Distinguished Rabbinic Leaders Sign Letter in Support of J Street, Urgent US Leadership to Achieve Two States

September 1st, 2010

Signatories Include 9 Former CCAR Presidents & Prominent Rabbis from Across Denominational Spectrum, Call for Open Dialogue on Israel WASHINGTON - Nine former presidents of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), eight rabbis honored on The Forward's Sisterhood 50 list, and major rabbinic leaders from across the denominational spectrum have joined together to sign a letter in support of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organization, and its mission. The letter comes as direct talks commence between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. The letter's mission is two-fold: calling for bold American diplomatic leadership to urgently achieve two states, and promoting a robust conversation in the American Jewish community about Israel and the conflict. The signatories encourage other rabbinic leaders to join J Street in its efforts to achieve peace and security for Israel and her neighbors. Titled "Seek Peace and Pursue It," the letter underscores the urgency of the moment, as ongoing developments such as settlement expansion and a growing one-state movement suggest that the window of opportunity for two states is rapidly closing. It reads in part:

As rabbis, we are enjoined to work to ensure that peace, justice and security flourish in our beloved Israel. And precisely because we are immutably committed to Israel's survival as a democratic Jewish homeland, we support a peace process that will achieve a two-state solution, which we believe offers the best hope for the futures of both Israel and the Palestinian people, as well as bolstering regional stability and American strategic interests in the area.
"This broad coalition of distinguished rabbinic leaders underscores what we have always known - the mainstream of our community supports a bold American role in the region in pursuit of two states, and an open and honest conversation on Israel," said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami. "J Street will continue to partner with rabbis and other leaders around the country as we seek peace and security for Israel and the Middle East." The letter also calls for a robust community discussion over what is best for Israel, citing the principle of machloket leshem shemayim (controversy for the sake of Heaven):
In the pursuit of peace, we are also deeply committed to free and open dialogue about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because our connection to Israel is central to our people, questions about how to best protect and preserve it deserve our constructive and engaged thinking.
"We've joined together because this is a critical moment in Israel's history and we recognize that there is no better vehicle than J Street when it comes to advocating for peace and two states," said Rabbi John Friedman, chair of J Street's Rabbinic Cabinet. "We encourage rabbinic colleagues in every stream of Jewish observance and across the country to join us in speaking out and standing with J Street - for the sake of Israel and her neighbors." The list of signatories features some of the most distinguished rabbinic leaders from across the denominational spectrum and from communities around the United States and from Israel. It includes the top echelon of movement leadership, rabbis from some of the largest American congregations, renowned academics, and Jewish communal leaders. Most are members of J Street's Rabbinic Cabinet, which is now nearly 600 strong. A complete list of signatories and the letter's full text is included below the fold. An abbreviated version of the letter will run in this week's edition of The Forward. Click here for a PDF of the ad. Why We Support J Street "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:15) "Great is Peace," as the Midrash (Leviticus Rabbah 9) teaches, "Since even in a time of war, one should begin with peace..." Even when peace is most difficult, when hostility is greatest, one is commanded to pursue peace. As rabbis, we are enjoined to work to ensure that peace, justice and security flourish in our beloved Israel. And precisely because we are immutably committed to Israel's survival as a democratic Jewish homeland, we support a peace process that will achieve a two-state solution, which we believe offers the best hope for the futures of both Israel and the Palestinian people, as well as bolstering regional stability and American strategic interests in the area. Informed by our Jewish values, we believe challenges surrounding Israel and the peace process deserve our best thinking, our focused attention, and our unswerving commitment to ensuring a two-state solution. While we may not agree 100% on the details, we unanimously agree that J Street is an effective catalyst for coming together to achieve our goal, offering us a public forum to engage in dialogue and explore opportunities to advance the cause of peace. J Street has invited us to engage in an ongoing conversation on these issues, and we hope others will join us, not just in dialogue but also in supporting the organization's work and its dedication to achieving a viable two-state solution. In our pursuit of peace, the sage Hillel's entreaty "If not now, when?" bears heavily upon us. We are motivated by a sense of urgency: While the majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples continue to support a two-state solution, ongoing developments, expanding settlements, and a growing movement in support of a one-state outcome suggest that window of opportunity is rapidly closing. