It’s Wednesday – January 7, 2015

Boker Tov and happy 2015.

Last time we talked about the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l and the new book about his impactful life. Today I want to focus on another literary event. It originates in the mini furor over the firing of Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J, a program of the DCJCC. Many of us have attended and enjoyed plays that Roth brought to the JCC.  There is no question about his talent, just about his politics. While he was terminated for insubordination, which is easily documented, it was his anti-Israel politics that apparently so consumed him that he seemed to no longer care about serving the community that so richly supported his art.

I was enough exercised by this and the coverage of it by the Post (in essence accusing the JCC of censorship) that I took the time to prepare and submit a letter to the editor at the Post. That is the literary event. The letter wasn’t published. But you will get to read it, no subscription required. Then I have some more to say, but first the letter.

I have read the series of articles by Peter Marks about the termination of Ari Roth, longtime artistic director of Theater J, by the theater’s parent organization, the D.C. Jewish Community Center. Though it is probably true that the firing was “greeted with expressions of disbelief and widespread condemnation by everyone” in the theater community, I thought the decision was long overdue.  The crux of the matter is the impression the articles give that no dissent about Israel is tolerable in the Jewish community today. That is far from the truth. While support for Israel is important for our community, what people like me were seeking and not getting from Roth was a balanced view, plays representing all sides of Israel’s reality. Israel is not a perfect country, but it is amazingly advanced in the way it sees the world and values life, in its vibrant democracy, and in the way it fights the wars that its neighbors never cease to provoke – not because winning is likely but because maybe they can make Israel look bad. Israel is not David (vs. Goliath) anymore, but it has not lost its special soul. Visit and you will see.  Roth must believe it has lost that, as he seemed excited only about presenting one side, the dark side, of Israel’s story. That is fine for him as an individual, but why would the Jewish community want to continue to support that approach?  It is not a fair or balanced representation of the reality in any way and was tolerated by the DCJCC much longer than it merited.   Rabbi Bill Rudolph, Bethesda Maryland

This termination wasn’t about censorship. It was ultimately all about balance.  Theater people, press people, concerned about censorship, rally whenever there is a possible foray into the censorship realm.  Defending Roth on that basis is misguided. His selection of plays was ridiculously one-sided and would make any BDS proponent wish s/he could do as good a job of trying to delegitimize Israel as Roth did.  And our communal dollars were supporting it!  BTW, if you wish detail on the plays, just ask.

Roth spoke at Beth El a year ago, in our Literary Luminaries series. The first time he was suggested for that series, I said please no, for the reasons noted above. Then I noticed that he was asked to speak at a region wide United Synagogue event and people seemed happy with that. So the next time the organizers of our series came to me to request that he speak, I said fine. I was wrong the first time. We do need to enable people representing different viewpoints on topics of concern to be heard.

The bottom line for me is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to present a balanced view on issues of the day, whether it’s Israel or American politics or the environment, whatever.  The DCJCC certainly does that. Its programming around Israel is rich and diverse and robust, providing the community with many platforms to learn, discuss, debate and engage with Israel. That is as it should be. I learned long ago in my Hillel days on campus that balance is the only way to go.  And when that proves ideologically impossible for the person sitting at the balance point, s/he needs to go.

What are your thoughts on this?

Be careful on the roads, stay warm, and have a good Wednesday.   Bill Rudolph

P.S. This Shabbat is Sisterhood/Zhava Shabbat. Women do everything in the service; Rabbi Auster will speak, the Golda Meir Award will be awarded. Sunday morning 10AM we welcome Michael Twitty, an African American Jew who is a food historian and talks about food as a way of mediating identity; he will make some too, all part of our synagogue theme programming.