Northern California Rabbis Meet with Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall, Jerusalem

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer with Anat Hoffman of WOW at IRAC Headquarters in Jerusalem, January 28, 2011. Rabbi Moshe Levin of Congregation Ner Tamid peeks in from behind.


[From the WOW Facebook page 1-30-2011; See also J. Cover Story 2-11-2011] Northern California Rabbis Support Women of the Wall January 31, 2011 From January 24-29, a delegation of 30 Rabbis from Northern California various high-ranking officials in Israel. The delegation, which was arranged by Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor, included Consul Tor and Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal movements.

As participant Rabbi Rosalind Glazer explained, “Our joint participation is a model of Jewish diversity in the U.S. We hope that our unified voice can make a powerful statement about the underlying value of, and need for, religious pluralism in Israel. As American Jews, our voices need to be taken seriously at this critical juncture in the history of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The Rabbis met with M.K.’s Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and Nachman Shai (Kadima), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Supreme Court Justices Elyakim Rubenstein and Salim Jubran, and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky.

The delegation spent Friday, January 28, in the Old City of Jerusalem visiting the Kotel tunnels, Robinson’s Arch, and the City of David. The day began with an early-morning meeting with Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, who shared the group’s political and legal history. Hoffman said, “Israel could choose to be a leader in the Jewish world. There could be a bat mitzvah at the Kotel.” The rabbis flooded Hoffman with questions and snapped photos of her wearing a Women of the Wall tallit and head covering. Hoffman encouraged supporters to sell the Women of the Wall tallit in their gift shops, invite congregants to write letters to Israeli government officials, and bring their synagogue trips to Women of the Wall services on Rosh Hodesh.

Many of the rabbis in the delegation have been long-time supporters of Women of the Wall. In October 2010, Bay Area Rabbi Pamela Frydman and Rabbi Menachem Creditor launched an international campaign called “Rabbis for Women of the Wall.” Over 600 Rabbis, 85 Cantors, 60 organizations and 1000 individuals have since signed a statement to Israeli officials demanding that that they define a time or place at the Kotel where women are allowed to lead worship, wear a tallit, wear tefillin, hold the Torah and read from the Torah.

Rabbi Frydman, who participated in the January delegation, presented a packet to each government official (and Head of External Affairs Natalie Kimchi on behalf of the Supreme Court Justices) containing the statement and accompanying signatures as well as a new set of letters signed by hundreds of rabbis, cantors, rabbinic and cantorial associations, social justice organizations, congregations and individuals. In addition, Rabbi Glazer presented a letter from Bay Area Friends of Women of the Wall.

In addition to the letter-writing campaigns, many congregations participated in Women of the Wall’s photo campaign last summer, when thousands of women all over the world were photographed holding a Sefer Torah. Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, President of Congregation Chadesh Yameinu in Santa Cruz said of the photo campaign, “Women were in tears. Many of them had never held a Torah before, because they had never been invited to do so.”

Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah of Congregation Kol HaEmek in Mendocino County, participated in the January delegation. She was present at Women of the Wall’s second gathering in 1988, and participated regularly until 1995 when she moved to the U.S. Rabbi Devorah remembers the tear gas used by police during one of Women of the Wall’s services in 1988, and said she felt like she was “at a civil rights protest in the U.S. in the ‘60s.” Devorah, who became a Rabbi at the age of 59, recalled fondly that “Women of the Wall was very important in my own spiritual development. It was the first place that I put on a tallit.”

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer of Congregation Beth Judea Israel in San Francisco is an International Vice-Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and also serves on the Steering Committee for Friends of Women of the Wall, a San Francisco Bay Area group of women and men who advocate for the acceptance of all streams of Judaism in Israel. Rabbi Glazer was in tears as she spoke about women at the Kotel, “Mayor Barkat told us that the Kotel is for all Jews. But, that is not true today. Jews in the diaspora want a place to be spiritual. It is the first place they go and it is the first place they get slapped in the face. The message that they get on their first experience is ‘you’re not equal; you’re not welcome.’”

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco recently joined Glazer and twenty-one others as an International Vice Chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall. Explaining his decision, Pearce said, “I am thrilled to help pursue a sense of justice. The struggle of Women of the Wall is a model of how Israel can learn to compromise and pursue conflict resolution in other areas.”

Rabbi Mauricio Balter, President of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel also recently became an International Vice Chair, joining Rabbi Andrew M. Sacks, Director of the RA in Israel, one of the original Vice Chairs. “I feel that it’s a very big z’chut [privilege] to serve” said Balter of his new role.



WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision

WE WON!  Celebrating the Prop 8 Court Decision in San Francisco’s Castro District,  Wednesday August 4, 2010.  I am in the middle with Margee Churchon of the Jewish Community Relations Council on my right, Rachel Biale and Susan Lubeck from the Progressive Jewish Alliance on my left, Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue and Marilyn Golden, Policy analyist Disabled Rights and Defense Fund in front of me.  After the Rally, we marched down Market Street to Civic Center and continued with speeches from local constituents and officials on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall.   A small but significant step along the path to full equality for all, and despite the cold summer weather, it truly was a glorious day.  Hooray for liberty and justice.  Today I am especially proud to be an American!

More Jews for Equality!  Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall
More Jews for Equality! Here I am with Eileen Blumenthal at the Prop 8 Rally in front of SF City Hall

At Home and Far Away

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – was such a gift. Blessed are the peacemakers!

United Religions Initiative Delegates and Friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010
United Religions Initiative, URI, delegates and friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010. My godson, Lev Hirschhorn, is seated in front of me and a Peace statue is behind us.

