The only levity thus far in the dispute between Young Israel of Toco Hills and the National Council of Young Israel has been a picture of a smiling man hugging a tree.
That was the lighthearted response by Rabbi Barry Kornblau of the Young Israel Congregation of Hollis Hills-Windsor Park in Queens, N.Y., to being called a “#treehugger” by Yechezkel Moskowitz, the president of NCYI’s advocacy division.
Less lighthearted has been YITH’s response to Moskowitz’s attack on Rabbi Adam Starr, which led YITH to demand apologies and create a committee to study the congregation’s affiliation with NCYI.
A timeline of events:
Feb. 25: Farley Weiss, president of NCYI, issues a statement backing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bringing into his electoral coalition a party led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane in order to preserve a right-wing government.
Weiss’ statement, issued in the name of NCYI – though he later said it was his personal opinion – was in response to objections by a broad spectrum of Jewish organizations.
Starr says on Facebook: “Not in my name and not in my shul’s name! Embarrassed that the sole supportive statement from a national Jewish organization for the inclusion of Otzmah came from the National Council of Young Israel.”
Feb. 26: Holocaust historian and Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt resigns from YITH. Despite warm feelings for the congregation, she does not wish to be associated with the national movement.
March 1: Starr and YITH congregation president Marc Sokol join 21 other YI congregations in asking NCYI to cease making political statements. “Such statements currently are formulated without any input or authorization from the rabbinic and lay leadership of individual Young Israel synagogue communities,” the synagogue leaders say.
March 4: Moskowitz on Twitter: “Everyone of the Rabbis on this list from reconstructionist lover @RabbiStarrYITH to tree hugger Barry Kornblau should be ashamed of themselves joining with liberal progressive groups like @IfNotNowOrg in attacking @NCYIYoungIsrael for defending Israels democracy.”
The “reconstructionist lover” remark refers to last Nov. 3, the first Shabbat after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Following morning services, members of YITH and Reconstructionist Congregation Bet Haverim met in the street between their synagogues for songs, psalms and prayers led by Starr and CBH Rabbi Joshua Lesser.
Moskowitz says, “@RabbiStarrYITH thinks its ok to pray with reconstructionists but he apparently is the arbiter of what is appropriate for @NCYIYoungIsrael.”
March 5: Starr, on Facebook, rebukes Moskowitz: “I am most troubled by the way this man chose to insult me. I want to therefore apologize to my colleague and friend Rabbi Joshua Lesser and to his congregation, our Shuls neighbors Bet Haverim, who are the subject of the insult. This man does not reflect the Orthodox Judaism of myself, of my congregation or of most others I know. #notmyjudaism”
Lesser, on Facebook, thanks Starr: “To be used as a slur to hurt you and your community is painful on two fundamental levels. One to be seen as a slur, a detriment adds to the many ways my Jewish family has treated me and my community. It has actually endangered me or subjected me to some of the vilest and unacceptable forms of treatment. It then is used to delegitimize your rabbinate and your community – and places a strain on an already complicated (though respectful) relationship between us.”
March 6: After speaking with Moskowitz, Lesser says on Facebook, “I shared with him that his way of expressing his anger did implicate us, was unnecessarily hurtful and was not an effective way to make his point … We left with his acknowledgment that despite the vast gulf between us, that I sounded like a rabbi who works for what I believe to be the sake of heaven and that he too, tries to work for the sake of heaven and that is worthy of respect.”
YITH demands that both Moskowitz and NCYI apologize, that Moskowitz be removed as chair of NCYI’s upcoming dinner, and that Moskowitz take down the social media posts.
March 7: Moskowitz, on Twitter, acknowledges that in a “moment of frustration” he tweeted a “sharp message” attacking Starr and Kornblau. “With that said, I reiterate that this group of rabbis have taken a dangerous position by aligning their views, willingly or not, with radical Jewish groups that seek to destroy Israel’s sovereignty as a Jewish state,” Moskowitz says.
March 8: YITH members receive a letter updating them on the situation.
A new week began with YITH waiting for further response from NCYI.