The Deir Yassin Remembered Blog

Report on Beth Israel vigil 05-07-11

Posted on May 15th, 2011 at 7:54 pm by

JWPF Acknowledged by Vineyard Church

Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends is in receipt of an email from the Rev. Ken Wilson of the Vineyard Church Ann Arbor in which the pastor expresses sympathy for the congregants of Beth Israel, and Rabbi Rob Dobrusin as they “endure” our silent, non-violent and seven year old vigils. The transcribed email is presented below signature, and may contain typographical errors. Although he did not contact us in advance of sending his email, Ken has accepted this writer’s invitation to get together, and has offered a June 22nd date to have coffee with him and his associate pastor Donnell Wyche.

Hopefully we will be able to share with Ken some errors and misconceptions revealed in his letter. For instance, he implies that love is the true path to understanding, yet he does not seem to understand that it’s our love for peace, justice, and the many Palestinians we have come to know that drives our weekly vigils. Implementation of Zionist ideology might be a zero-sum game, but the capacity for love is not.

And it should be pointed out to Ken that he implicitly argues *for* our vigils when he says, “One might picket a Russian Orthodox parish over the policies of the Russian government in Chechnya.” Perhaps if his church in question publicly touted its support for Russian occupation and control of Chechnya, flew a Russian flag in its sanctuary, prayed for the state of Russia, took its children there to pose with Russian soldiers on military vehicles, then that parish – like Beth Israel Congregation – might just be a proper venue for protest. Especially if that Church supported a Russian (Orthodox) Lobby which dominated US foreign policy concerning the Caucasus region the way the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and other parts of the Israel lobby dominate US foreign policy concerning the Middle East.

Invoking the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is yet another double-edged sword that Ken raises. It could be argued that churches much like the silent Vineyard Church were the object of complaint aired by Dr. King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, in which he writes to his fellow clergymen:

But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding

JWPF hopes that as Pastor Wilson encourages his congregants to attend Beth Israel services, that he also includes an invitation to come and speak with us as they enter the synagogue. We stand ready to discuss our group with them, and of course always ready to discuss Israeli atrocities, which occur on a daily basis.

Wonder Where the Anti-War Movement Went?

Black Agenda Report Glen Ford reports on a study that confirms what local peace protesters have known intuitively for two and a half years — The election of a Democratic president (not peace) was the goal of many peace activists and organizations. Locally, one need only recall Michigan Peaceworks’ plea for “Jobs, Not War, in 2004”, a close echo of the DNC call. Michigan Peaceworks openly courted US Congressman John Dingell, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, and had arch Zionist City Councilwoman Joan Lowenstein address a peace rally on the University of Michigan campus. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse!

Ford writes: “The U.S, anti-war movement was always a lot less than it appeared to be. At its height, activists claimed that the sheer weight of visible public opinion would shake power relationships to the very foundation. But it turned out that many of the anti-war legions were actually comprised of partisan Democrats who only opposed Republican wars. ‘For the phony anti-warrior, imperialism with a Democratic face is just fine.'”

Michigan residents need only witness the recent outrage in Benton Harbor against newly elected (Republican) Governor Rick Snyder as he installs Emergency Financial Managers to dismember the city, but never witnessed such protests against outgoing (Democratic) Governor Jennifer Granholm, while she was setting the table for Governor Rick. See “The Phony Anti-War Movement” by Glen Ford.


Six Vigilers asking
With “Allies” like Israel, Who Needs Enemies?
Henry Herskovitz
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends

Send comments to:…vigil-05-07-11/

[email message sent to the congregation of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, by senior pastor Ken Wilson, March 2011]


Today I’d like to offer my reflections on the protests being endured weekly by Congregation Beth Israel in Ann Arbor.

What’s my interest in this, you might ask? It’s a personal concern to me because I’ve come to greatly respect Rabbi Rob Dobrusin, who leads the Beth Israel Congregation (part of the Conservative movement within Judaism.) We met as participants in the Inter-faith Roundtable, which affords faith leaders in town a chance to meet each other and learn about the various religious expressions in our community.

Congregation Beth Israel has been picketed by a small group of protesters during their Sabbath observance, most every Saturday for the past seven years. I drive past the protesters on my way in to church on Saturdays. I’ve often thought “How would we respond as a congregation if something like that happened to us?”

The small group of picketers displays signs protesting the plight of the Palestinian people. By powerful inference their presence at Beth Israel asserts that this congregation supports the injustices decried. Can you imagine the implied insult to the congregants who realize that anything pertaining to the Middle East requires a respectful conversation, not placard sized assertions which are a mere fraction of a tweet? Concern for the Palestinian people is, of course, a very legitimate concern. But the group has targeted the Sabbath services of Beth Israel to stage their protest – and this raises questions about the nature of protest and the kind of community we want to be.

