Area rabbis sign letter decrying Israels home demolitions

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More than 25 Northern California rabbis, along with some 400 worldwide, have signed a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon supporting their colleague Arik Ascherman as he faces trial in Israel next week.

Ascherman, the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, is the former spiritual leader of Richmond’s Reform Temple Beth Hillel. He is facing trial for trying to prevent two Arab homes on the outskirts of Jerusalem from being demolished by Israeli authorities. Last April, he was trying to block the demolition of the Maswadeh family’s home in Beit Hanina, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The house did not comply with zoning restrictions.

On Jan. 14, Ascherman appeared in Jerusalem District Court to face charges of interfering with a police action in Beit Hanina and in Issawiyah, a village north of the city. If convicted, he could face up to three years in jail and fines. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24.

These homes were not demolished because they belonged to, or were harboring terrorists, the group states in its letter, but “were demolished because of a violation of zoning regulations in a context where it is almost impossible for Palestinian families in those parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian control or in Jerusalem to legally obtain building permits.”

The letter continues, “For us and for many Jews in our communities, the work of Rabbis for Human Rights represents the Jewish moral conscience. We express our love and commitment for Israel by supporting that work.”

Rabbi Harry Manhoff, spiritual leader of the Conservative Congregation Beth Sholom in San Leandro and a member of the national advisory board of RHR, said, “I think the housing demolitions that are not carried out for security purposes are a serious violation of human rights.”

The letter appears Friday, March 19, in two influential New York-based Jewish newspapers, the Forward and the New York Jewish Week.

Rabbi Melanie Aron, spiritual leader of the Reform Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, said RHR “is making Jewish ideals live in Israel, and reminding the general Israeli population that Judaism doesn’t stand for religious coercion or the kind of scandals they’ve been having.”

Rabbi Roberto Graetz, spiritual leader of the Reform Temple Isaiah of Contra Costa County, serves on the national advisory board with Manhoff.

“We speak of a mainstream Jewish community, and I really believe there is one,” he began. “But we are, by our silence on some issues, leaving large segments out, and not allowing them to speak.

“Of course we’re all committed Jews and committed Zionists, but we have to get the word out there that in order to be part of a mainstream Jewish community, you don’t have to be in a position where criticism is not permissible,” Graetz added.

When asked whether perhaps it was not a good time to publish such an ad, Graetz demurred. “The people that wouldn’t think it’s a good thing to publish it now wouldn’t think it’s a good thing to do anytime. If we wait, then the Messiah will have to come first; some of us are impatient about that,” Graetz said.

Other area rabbis who signed the letter include: Camille Angel, Charles Briskin, Ari Cartun, Amy Eilberg, Natan Fenner, Stacy Friedman, Margaret Holub, Margery Jacobs, Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Michael Lerner, Chai Levy, Sheldon Lewis, Michael Lezak, Jane Rachel Litman, Richard Litvak, Janet Marder, Tracy Nathan, David Seidenberg, Miriam Senturia, Judy Shanks, Scott Slarskey, Leah Sudran, Peretz Wolf-Prusan and Bridget Wynne.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."