws – remember that, laws - against Jews moving into their cities.

Maybe it's time for some prayers of remembrance? 

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

To the leadership and rabbis of Beth El – if you think the money of some of your members is going to save you or the community – think back to the fortunes that were lost in previous generations.

Beth El – how you can support fundraisers like this is absolutely beyond me. You’d think history would give you a better insight  - but I guess, here’s another example in today's society of money speaking louder than words – for now.

Maybe it's time for some prayers of remembrance? 

the protesters remained civil throughout the evening, never clashing with the handful of St. Louis Park police officers, Minnesota State Patrol troopers and Secret Service agents milling around the perimeter of the synagogue. At a few points, the protesters started singing and playing instruments, and when the sun faded a bit, they lit candles.

“It’s a remembrance of all the torture victims,” said Anne Galloway, of Minneapolis. “Because of U.S. policies, these people were tortured brutally, and a lot of them are very innocent.”

Shame on you Beth El – shame on you!
To the rabbis and the leadership of Beth El - fundraisers like this are not about "opening a dialogue" - this is disgusting and you know it!
This is not what being a conservative Jewish community means.

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