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 U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions

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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Oct 12, 2011 5:39 pm

A friend seeking conversion in Wales just told me she was barred from her synagogue because...the board background checked her and disagreed with the political opinions on her blog. From an American perspective, I am utterly shocked. I'd like to know how others here feel. Below is the email I shared with the synagogue (which will remain nameless.) Oh, have I mentioned, she's Muslim? And that shouldn't matter--but apparently did here?

Quote :
As a fellow liberal Jew and a convert, I find your actions to link political opinions with Jewish conversion reprehensible. In the United States, the idea that anyone would have to undergo a background check, much less be vetted by a synagogue board, in order to enter the building, attend services, or meet and study with a rabbi would be laughable. To find that a liberal synagogue in the U.K. thinks such barriers to the Eternal to be acceptable is frightening.

Don't think your board made a Jewish decision. You made a decision based on politics. Klal Yisrael is far more diverse than you give our people for being. Not every Jew--lifelong or converted--looks, sounds, thinks, or opines exactly like you. Nor should they.

Moreover, not everyone thinks the same way throughout their lives--or else why would anyone seek to join the Jewish people in the first place? Instead of engaging with, educating, or discussing differences with a potential convert in light of Torah, instead you reject them outright?
You should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves.

And I intend to say the same when I write about your actions on my blog. You'll probably be horrified to know it's read by a diverse Jewish and non-Jewish readership. Some of us with last names from your side of the Atlantic whose families thought very differently about the world before being tapped on the shoulder by Hashem.

Imagine that.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:46 pm

Is she very clearly anti-Israel? I mean, that's the only political position that would give me pause.
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:56 pm

She's basically anti-unilateralism. She believes in a two-state solution--i.e. very J Street. But because she's Muslim, I think the small synagogue in her corner of Wales is interpreting her opinion as something different than it is. (I agree with her opinions on Israeli foreign policy.) I think it's a lot of politics and fear.

Either way--since when is a synagogue board empowered to make halachic pronouncements? About conversion or anything else? They basically told her "you can't be a Jew, so don't come back."
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Samantha

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:03 pm

I'm very surprised by this. Did she try to convert with Liberal Judaism? I can't imagine my movement ever acting like this - they are in total support of individual opinion, it's clearly outlined in many books about the movement. Such a shame if it was them.

Most UK Liberal Jews (including me) support the two state solution and campaign regularly for this cause.
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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:23 pm

Maybe they are not convinced she's given up Islam? Just the way some Rabbis are not always convinced a person has given up Christianity. Though, I'm not sure why that would be cause for physically barring her from the Synagogue. That seems odd.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Fri Oct 14, 2011 1:33 pm

Yeah, never heard of even non-Jews not being allowed into a synagogue. We have a lot of inter-faith couples in our shul and none of them are barred. One bar mitzvah candidate's mother is a practicing Baptist and said as much when she spoke at his bar mitzvah (she and her Jewish husband had four boys and all four were raised as Jews; that's more than a small amount of commitment on her part).
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Fri Oct 14, 2011 1:53 pm

Dena wrote:
Maybe they are not convinced she's given up Islam? Just the way some Rabbis are not always convinced a person has given up Christianity. Though, I'm not sure why that would be cause for physically barring her from the Synagogue. That seems odd.

The thing is, she had only been attending services for a few weeks. She was at the beginning of the study process for conversion, not the end. So if that were a reason, they'd probably never let anybody convert at her shul.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:54 pm

Has she contacted the Rabbi? What did the Rabbi have to say?
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mikedoyleblogger

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Fri Oct 14, 2011 3:08 pm

I don't know if she has yet, but I can say my rabbi was shocked to hear of what happened. She will be contacting another, more liberal shul 50 miles from where she lives. I suggested she let them know what happened at the first one.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Fri Oct 14, 2011 3:26 pm

Yes, she definitely needs to contact the Rabbi and let him/her know.
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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Mon Nov 07, 2011 4:46 am

That's pretty insane. She definitely needs to let the rabbi know, though it sounds like she has already.

I will say that while it's never happened to me in the US, I have encountered probing questioning and layers of security at synagogues abroad that has rivaled Fort Knox and definitely left me feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. This had nothing to do with my status as a convert; those doing the questioning had no way at all of knowing that I wasn't born Jewish. Instead, they claim "security concerns" and then literally interrogate you outside the door of the shul for five minutes or more, asking to see your passport or other ID and occasionally searching your bags before deigning to let you inside. This isn't in places like Syria or Afghanistan, BTW, but cities like London and Hong Kong. Based on my experience, they tend to be a bit more unpleasant at Orthodox synagogues, but I've had it happen at Liberal synagogues, as well.

I understand that we don't want another scenario like Mumbai taking place, and I do get that the world isn't always a friendly place for Jews. That said, if you're literally barring the door and forcing people to more or less beg to be let in for Shabbat services, what kind of synagogue are you running, exactly? How many people are just deciding not to bother going to shul at all rather than deal with the browbeating and interrogation? I mean, I can't be the only person it strikes as slightly bizarre to go to a synagogue that lists its service times right on its website and have a security guard demanding to know why I'm there and "how I found [them]." Um... you listed it on your website, presumably because you want people to attend?

There are areas of the world where Christians are hardly welcomed with open arms, but I have to say that I've never seen a church that takes this approach. And, of course, there's the fact that the people who attacked the Jewish center in Mumbai hardly knocked at the door and proffered their ID before going inside and killing people.


