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Jews, Episcopals Come Together for Israel

Boston Jewish Advocate April 18, 2002
By Jacob Horowitz
Advocate Staff

NEWTON - On Sunday, April 21, Jews and Episcopalians will come together at Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel in Newton to send a message that the Episcopalian Church stands behind the state of Israel during its time of crisis. The event comes in response to widespread concern after three Episcopal bishops - including the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts - demonstrated against Israel at a pro-Palestinian rally in front of the Israeli Consulate last November.

"I picked up the newspaper one day and there was a picture of my bishops, in full regalia, demonstrating outside of the Israeli Consulate holding pictures of Palestinians," says Dennis Hale, an associate professor of political science at Boston College and a lay leader at Grace Church, an Episcopal church in Medford. "Some Episcopalians may share their views, but many do not. Their views have nothing to do with the Church, and they are counterproductive to peace." After seeing the bishops' demonstration, Hale, who is working with the Boston-Israel Action Committee to organize Sunday's event, sent a letter to The Boston Globe condemning their actions.

"After my letter was printed I got a lot of response, both from people in my church and people in the community. All the feedback was positive," he recalls. The bishops' November demonstration also caused great unease within the Jewish community - which has worked tirelessly over the years to build relationships with local Episcopalians - and as preparations for Sunday's Jewish-Episcopal gathering came to fruition, Jewish leaders were quick to take part.

"We have never objected or been troubled by the fact that there are people who disagree with elements of Israeli policy, but we have been profoundly troubled by the clear lack of balance emanating from some of these religious leaders. It's even more troubling that there is a seeming indifference to this fact," stressed Robert Leikind, the Anti-Defamation League's New England regional director.

"It is very important that we look to the religious leadership from Christian circles to find support, empathy and commitment to Israel's struggle," added Rabbi William Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. "There is a wealth of Episcopalians who express their solidarity with Israel, and when we have certain leaders that do not represent the majority of Episcopalians in this country, it is important that we garner support from the fellow travelers of the Christian faith who understand very well the predicament that Jews in the world face today."

Father Keith Roderick is one of the Episcopal leaders who will be speaking in support of Israel at Beth El. Roderick, who is flying in from Chicago for the event, is an Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Quincy, Ill. and is the secretary general of the Coalition for Defense of Human Rights, the largest organization of ethnic and religious groups working together to combat radical Islamic movements.

"This event is important, because Episcopalians in the Boston Diocese have spoken out and taken a position that is counterproductive and dangerous to Christians throughout the Near East," Roderick explained. "It is important for us to show solidarity with Jews and Israel because there was a time when we were working on legislation to combat religious persecution against Christians and the Jewish population was very adamant and vocal on our behalf," he added.

According to Roderick, "The Christian Church makes the mistake of assuming that what is happening now in terms of the intifada is a liberation movement. In reality, however, it is a movement that leads to totalitarianism. Its roots are associated with Nazism and radical Islam."

"I don't think that the Episcopal bishops in Massachusetts want to be known for siding with bigots, racists and fascists, and the ideology that bolsters Arafat and the PA is just that," he said. "This is an embarrassment not only for Episcopalians, but for Christians throughout the Church."

"Needless to say, this is a very difficult time for Israel," added Sunday's host Rabbi Gershon Segal of Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel. "At times like this it is important that we bring together as much support as possible for Israel, and I hope that the message that these Episcopalians make on Sunday is strong enough that the bishops will have to respond."


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