In our editorial in this week’s printed edition, we noted that no “official representatives of the Orthodox community were present at” what amounted to a rally at Temple Beth El in Hackensack on the last night of Chanukah, called to protest the second act of vandalism to an area synagogue in 10 days.
While that is true, it implied two things: The first is that the RCBC and its membership were aware of that event. The second is that their absence also meant that they were silent about the vandalism against another segment of the community.
This last implication was compounded by our statement that it “is hard to escape the conclusion that the absence of Orthodox leaders from the Hackensack event had everything to do with the fact that neither synagogue [that had been vandalized] is Orthodox.”
This suggests to some, at least, that the Orthodox leadership in northern New Jersey has no problem with someone painting swastikas and other hateful symbols on the walls of non-Orthodox institutions.
Nothing can be further from the truth. There are rabbis in the Orthodox community who follow the opinion of some Orthodox decisors that it is forbidden even to walk in to a non-Orthodox synagogue. The offensive sentence only meant to wonder whether that ruling was behind the absence. To be clear about this, however, there also are Orthdox rabbis in our community who do not follow those decisors on this matter. Nevertheless, that is all that was meant by the particular sentence.
As to the two implications cited above, we erred by making an assumption. The notice of the event was originally sent out by the JCRC within a day of the vandalism against Temple Beth El. The JCRC uses an e-mail list compiled by it and the Synagogue Leadership Initiative, and that list includes the RCBC and its members.
On the previous Thursday, The Jewish Standard website published an editorial urging everyone in the community, regardless of affiliation, to show up at the rally. We also sent the text of that editorial to our e-mail list. The next day, Friday, the eve of Shabbat, Jason Shames, the chief executive officer and executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, referred to the editorial and provided a link to it in his weekly e-mail that went out to the entire JFNNJ list.
In addition, an Orthodox rabbi, Tzvee Zahavy, published both the JCRC announcement of the event and our editorial on his “Tzvee’s talmudic blog” site.
With all of these references, we assumed that the RCBC and its member rabbis were aware of the event. That is where we erred. We assumed it, but did not know it for certain. We have now been assured by both the current and past presidents of the RCBC that, in fact, they did not. They and their members should not be held accountable for missing an event that they did not know was taking place. As the current president, Rabbi Shalom Baum, wrote in an e-mail to us, “I clearly would have responded and attended if I was called about this event. I and many of my colleagues have a long history of working with all members of the clergy, both here and in Israel.”
We apologize for having made an assumption, rather than checking the facts.
We also want to note that on Dec. 29 the RCBC did send a letter of support to Temple Beth El, and also discussed the series of attacks on synagogues at a meeting of its members. “I am sure that this has been a difficult time for your synagogue communityâ€¦,” Baum wrote on the RCBC’s behalf to Beth El’s Rabbi Robert Schumeister. “I wanted to express our solidarity with your community. Please let me know if there is anything specific that we could do.”
Because the RCBC did not make any public statement, we assumed that it had not made any private one. Again, we assumed something when we should have checked.
We continue to bemoan the fact that ours is a Jewish community with a divided religious leadership that finds it difficult to sit together to work on the problems that the Jews of northern New Jersey face. This is not an assumption; it is a fact. While there have been cracks in the wall separating the two boards of rabbis, these cracks were minor ones and little has changed because of them. We hope the RCBC and the NJBR will find ways to work together in the future, and that communication between different segments of the community improves.