Last edited by FaustianSlip on Tue Nov 08, 2011 7:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Tue Nov 08, 2011 12:17 pm

Faustian, your avatar! I about DIED when I saw it. I have to find a bigger picture of that and print it off for my husband. I'd share it on Facebook, but I have too many conservative Christian friends who would find it a poke at them (although, oddly enough, I think all of my former church friends would find it hilarious). I've always wanted to, but have never been bold enough, to reply to the Christian message by saying, "While you're at it, Protestant, why don't you put the MASS back in Christmas."

I don't know if it's much comfort, but one would assume that regular members of the synagogue don't get the third degree coming and going, nor do people they personally bring in and vouch for. Yeah, it makes it hard to visit a synagogue while traveling, but presumably, if you're abroad any length of time and continue at one place, they will come to recognize you and pass you on through the door.

You might have an easier time if you hook up with Shabbat.com and find a family willing to host you for Shabbat dinner. If you were to go to shul with them as part of that, you might get in easier.
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FaustianSlip

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Tue Nov 08, 2011 7:28 pm

Heh, the avatar was a Livejournal find.

As far as getting more slack if you're a regular, the shul I'm thinking of specifically is one I've attended a number of times, the rabbi and other congregants know me, and they already knew that I was coming, because I'd e-mailed them and signed up for Shabbat dinner. They'd already warned me, "We're going to have to search your bag." Which, okay, fine, if that's what it takes to get to minyan, I suppose, but if I wanted to blow the place sky high, I'm hardly going to let you know I'm coming, for one, and I'm not going to bring an overnight bag when I could do a better job with something far less obvious, for another. Should we start frisking people at the doors of our synagogues because someone could possibly sneak in some kind of a weapon or something? My point is that it's all security theater, anyway. I doubt that a single attack has been prevented using this system, and I suspect that if I were to ask, they'd admit that they've never once caught anyone with any kind of weapon or evil plot by digging through the tampons in the bottom of their purse.

What bothers me is that this seems to be completely accepted by so many in the community, and for what, exactly? It makes us look completely paranoid, discourages newly-religious people or guests from attending shul while away from home (or simply starting to attend a synagogue in their own community, if they're outside the US) and plays into all of the negative stereotypes about Jews being secretive and unwelcoming to "outsiders." The thing is, it's all for nothing, anyway, because it's not actually going to prevent anyone who seriously wants to attack a synagogue, in the first place. I also think that if it was really necessary, you'd have way more crazy attacks, God forbid, in synagogues in the States, where this is not the norm at all, than elsewhere, since most US shuls don't take this approach, but that isn't the case.

Also, a big hat's off to a shul I attended in Australia, recently, which did not do this. The real question here, to me, is whether we want to live our lives treating our coreligionists like potential terrorists and criminals, on first meeting, no less, or whether we want our synagogues to be warm, welcoming places that encourage visitors and newcomers. Because based on what I've seen, and I travel a lot, you can't have it both ways. Sure, security's great. I see no problem with a guy outside the door to keep an eye on things and make sure no one causes trouble, but questioning people for five minutes at a time and searching people's bags is just over the top, unnecessary and unproductive, IMHO.
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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Tue Nov 08, 2011 7:49 pm

I agree with all of this. On Rosh Hashanah morning, they made everyone clear completely out of my synagogue's sanctuary between our open-access family service and our ticketed regular service. Why? To search the sanctuary for bombs.

I was very vocal about my displeasure. What an awful way to ruin the vibe on what should be a celebratory day. And how useless? What's to stop someone from driving into our parking lot with a car bomb? Or mailing one, for that matter?

That's just not my Judaism.
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FaustianSlip

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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Tue Nov 08, 2011 9:21 pm

Good Lord. That's completely nuts. Was there a specific threat, or was this a routine thing? I can't imagine my shul back in the States doing that. We have tickets, but so far as I know, they're not vetting anyone. Again, it just seems to me that if someone really wanted to do damage, they'd find a way to do it, and some guy standing at the door going, "Wait! You don't have a ticket!" isn't likely to stop them.

When I mentioned my experience in Hong Kong on Facebook, a (Jewish) friend said something like, "Well, you know, we have to be careful." Careful of what, exactly? The average synagogue is more likely to suffer casualties courtesy of a plate of bad gefilte fish or potato salad than some wild-eyed gunman. I would have more understanding if my experiences had occurred someplace like Syria or Turkey or something, but that is not the case at all.
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PostSubject: Re: U.K. Conversion Candidate Background Checked by Board, Barred from Synagogue Over Political Opinions   Wed Nov 09, 2011 12:25 pm

I will confess, I have a handgun carry permit and I frequently carry in my pocketbook. I work in a law office and my boss has been--before I started here--the subject of a threat by a man flashing a gun. In fact, we had a client come in yesterday that made me go to my car and get my gun and bring it back into the office.

Sometimes the gun is still in my pocketbook when I go to shul and I have mixed feelings about that. Spiritually, there's something about it that distburbs me, which is why I've started leaving it in the car. But on the other hand, I'm aware of the fact that on any given day, some mad gunman could come in, trying to kill us all. Like the line from "Lord of the Rings," "The women of this country learned long ago that people without swords can still die upon them." You can disarm your congregants all you like, but that doesn't stop a crazy from running in and taking everyone out; it just concentrates a large group of defenseless people, which makes it easier to shoot without stopping.

I recognize I'm joining the most persecuted people in history, but that doesn't mean I'm interested in being a victim. I much prefer the Israeli attitude of go down swinging.

So sometimes my gun is in my pocketbook and sometimes it's not because I haven't decided what to do. Although I'm starting to lean towards the idea of leave it in the car unless I get some bad feeling, at which point I'll carry it in. Kind of the idea of letting God tell me if He thinks I need it. I'm a big believer in instinct/preminition.
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