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for a better time to pursue peace; now is that time. Bold US leadership is essential to move the peace process forward and to achieve comprehensive regional peace. America's diplomatic involvement would affirm Israel's sovereignty and its right to self-defense, as mandated by Jewish law. Still, as it becomes clear that there is no long-term military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, strong and active American leadership is essential in helping bridge gaps, forge compromises, and place the negotiations within a regional framework. We are not so naïve as to believe that the path to peace will be easy. There are rejectionists on both sides - among them terrorists who use violence in a vain attempt to challenge Israel's very existence - but peace with security demands difficult compromises and mutual sacrifice. We ask those who have influence to join us in publicly advocating for a two-state solution and in emphasizing the need for reciprocal moves toward the ultimate goal of safe, peaceful coexistence. We call upon American Christian and Muslim leaders to join us in working within our respective communities to affirm the right of the Jewish people to a homeland, to repudiate terrorism and hate speech as religiously and politically illegitimate, and to advocate for active American and international diplomatic leadership to move toward a viable two-state solution. In the pursuit of peace, we are also deeply committed to free and open dialogue about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because our connection to Israel is central to our people, questions about how to best protect and preserve it deserve our constructive and engaged thinking. This is especially true when we disagree. For us, this is the embodiment of machloket leshem shemayim (controversy for the sake of Heaven). We are unswerving in our commitment to see Israel thrive. Just as a true friend does not keep silent when a loved one engages in dangerous behavior, neither can we remain silent in the face of any policies of the Israeli government that we believe jeopardize prospects for Israel's long-term peace and security. We will move forward with the caution, care and respect that family deserves, rooting our honest concern in facts and framing our constructive criticism in keeping with the mitzvah of Hocheiah tochiach et amitecha ("You shall surely rebuke your kin") (Lev. 19:17). Such actions represent the highest level of friendship - ve'ahavta le-re'akha kamokha ("you shall love your fellow as yourself"). In our ongoing dialogue surrounding issues of peace and security, we fully expect that there will be elements we agree upon, as well as areas where our views diverge - but the dialogue itself is a vital step in achieving the peace and security we all so desperately seek. In less than two years, J Street has become an important voice for support of Israel and for an active peace process, welcoming not only those in total agreement but also those who support the overwhelming thrust of the organization's mission. We know of no better platform for speaking out in favor of a two-state solution. As rabbis who believe J Street deserves our support and counsel, we encourage others to join us in backing J Street and its efforts to achieve peace and security for the state of Israel and her neighbors. "Seek Peace and Pursue it." There is no higher goal. Signed, Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer, Savannah, GA Rabbi Terry A. Bookman, Miami, FL Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, New York, NY Rabbi Sharon Brous, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, New York, NY Rabbi Jody Cohen, Miami, FL Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn, New Orleans, LA Rabbi Harry Danziger, Memphis, TN Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Mendota Heights, MN Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Philadelphia, PA Rabbi Amy Feder, St. Louis, MO Rabbi Edward Feld, Northhampton, MA Rabbi Charles M. Feinberg, Washington, DC Rabbi John Friedman, Durham, NC Rabbi Elyse Frishman, Ridgewood, NJ Rabbi Miriyam Glazer, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman, Brooklyn, NY Rabbi David Gordis, Voorheesville, NY Rabbi Arthur Green, Newton Center, MA Rabbi Sam Gordon, Wilmette, IL Rabbi Joshua Gutoff, New York, NY Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Stamford, CT Rabbi Hayim Herring, Minneapolis, MN Rabbi Richard Jacobs, Scarsdale, NY Rabbi David Jaffe, Cambridge, MA Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Farmington Hills, MI Rabbi Samuel Karff, Houston, TX Rabbi Stuart Kelman, Berkeley, CA Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, New York, NY Rabbi Peter A. Knobel, Evanston, IL Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Philadelphia, PA Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, Westfield, NJ Rabbi Gail Labovitz, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Jim Lebeau, Jerusalem, Israel Rabbi Joel Levine, Palm Beach Gardens, FL Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Sheldon J. Lewis, Palo Alto, CA Rabbi Andrea London, Evanston, IL Rabbi Simeon Maslin, Philadelphia, PA Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon, New York, NY Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Las Vegas, NV Rabbi Aaron M. Petuchowski, Chicago, IL Rabbi Yael Ridberg, San Diego, CA Rabbi Sarah Reines, New York, NY Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, St. Louis, MO Rabbi John L. Rosove, Los Angeles, CA Rabbi Joanna Samuels, New York, NY Rabbi Robert Samuels, Haifa, Israel Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, Berkeley, CA Rabbi Herman Schaalman, Chicago, IL Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, McClean, VA Rabbi Judy Shanks, Lafayette, CA Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, New York, NY Rabbi Beth Singer, Seattle, WA Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Newton, MA Rabbi Jack Stern, Great Barrington, MA Rabbi Michael Sternfield, Chicago, IL Rabbi Susan Talve, St. Louis, MO Rabbi David Teutsch, Philadelphia, PA Rabbi Robert L. Tobin, Leawood, KS Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, New York, NY Rabbi Martin Weiner, San Francisco, CA