Rabbi Asher Lopatin reflects on his experience at the Take on Hate rally and how he made the decision to partner with other organizations.
By Rabbi Asher Lopatin
A week ago, I led a prayer at a rally against hate organized by Rep. Debbie Dingell and co-sponsored by many anti-hate, civil rights organizations, including the ADL, ACLU and ACCESS.
That evening, my remarks were made as a board member of JCRC/AJC, whose mission is to represent the voice of the Jewish community to the broader Detroit community.
As we were determining our participation in the event, we learned that Rep. Rashida Tlaib would be speaking, which raised the question of how Jewish organizations should decide whether to take part and co-sponsor events that involve individuals whose views on Israel and other critical Jewish causes go against the Jewish community’s consensus.
Judaism has a long tradition of aligning with people with whom we disagree to further important causes. The Torah tells us that we got out of Egypt “on the wings of eagles,” and many rabbis have pointed out that eagles are the most unkosher bird you can get!
Moreover, Rav Soloveitchik, who forbade any theological or philosophical work with the Christian community because of his strong rejection of Christian theology, was a strong advocate of working with anyone, of any religion, to help further important, real-world issues that Jews could not advance on their own. Now, that applies not only to topics affecting the Jewish community, but also to broader societal issues — such as hatred, intolerance and xenophobia, the ills that this rally was designed to oppose. Joining forces to fight wars or enemies, as America and England had to do in WWII and as Israel has to do constantly, does not automatically legitimize or support the actions or ideas of those with whom we disagree, but have to unite with.
Having said this, it is vital to keep in mind that when we partner on events with a broad group of people who may strongly disagree with us on certain issues, that those programs stick to their rightful goals and not mix in or promote partners’ causes with which we disagree.
At the Take on Hate rally, no speaker brought up extraneous and problematic issues such as Palestine or BDS. The event was more partisan than I would have liked, but Tlaib, in particular, was careful to focus her remarks on fighting hate against anyone and sensitivity to those who are targets of such hate.
In addition, I find when we focus on a shared goal with a diverse group of people, we must ensure we are not participating with groups that are so problematic that merely partnering with them will poison the cause. Sometimes this dynamic needs to be examined based on who the main organizer of the event is and how many other co-sponsors there are, as well as who those co-sponsors are. In the case of the Take on Hate rally, the main organizer was Dingell, who was joined by other members of Congress, including Rep. Andy Levin and members of the Michigan State Legislature.
While, as I mentioned, the rally was certainly not as nonpartisan as the planners intended, the main message rang true: Everyone was there to call out hatred and advocate for tolerance and respect.
Partnering and speaking at these events is risky as one never knows how the program will turn out. Each decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis, yet the risks of not partnering against anti-Semitism, hatred or any other cause so central to the Jewish community is far greater. We cannot do it alone; we need partners, as difficult and as scary as that might be.
As a community, let us work together to find the partnerships that best advance our causes and help us be a light unto the nations and leaders against hatred and intolerance.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is a board member of the JCRC/AJC and founder of the Detroit Center for Civil Discourse.