It appears that the picketers have a constitutional right to picket any place of worship. But the rule of [law] is not the rule of love. In these times of intense cultural conflict, if more of us engaged in there kinks of protests, would our community be better off? Would the cause of justice be well served? Would love prevail? Would the kingdom of heaven come any closer to earth?

In particular, do we want to be the kind of community in which those who practice their faith in weekly worship are subjected to such protests?

Let’s face it: virtually every religious congregation could be the target of such a protest. One might picket an Episcopal church with its ties to the Church of England (headed by the Queen of England) to protest the British occupation forces in Northern Ireland. One might picket a Russian Orthodox parish over the policies of the Russian government in Chechnya. One might picket any religious congregation over its position on legalized abortion, gay marriage, immigration reform, or a host of other issues.

This might provide a platform for one’s message and would be perfectly legal. But is this the kind of community we want to be?

I grew up with great admiration for the protest marches of the Civil Rights movement. This protest was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose views on civil disobedience as a form of protest were inspired by Gandhi who in turn drew inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth. In this movement, the protestors understood that they gained a kind of moral authority by putting their own lives at risk – by sitting in the front of a segregated bus, drinking from the wrong water fountain, or standing firm in the face of police attack dogs.

I have personally met Palestinian Christians (often joined by their Jewish and Muslim neighbors) who practice civil disobedience in their homeland to protest settlements encroaching on their neighbors’ land. In doing so, they place themselves in harm’s way and incur considerable personal risk. One of these leaders spoke very movingly at one of our Vineyard National Leaders conferences a few years ago. He told of leaving for a weekly protest each Friday after his wife prayed for his safety with tears in her eyes and fear for his life. In the tradition of Martin Luther King, such protests send a powerful message, a message that is designed to win the hearts of the people whose actions are being protested.

Within this tradition of protest, simply having a legitimate concern or speaking up for the oppressed or against injustice doesn’t confer moral legitimacy. The protest includes a prophetic dimension aimed at affirming the common humanity of the oppressor and the oppressed. The protester places him/herself in a position of vulnerability to the oppressor, imitating the vulnerable God of the Bible, revealed in both the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah and Prophets) and the New Testament. This identification with the vulnerability of God is the prophetic source of the protest’s power.

In the past, I have participated in protests that, on further reflection, didn’t adequately share in this prophetic dimension, so I felt led by conscience to discontinue my participation.

The times invite us to reflect on the nature of the public discourse in our society. Our media amplify voices of protest: the angrier the voice, the higher the ratings. We reward this with our media consumption habits,. The implicit message (often the most powerful part of any communication seems to be: Hey, if your cause is just, that’s justification enough to say whatever you want. I recently heard a radio talk show host going off on one o his political opponents, “She is a hater … and I detest her!” completely oblivious to the irony if his assertion. There is something toxic at work in our public discourse these days.

Let’s reflect on our own public discourse: Is it time for us all to step back from the “rightness” of our convictions to examine the impact of the way we express our convictions? We can be absolutely right and absolutely miss the mark of love, which is the heart of God.

It’s no picnic going to your place of public worship to be greeted by protesters carrying signs. How would we respond if we were the congregation being picketed week after week? I would hope that we would respond as Beth Israel has responded. As one of the pastors of the Ann Arbor Vineyard, I would hope that I would be able to lead as I’ve seen Rabbi Dobrusin lead his congregation: with humanity, warmth and grace, informed by the wisdom of his tradition.

We recently completed a series titled, Love Loves, focused on a powerful text from the Book of Leviticus (19:18): “Love you neighbor as yourself” – a text highlighted by Jesus and the apostles as the guiding principle of biblical interpretation: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you: this is the Law & the Prophets!” (Mt. 7:12); and “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).

How might we love our neighbors at Beth Israel? If we were the congregation being picketed by a small group of protesters Sunday after Sunday, wouldn’t it be encouraging simply to be remembered by an occasional visit from the members of other faith communities? Just to say “We admire how you’re handling this, and want to share this burden with you today”

If you would like to arrange for a supportive visit like this simply email me [] and we’ll set up a schedule for a monthly visit, at times that would be supportive to Beth Israel.

I know that many of you have a heart to be good neighbors in this way. Perhaps we could set a rotation to cover the next year. Twelve people each visiting once in the next year would take care of it.

After all, we follow one who faithfully attended his hometown synagogue – a place where the Torah and the Prophets are read and revered and commented on. We’d all no doubt be better off for such a visit. We can’t make these protests stop. But we can love our neighbors at Beth Israel, walking in the way of the revelation of God to Moses: I am with you; you are not alone.


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