Earlier this week, my godson, Lev Hirschhorn, and I were fortunate to  attend a peacebuilders event in Abu Tor, Jerusalem.  The invitation came from my dear old friend and colleague, Jerusalem Peacemakers co-founder, Rodef Shalom, Eliyahu McClain with whom I taught Hebrew School at Beth Chaim in Danville, CA, some sixteen years ago.  

Eliyahu is a remarkable person who has spent more than a decade working in Israel, Palestine and around the globe doing critically important and needed peace building in the interfaith community.  These efforts are so needed during these difficult times and Eliyahu has modeled for all of us a way to do this important work with grace, unflagging commitment and joy.

This evening’s gathering took place at the Abu Tor, Jerusalem home of Tzvi and Elena Rozenblum who warmly hosted an enormous group of guests on a scorching hot day – feeding and watering us with food, kindness and generosity.  The gathering was convened to welcome and to celebrate with a delegation of URI, United Religions Initiative, an organization that promotes peace through dialogue among religious leaders to foster an end to interreligious violence. 

The guests, many of whom had just come in from Jordan where they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of URI, included visitors from many countries and religions:  Buddhist (from the Himalayas), Christian (from Ethiopia, Brazil, the UK, Israel and the US), Muslim (from Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories), Jewish (from Israel, California and the UK), and Hindu (from India and elsewhere), etc. 

I was surprised to learn (but why be surprised at all, anymore) that the main URI office is located in San Francisco, CA, at the Presidio!  Hence, more connections upon which to build upon when I return home. 

After the walk, noshes and drinks, blessings and greetings, prayers and invocations of many traditions were offered in multiple languages.  Then came the sharing of the missions of the various represented peace and co-existence groups and each attendee (possibly as many as 50 of us included 8-10 youths) introduced him or herself and spoke a word or phrase that described their present experience.  I heard Lev say, “at home” and I was warmed by the knowledge that he had found a place in Jerusalem where he could truly feel this way.

Following the sharing more food and drink, animated conversation and networking ensued. The evening ended with a remarkable musical collaboration – including the extraordinary talent of Biswadeb Chakraporty, URI staff member from India and world class tabla player!

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – is such a gift.  Blessed are the peacemakers!  May they be strengthened and may their efforts be amply rewarded with good.

A Place at the Table: Interfaith Community Relations

In a Medieval tale the Pope challenges a small town rabbi to a theological duel. The stakes are the highest imaginable; the loser shall be put to death. Each succeeding question is more nerve wracking than the previous – yet the clever rabbi answers them all with aplomb and his life and that of his community is spared.

This article was originally published in the BIJ Bulletin January-February 2010 / Tevet-Shevat 5770.

In a Medieval tale the Pope challenges a small town rabbi to a theological duel.  The stakes are the highest imaginable; the loser shall be put to death.  Each succeeding question is more nerve wracking than the previous – yet the clever rabbi answers them all with aplomb and his life and that of his community is spared. 

This fictionalized story tells a version of real events that took place far too often in every place where Jews lived and in almost every historical period. The Jewish community in Diaspora has endured periods of great danger, including the Babylonian exile in which the story of Esther is set, and from which we derive the joyful spring holiday of Purim.

As contemporary Jews who live in a place and time of relative peace and safety we find ourselves in a remarkably fortunate situation. Yet knowing our tumultuous and painful history we cannot take our good fortune for granted!  Therefore, our Jewish community needs to remain perpetually committed to and fully involved in interfaith community relations. 

As a rabbinical student I attended Seminarians Interacting, a program of the National Conference for Communities and Justice (NCCJ), and the experience reverberates as a profound influence in my rabbinate.  Formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the NCCJ is the organization in which the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel met and marched arm-in-arm for civil rights in Selma, Alabama and Washington DC.

As Jewish San Franciscans we can take pride in our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for its tireless effort in keeping Jews safe, visible and engaged in important civic affairs.  The JCRC educates government representatives and business leaders about the remarkable accomplishments of the State of Israel and was also instrumental in the establishment – 20 years ago – of the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC).  It is comforting to know that Jews continue to serve among the Council’s most prominent leaders. 

At the seder table - Photo:  Glazer Family Archives
At the seder table - Photo: Glazer Family Archives

I was introduced to the SFIC during my first year at BIJ when I spoke on an interfaith panel discussing our respective faith perspectives on the religious obligation to alleviate hunger.  Since then I have had the great pleasure of representing BIJ at many SFIF events including disaster preparedness symposia, interfaith meetings at St. Mark’s Cathedral, a monthly Women Faith Leaders group, the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast (at which our Cantorial soloist David Morgenstern joined me this year) and San Francisco’s Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. 

Whether addressing hunger, poverty, marriage equality, homelessness, worker’s rights, health care reform or a myriad of other social concerns, working and serving with clergy and lay leaders of diverse faiths helps us build communities of understanding, increase tolerance for diversity, and aids us in fighting xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.

At a recent videotaping by our teens in our History Alive project, long time member Arthur Becker, who turns 98 on January 4th, told of a 1958 meeting with his brother Charlie Becker and San Francisco Mayor George Christopher. That momentous meeting resulted in the name change of Stanley Drive to Brotherhood Way and forever sealed our fate and that of our neighbors as preservers of religious diversity in San Francisco.  How fortunate we are to be the Jewish community presence on Brotherhood Way and to have BIJ members sitting on the Brotherhood Way Committee. May all of our interfaith community efforts always bear the fruits of Shalom!