Illustration by Dr. JB Brager

Nearly 80 Jewish spiritual leaders and educators denounce the firing of Dr. JB Brager and call for their reinstatement

This powerful open letter condemning the firing of Dr. JB Brager was initiated by Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hineinu, the Baltimore Justice Shtiebl. The letter is signed by 78 Jewish spiritual leaders and educators from across the political spectrum, who share a belief that “it is irresponsible and dangerous to equate critiques of Israel as anti-Semitism.” We are proud that many of them are members of the JVP Rabbinical Council, including Rabbi Katz.

SIGN ON TO THIS LETTER

Every machloket (conflict) which is l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven) is destined to endure.
(Mishna Avot 5:17)

January 14, 2020

To the Fieldston Board of Trustees:

We write to you as Jewish spiritual leaders — rabbis, cantors, kohanot, and maggidim — deeply alarmed by the recent firing of Dr. JB Brager, a history teacher at the Fieldston School.

In light of recent events at your institution, by firing Dr. Brager you have made it clear that all critique of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism. We are living in frightening times, particularly in New York after a spate of violent attacks against Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is being fomented more than ever, and it is irresponsible and dangerous to equate critiques of Israel as anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and by equating the two, Fieldston cheapens the real fear and danger of anti-Semitism. Rather than focusing on anti-Semitic violence, you are choosing to censor a Jewish educator. Dr. Brager is an anti-Zionist Jewish person. There has been dissent among Jewish people regarding Zionism since the Zionist movement began, and it is not an argument to be resolved by Fieldston.

Instead of succumbing to a few angry parents, Fieldston has an opportunity to support educators, and send a message that the dissenting voice is not a thing to be feared, but embraced. Fieldston can support students as they grow their window of tolerance to hear ideas they disagree with, without crumbling. Our Jewish tradition preserves the minority opinion in our most sacred texts, and we spend just as much time pouring over the opinion the majority disagrees with alongside all others. This is because there is something to learn from all our teachers, regardless of if we agree with them.

Quashing dissent and creating homogenous narratives offers students a mere shadow of what learning can and should be — fiery, passionate, respectful. A debate for the sake of heaven, a machloket l’shem shamayim, one that seeks to uncover greater truth about our world, done with respect for the other and the material, is promised to endure. And we know that this is fundamental for good learning to happen.

By firing Dr. Brager you send a strong message to your students — that dissent should be feared, that expressing one’s right to free speech has limitations, that differing opinions will not be tolerated, that there is one story of history that can be allowed, and there is one kind of Jewish person. Dr. Brager’s presence on your teaching staff brought — and hopefully will again bring — an increased diversity of opinions and positions.

We call on you to reinstate Dr. Brager to their former role, publicly apologize, and clarify the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, for the sake of your students and the place of debate, dissent, and discussion in your institution and beyond.

SIGN ON TO THIS LETTER

Signed: 
Institutions are for identification purposes only. Signatures are updated manually. Thank you for your patience!

Rabbi Ariana Katz, Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl
&
Rabbi Leora Abelson, Congregation Agudas Achim
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Temple University
Rabbi David Basior, Kadima Reconstructionist Community (Fieldston School Alumnus)
Rabbi Dr. Chava Bahle
Rabbi Philip Bentley
Rabbi, Spiritual Director Phyllis Berman, ALEPH Ordination Program Hashpa’ah
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, Or Haneshamah
Rabbi Professor of Religion Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, Wheaton College
Teacher Daniel Cohen
Rabbi David J. Cooper, Kehilla Community Synagogue
Rabbi Meryl Crean
Rabbi Michael Davis, Makom Shalom, Chicago
Rabbinical Student Eli DeWitt
Rabbi, D. Div., MSW Art Donsky
Rabbi Doris Dyen, Makom HaLev
Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman
Kohenet Rebekah Erev
Rabbi Michael Feinberg
Rabbi Charles Feinberg, Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, Kol Tzedek Synagogue
Dr. Robin Gilson
Rabbi Mónica Gomery, Kol Tzedek Synagogue
Rabbinical Student David N. Goodman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Shomeret Shalom Global Congregation
Rabbi Miriam Grossman
Rabbinical Student Lara Haft, Hebrew College
Rabbi Jay Heyman, Reform
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Margaret Holub, Mendocino Coast Jewish Community
Rabbinical Student Rebecca Hornstein, Reconstructionist rabbinical college
Rabbi Burt Jacobson, Kehilla Community Synagogue
Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill, Tidewater Chavurah
Kohenet Jo Kent Katz
Rabbi Rabbi Andrea Kiener, Temple Israel, Greenfield
Rabbinical Student Rachel Kipnes, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbinical Student Lonnie Kleinman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Portland’s UnShul
Rabbi Douglas Krantz, Founding Rabbi Congregation B’nai Yisrael
Rabbi Elliot Kukla
Kohenet Nomy Lamm, Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute
Rabbi Alan LaPayover, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Emerita Ellen Lippmann, Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives
Trainer Annie-Rose London
Rabbi Dr. Susan Marks, New College of Florida
Rabbi Emeritus Rim Meirowitz, Temple Shir Tikvah Winchester
Kohenet Dori Midnight
Senior Rabbi Dev Noily, Kehilla Community Synagogue
Rabbi Alexis Pearce, UCSD Health
Rabbi Salem Pearce, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Rabbi Lucia Pizarro, Jewish Liberation Theology Institute
Rabbi Michael Ramberg, Swarthmore College
Rabbi Mackenzie Reynolds
Rabbi Mira Rivera
Hazzan Jessi Roemer
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Tzedek Chicago
Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg
Rabbi Chaim Schneider
Kohenet Student Margot Seigle, Linke Fligl
Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Chevy Chase, MD
Rabbi Jeremy Sher, Kanfot Ha’aretz
Rabbi Becky Silverstein, Beyn Kodesh l’Chol
Kohenet Kathryn Silverstein, Kohenet
Rabbi H D Uriel Smith, Ohavay Zion Congregation, Lexington, KY
Assistant Clergy Jay Stanton, Tzedek Chicago
Rabbi Jacob Staub, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman, OHALAH Association of Rabbis and Cantors for Jewish Renewal
Para-rabbinic artist, M.F.A. Arielle Tonkin, Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Sheila Weinberg
Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub,
Rabbi Ora Weiss
Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace
Rabbi Michal Woll, Congregation Shir Hadash, Milwaukee
Rabbinical Student May Ye, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Barbara Zacky, IKAR Board
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim

Last Updated: 12:00 pm EST, January 16, 2020



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