Michigan Jewish activists hold vigils outside conservative synagogue

14 October 2003


A small group of Jewish activists have organized to vigil in a solemn, dignified manner, the only conservative synagogue in Ann Arbor, Beth Israel Congregation. Our group is not completely Jewish — many non-Jewish supporters have elected to stand with us out of their convictions, and we are grateful.

Vigils are scheduled for the start of worship services on Saturday mornings — we have completed three vigils so far and look forward to many more.

We offer handouts describing who we are and why we are vigilling. Not many congregants take these, claiming that Sabbath regulations forbid them from taking paper.

The theory on vigilling is this: The goal is to stop U.S. funding of Israel’s violent Occupation, now into its 37th year. To achieve this goal, we’ve got to get Congress to stop funds, and to stop signing those Nancy-Pelosi-we-stand-with-Israel resolutions that pop up every time AIPAC thinks their ox is gored. To get congress to stop funding, we’ve got to get AIPAC to reduce their lobbying efforts. To get AIPAC to stop lobbying, we’ve got to address the people who support AIPAC, The Jewish Federation, etc. And to get the people’s attention, we’ve got to go where they go.

And they go to synagogue.

We recognize our approach is simple, but it is direct, and is intended to raise consciousness of those Americans who can possibly sway Congress with their influence and donations.

What I find amazing, is how many so-called “peace activists” are questioning our tactics. These detractors encapsulate the Silence that is overwhelming in the Jewish and Peace communities. Some comments have been personally offensive, but provide us the encouragement that our vigils must be effective; otherwise the comments wouldn’t be so heated and personal. One Ann Arbor “progressive” claims that I have an ego problem.

Whether or not members of Jewish Witnesses for Peace have personal problems is not the point. The point is that detractors will use anything to focus the conversation away from the effects of Occupation. e.g. “Your vigils will harden hearts”. “What do you hope to achieve by disturbing the sanctity of the Sabbath?” “You will make it harder for us working on the “inside” to do our work”. “Please do not vigil on Rosh Hashana”, etc.

Last year Dr. Sami Al-Arian spoke on campus here, and warned of this exact scenario. “Keep the conversation focused on the Occupation”, he said. And now he’s in prison. One voice is lost.

So before our voices are similarly lost, we want to speak as loudly as we can. And we ask EI to spread the word to other Jewish groups, even tiny ones, in cities and towns across the e-world. Here are two links to some coverage we have already enjoyed. And our statement is below.

JEWISH WITNESSES FOR PEACE STATEMENT

As Jews and friends of Jews who respect Judaism and its values, we feel a need to open discussion about the risks to Jews involved in the community’s current support of the state of Israel and its actions. We contend that the actions of the Israeli government are antithetical to the precepts of Judaism and to the memory of those who perished in one of the worst of the 20th century’s genocides.

Is the remembrance of our relatives enhanced by supporting the continuous confinement of Palestinians into smaller and smaller ghettos? Where in the Torah does it say that the demolition of another’s home, built on their own property, is allowed? Does Judaism allow for requiring Palestinian women to deliver their babies at checkpoints because they are not allowed to travel to their doctor? Does it comfort you to know that now, by courtesy of the Israeli army, some Palestinian men have serial numbers marked on their arms just like our own relatives? Is there somewhere in the Talmud that justifies the killing of a family walking across their own field? Is the uprooting of a farmers olive trees on his land, and destroying his livelihood justified somewhere in the Torah or the Talmud? Certainly Isaiah had something to say about that subject. The situations in this paragraph happened because of actions by the Israeli government and have been reported in mainstream Israeli media. Some have happened with great regularity.

These questions must be discussed seriously in the Jewish community along with some more: will there be any moral authority left in Judaism after the support for the actions of the state of Israel? Will we be able to read thou shall not kill or thou shall not steal from the Torah without wincing? Can Judaism as a religion and the Jewish people survive its support of the policies of the state of Israel?�

If you wish to begin the discussion with us you may talk to us here or contact us at your convenience.�Send contact information to: vigilannarbor@hotmail.com.