Fireworks on Independence Day?

Fireworks on Independence Day?

Discussion of BDS should bring light, not smoke, to Yom Ha'atzmaut

From left, Craig Padower, Rick Lustig, and Rabbi Richard Hammerman.

When Temple Beth Sholom of Pascack Valley convenes its Israeli Independence Day program on Sunday, it will focus on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement – the attempt to punish Israel.

Speakers will represent the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the media affairs office of the Consulate General of Israel in New York City, and StandWithUs.

StandWithUs, an international nonprofit organization, fights BDS, “informing the public about Israel and combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues,” according to its website. The organization has chapters and offices in major U.S. cities as well as in Israel, France, Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

Craig Padover of Woodcliff Lake, who is a member of Temple Beth Sholom, is coordinating the program and will offer welcoming remarks. Mr. Padover and Rick Lustig of Hillsdale, the synagogue’s president, said they expect it to draw anywhere from 50 to 300 people.

Its sponsors include Congregation B’nai Israel of Emerson, Temple Beth Or of Washington Township, Temple Emanuel of Woodcliff Lake, Valley Chabad of Woodcliff Lake, and the Bergen County Y of Washington Township.

Mr. Padover said that Beth Sholom decided to focus on BDS because the boycott movement seems to be growing, and he and other shul leaders wanted Jews to know the facts and thus be able to counter BDS supporters’ claims.

“It reminds me of my college years, in the late ’70s, when many Jewish students were faced with charges of Israel being an apartheid state,” he said. “I remember feeling paralyzed and wanting to have resources and answers.”

Mr. Padover added that the BDS movement “must be answered and addressed. Our college students are feeling a lot of pressure, because Israel is no longer the country that gained sympathy across the world as it once was.”

He said that Temple Beth Sholom’s idea about holding the discussion actually started in January, after actress Scarlett Johansson was criticized for becoming the marketing spokesperson of SodaStream, a West Bank-based seltzer machine company that employs both Palestinians and Israelis at equal wages.

Mr. Padover said that the more he looked into the BDS movement, the more “I felt this thing was screaming for some kind of program to get good information out there to give to Jews and to give supporters of Israel more context and better handle on how to approach this challenge.”

And, he said, he felt that offering such a program on Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – would be perfect.

The speakers will include Tahli Hanuk, StandWithUs’s regional program director; Shahar Azani, the Consul of Media Affairs from the Consulate General’s Office of Israel in New York; and Rabbi Richard Hammerman, rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Toms River, who led High Holiday services at Beth Shalom last year and is very active in the Conservative/Masorti movement in Israel, and Liran Kapoano, the director of the Center for Israel Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Beth Sholom’s Cantor Joel Leibowitz will lead the singing of Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, and there will be a question-and-answer session with the speakers.

“I remember when the other side would say ‘Zionism is racism,’ and we’d respond,” Mr. Padover said. “Now anti-Israel issues such as BDS can travel the world, lightening quick. There are people trying to isolate Israel. If we’re not vigilant in pushing back in a thoughtful way, we’re going to let the opponents of Israel define the argument. We’re trying with programs like the one on Israel Independence Day to give resources to the Jewish community, so the debate out there isn’t so one-sided.”

Mr. Lustig added that the synagogue has reached out to congregations all over the region, and the programs spans the denomination range. “It’s a community event,” he said. “We wanted this to include everyone.” He added that “nothing like this” has been done before at Beth Sholom.

It is, both Mr. Lustig and Mr. Padover agreed, a much different way of celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. Typically, Jewish organizations host public marches, with Israeli flags waving, youth choirs singing, live bands playing, lots of Israeli dancing, booths selling arts and crafts made in Israel, all accompanied by plenty of food and a speaker or two to create a festive atmosphere. This BDS discussion is getting right to the heart of a matter that many Jews simply cannot debate, because they do not know enough, Mr. Padover said.

“From the very beginning, we knew we had to be careful defining the program,” Mr. Padover said. “If it was too open-ended, people might not come. We wanted to define this program as an important use of time. If we go longer than 90 minutes I think that says something positive, that people want more information.”

Mr. Lustig said also said that with the Kansas City JCC shootings still fresh, security would be heightened.

“We are making arrangements for security,” Mr. Padover said. “It’s the responsible thing to do. We know the world we live in, and security issues have been addressed.”

Mr. Lustig said that if anyone applies for a permit to protest the event, local police and Homeland Security would let them know.

“Also, we’ve been told that website traffic has been quiet when it comes to possible terrorism,” Mr. Padover said, indicating that he feels there’s a reduced threat of any possible terrorism.

Locally, Rutgers University voted down BDS in 2014, and there is a student anti-BDS page on Facebook. BDS also was voted down by the University of Michigan in March.

Even with the BDS, Israel remains second only to China on the NASDAQ.

Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the BDS movement in front of audiences ranging from the United Nations to the Knesset.

Countering BDS
Who: A consortium of synagogues mark Israel’s 66th birthday by giving you the opportunity to

What: Learn about BDS and how to fight it at a panel discussion, followed by a question-and-answer session and refreshments.

Where: Congregation Beth Shalom of Pascack Valley, 32 Park Ave., Park Ridge

When: Sunday, May 4, at 11 a.m.

For more information: Call (201) 391-4620

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