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The Chicago Synagogue That Is A Home To Non-Zionists

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2019

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (June 3, 2019] distributed an article by Ben Sales with the headline, “This Chicago Synagogue Is A Home For Non-Zionist Jews.” It was published in Jewish newspapers around the world.  
Congregation Tzedek Chicago’s “core values,” notes the article, “declares that it’s non-Zionist. In practice, though, that means an explicit emphasis on advocating for Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel’s conduct. These themes were woven throughout the service last Yom Kippur—-from the rabbi’s sermon to the Torah service, to the liturgy itself.”  
Discussing the biblical story of Jacob and Esau , “a speaker noted that Esau, the scorned older brother, experienced ‘a personal Nakba,’ the name Palestinians use for the catastrophe they commemorate on the anniversary of Israel’s independence. The sermon was about a recent trip to Gaza. For the martyrology, a section of the service that traditionally commemorates Jews who died for their faith, the synagogue instead memorialized Gazans who died in clashes with Israel on the border.”  
In addition to atoning for personal misdeeds, the congregation “collectively beat their chests to repent for Israeli actions. ‘For the sin we have committed before you by blockading 1.8 million Gazans inside an open-air prison,’ the congregation recited,‘For the sin we have committed before you, for wedding sacred Jewish spiritual tradition to political nationalism and militarism.”  
The synagogue does not disengage from Israel-Palestine discourse, “It goes in the opposite direction. There were no flags at the front of the sanctuary, and instead of celebrating Israeli Independence Day, they commemorated Nakba Day.”  
Explaining the perspective of his congregation, Rabbi Brant  
Rosen noted that, “There were no places for Jews — we believe there are a significant number of them — who either were not Zionists or were engaged actively in Palestinian solidarity work and really wanted their social justice identity to be expressed through the life of the congregation. We state specifically that one of our values is we do not celebrate the fusion of Jewish tradition and political nationalism.”  
Rabbi Rosen, 56, is described as one “who once was a liberal Zionist serving as rabbi of the Jewish Reconstructionist congregation in Evanston, Illinois.  
He is past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association... successive trips to Israel and Palestinian areas, especially surrounding Israel’s wars in Gaza, led him to affiliate with Jewish Voice for Peace(JVP). He is a founder of the JVP Rabbinical Council.”  
Concerning the 2014 war in Gaza, Rosen says, “It became impossible for me to do my work any more,” and he resigned from his former synagogue. He and a group formed Tzedek Chicago the next year. During the week, Rosen is Midwest regional director of the American Friends Service Committee.  
The article concludes: “The non-Zionist and pro-Palestinian orientation of JVP and Tzedek Chicago make them outliers among Jews...Rabbi Rosen says his synagogue aims for ‘diasporism,’ where the congregation immerses in local rather than Israeli culture.” *

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