Schindler attacks extremism, boosts Israel in S.F. talk

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Addressing an audience of 230 at the New Israel Fund dinner, the outspoken 72-year-old rabbi said, "Too many liberal Jews paint all Orthodox Jews with the brush of a Yigal Amir or Baruch Goldstein."

But in his talk , "Jewish Response to Religious Extremism," he said that "efforts to codify Orthodox control" are creating "a victory for religious extremism and the polar opposite of the Zionist vision, which saw Israel as a home for all Jews, whatever their origin, descent or religious orientation."

He also said many of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians are "morally flawed."

"We are under no obligation as Jews to put our hechsher [kosher seal] on random and excessive force applied to keep a restive Arab population in check."

At the NIF fund-raiser, Schindler was honored with the 1997 Guardian of Democracy award. The Connecticut-based rabbi, who headed the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations from 1973 to 1996, is best known for championing the admission of women into the rabbinate; reaching out toward intermarried couples, gays and lesbians; and accepting as Jews the children of Jewish fathers who are raised in the tradition.

Addressing religious pluralism, Schindler said Saturday that "a two-tiered struggle for Israel's soul is being waged" in both the political and religious arenas.

In addition to the rupture between secular and ultra-religious Israelis, he pointed to the unraveling peace process, Yasser Arafat's "corrupt and brutal regime" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline policies toward Palestinians.

Netanyahu has "forgotten the talmudic caution that he who takes vengeance destroys his own house. In so doing, he threw his gauntlet not only against the Palestinians but in the face of U.S. Secretary [Madeleine] Albright, who had pleaded for a `time out' as a means of restoring some measure of trust."

Referring to the recent failed Mossad assassination attempt on a Hamas leader, he called the "Jordan misadventure…even more damaging," because it led Israel to release Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin from prison in exchange for the return of the Mossad agents.

"All this is scarcely a recipe for peaceful coexistence," he said. "It appears that the messianic fundamentalists, be they Jewish or Moslems, are winning. And they are a dangerous lot."

Schindler called for resuming the peace process as the only means of stopping "these religious fanatics."

"While the road ahead is full of fearsome dangers, the road back leads only to chaos, chaos of this terrorist variety which spattered [slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's] song sheet of peace with blood and swallowed his life into history."

Schindler asked the audience to reaffirm its support for Israel, despite ideological and religious differences.

He also pointed out that as the state of Israel approaches its half-century mark, it has achieved two out of three goals. It has become "a thriving state in which Jews have become the masters of their destiny" as well as "a haven of refuge."

The third goal — "the creation of a state that would be the fulfillment of our ideal vision" — has been more elusive.

"The reality of conquest has functioned like a chronic disease, draining vital resources, most especially the precious resource of morale and morality.

"And perhaps most painful of all, Israel has had to resort to force in order to survive."

But the fulfillment of two out of three dreams — "two hits and a walk" — shouldn't be disparaged, he said.

Discussing the "ethical double standard" to which Israel is subject, he charged that in 19 years of Jordanian rule, Palestinians in the territories had not been granted a state of their own. He also compared Israel's seizure of the West Bank to Poland's occupation and annexation of German territories.

"Now is anyone in the free world demanding that these territories be returned to Germany? Of course not!"

But despite the contempt of Israel's enemies, Schindler concluded, the country will survive.

"We will not yield. We will stay. And we will build."

Local honorees at the dinner were Rabbi Michael Barenbaum, spiritual leader of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael; Ron Lezell, a founding member of San Francisco's Congregation Sha'ar Zahav; and Rita Semel, a leader of the Northern California Interfaith Alliance who has held leadership positions in numerous Jewish community organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Founded in Mill Valley in 1979, the Washington-based NIF funds organizations in Israel that support women's rights, social justice and religious pluralism. Col. Mordechai Bar-On, former NIF president, and Daniel Shek, consul general of Israel to the Pacific Northwest region, also spoke at the dinner, which was chaired by Nancy Goldberg.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].