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April 24, 2014 By:
Fiercely Proud of the Way BZBI Decided on Controversial Speaker
You may have heard that my shul, Temple Beth-Zion Beth Israel has invited David Harris-Gershon to be interviewed about his book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, detailing his decision to reach out to the family of a Palestinian terrorist, who blew up a Yerushalayim cafeteria in 2002, nearly murdered Harris-Gershon’s wife and actually murdering two of his closest friends and others in the blast vicinity. His book details how dialogue with the terrorist’s family helped him heal from trauma that most of us can only imagine.
So where’s the controversy? Surely this man’s story of how he used his Judaism to reach closure to the worst chapter of his life so he could then live the rest of it is of interest to enough Jews to warrant the invite. But, as we now know, the controversy stems not from his book, but from comments he made regarding his view that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is legitimate and that he supports it. And, when given a chance to walk it back, to many, he seemingly failed.
I have been a member of BZBI for 26 years, formerly served on its board for 15, was treasurer for almost as long and attend services there regularly. In short, it has been the central base of my spiritual focus, and that of my wife and children, for a quarter century. As s a leader in the pro-Israel community, I am as staunch a Zionist as you will find — locally and elsewhere.
So it may shock you to know that never have I been more proud of my rabbi, our president and our board of directors for the process in which they immersed themselves to decide whether to disinvite the author when, only after he was invited, his remarks became known. As reported in the Jewish Exponent last week, the decision was to not revoke the invitation. Whether you agree with that decision or not, the process is what matters here. That is something that second-guessers and mud-slingers should take the time to understand — before doing their guessing and slinging.
For seven to eight hours, in two separate meetings, lasting close to midnight, the leadership wrestled with what was the right thing to do. And for those who think that was an easy black-and-white decision, consider the following:
First, our cantor, Sharon Grainer, was in Israel then, too — studying with the author in the same program when the bombing took place in the middle of the second intifada. She was close with him personally, along with his wife, and with their two mutual friends who were murdered. She has weighed in strongly about his Zionism, his character and the relevance his story has for those looking for ways to deal with the horrors of this war. Tough to ignore that, no?
Second, Harris-Gershon’s decision to stay after the bombing is relevant. I visited Eretz Yisrael three times during this period, for no reason other than to support those fighting every day for the Jewish homeland. He stayed when American “Zionists” were staying away or leaving in droves. His refusal to abandon his fellow Jews while bombs were literally going off around him certainly influenced the shul’s decision-makers.
Third, he was invited to tell his personal story of how he was able to survive the greatest trauma of his life by reaching out to his enemy — a story we all may not be comfortable with, but few of us would truthfully be able to say has no relevance/interest to our community. And the author’s BDS comments, as much as many find them despicable, don’t change that. The board has rightfully limited his remarks to only the book.
This board, Rabbi Ira Stone and our president, Arlene Fickler, constitute a group that is unwavering in its Zionism and love of Israel as it fights a war for its very existence. But their character could not allow them to take the easy way out and disinvite him just because of what others, not encumbered by the facts, would say. After struggling, they reached a decision that to them was steeped in morality.
Do I agree with that decision? If you must know, I don’t. I detest BDS for what it is — economic, racist war against the Jews. And I believe the author’s efforts to clarify his remarks, his “walk-back” was anything but. Rabbi Stone has always preached about the use of speech for evil and its consequences. The author’s speech warranted a disinvite in my opinion. BZBI is my family’s sacred space, where I attempt to communicate with Hashem and where my children learned to be Zionists in the first place. The author’s presence in my shul diminishes that.
But this was about the process — and those who point fingers better know that BZBI leadership agonized over what was the right thing to do. In the end, they chose, without regard to the inevitable flack they will receive. And I love them for that. If you’re a Zionist, so should you.
Harris Devor, a forensic accountant, is a leader in the pro-Israel community.