Rabbi Nadav Caine is looking into the idea of counter-protesting
For five years, Rabbi Nadav Caine of Beth Israel, a Conservative Congregation in Ann Arbor, has been silent about the group of protesters who have targeted the local shul for almost two decades.
Now Caine is considering enlisting the help of their interfaith partners to counterprotest the diehard protestors who continue to show up outside the shul on Shabbat morning.
However, Caine and his congregants are grateful for the latest initiative from Ann Arbor City Council announcing a formal resolution condemning antisemitism last week.
“We’re very relieved … It’s very important when one is persecuted, not to feel alone. And we feel much less alone now,” Caine said.
For 18 years, a small group have picketed outside the congregation with antisemitic signs along Washtenaw Avenue, where the city says an “atmosphere of hate” has been created.
In 2019 a member of the synagogue and a local Holocaust survivor filed a federal lawsuit against anti-Israel protesters and the city over the weekly demonstrations, claiming the protests violate worshippers’ First Amendment rights to safely practice their religion and that the city has not enforced local ordinances the protesters are violating. The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city and protesters in September, ruling that the protesters had a free speech right to continue their activities.
Until now, the city of Ann Arbor hasn’t gotten involved with the dispute. However, Caine says Mayor Christopher Taylor had been working on the right language for a resolution condemning antisemitism for months, which was approved unanimously by city council members on Jan. 18. Caine says the final resolution passed was responsible and powerful.
“I think we live in a place which is that we value the right to free speech. But for those who don’t use their free speech to recognize and criticize hate speech, then you’re standing idly by the persecution of others,” he said.
Counterprotests Are Being Considered
Now Caine is looking into the idea of counter-protesting.
“As a rabbi, I do not want you, as a Jew, counter-protesting on Shabbat. But for my Christian friends, for my Muslim friends, for my secular peace America-loving friends… They have been asking me for years, ‘Do you want us to go out there?’ I’m wondering now whether there is a place for the community, not Jews, but for our community to show support on Saturday by counter-protesting. That’s something I’m going to open up for the first time that I did not open up before,” Caine added.
Even though the city has announced the formal resolution condemning antisemitism, which means a lot to Caine — he said he believes protesters will continue to show up.
“He’s been out there for 18 years. We know that’s not going to stop.”
However, since the city has gotten involved, now might be time to step in, Caine said.
“I would love to work with the city to say, we completely honor Ann Arbor’s proud progressive tradition of maximal free speech. But is there a way within to both have that value, but not allow … an unfettered, infinite amount of hate speech take place?”
Caine says he’s been thinking a lot about speaking with the city about figuring out a “civil and civic way” to limit the number of signs protesters put outside in front of the synagogue.
“Protesters can bring 25 or 30 signs and line a public thoroughfare in front of us. Why can they do it without applying for permits?”
“There’s a difference between free speech, and I would view it as intimidation and harassment,” added Caine.
Regardless of who stands outside the temple, Caine says he feels like the congregation is winning.
“Part of having a covenant with God is being patient sometimes. And so, we may have felt like we’ve lost Saturday by Saturday, but we’re winning the hearts and minds of ourselves and our in our town.”