“If You Had the Attention of the URJ President…”

By Matt Mandel, NFTY-NAR New York City Membership Vice President 2014-2015

A few days ago I was going about a regular day during my first week at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Kutz Camp. It was time for chuggim, or electives, so I looked at the Expo board in the dining hall and at the top of the list was a very intriguing choice called: “If you had the attention of the URJ President…” I hurried over because, initially, I thought Rabbi Rick Jacobs was leading the chug. To my slight dismay, I only found a few camp participants and staff.

BDS pic

Participants at the URJ Kutz Camp discuss with Rabbi Rick Jacobs the Presbyterian Church’s plan to divest from three companies who choose to support Israel.

The discussion began with the idea of boycotting. A lively conversation was revolving around why someone would purposefully stop shopping at a store. We talked about stores such as Target, Walmart, and Chick-fil-A. We concluded that someone would boycott a chain of stores because they did not share the same beliefs as the store’s leadership. For instance, if someone didn’t like a political candidate that the store was funding, they might stop shopping there out of protest.

 

The group of participants was then briefed on the issue of the Presbyterian Church’s divestment of twenty-three million USD from the companies Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola. The divestment was voted on by the entire leadership of the Presbyterian Church. It was passed because these three companies were providing resources to the Israeli government to further settlements in the West Bank.

 

We began coming up with questions for Rabbi Rick Jacobs as he would be video conferencing into Kutz the next day to talk about the BDS issue. Questions ranged from the basic: “What is the Reform movement’s stance on the issue?” to the more puzzling: “Is it right to always be supporters of Israel and the Israeli government?”

 

NFTY Religious & Cultural Vice President Max Spivak and NFTY Social Action Vice President Olivia Kessler were at the chug, and ran the call with Rabbi Rick Jacobs the next day. The room was buzzing when I walked in, and I tried to get the best seat possible. I was trying to imagine what I would be thinking if I had not attended the chug. I’m not sure whether or not I would have any idea what was going on, beside the fact that I would probably have heard that we would be Skyping with Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

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NFTY RCVP Max Spivak and SAVP Olivia Kessler guide the conversation with Rabbi Jacobs.

 

Max and Olivia were asking the initial questions. The last question that Max asked was one that I asked during the chug the day before: “How can the URJ be defiantly behind Israel even at times when the government may be violating Palestinian human rights, if we are often concerned with humanitarianism?” I was immediately proud that Max picked my question as the tipping point question, and that Rabbi Rick Jacobs saw it as a good one and difficult to answer.

 

I wish that the entire camp was at the planning chug. I might have had a much softer voice in the crowd, but I think that if everyone knew of the exact details and weight of this international issue, the Skype call would have been more highly regarded by most participants. I went straight from being oblivious to the issue, to actually asking a significant question on the topic in about 24 hours. I am anxious for the rabbi to visit Kutz later this summer, and to hopefully meet him in person.

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