Local Rabbis Urge Orange County to Choose Speakers Who Unite

Linda Sarsour will be the keynote speaker on March 31 in Hillsborough, NC at an event sponsored by Orange County’s Department of Human Rights & Relations and The Orange County Human Relations Commission (HRC) of NC “in honor of women’s history month.” 

Many community members have voiced concerns including Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee who said, “She [Sarsour] will be paid $5000 plus expenses. I only know that I had no part of any of this and am sure that many other well-qualified women could have been asked to speak…This type of conduct will continue until folks rise up and put a stop to it, either through public pressure or at the polls.”

Four prominent local rabbis wrote the public letter below.

Dear Members of the Orange County Human Relations Commission,

We appreciate the mission of the Orange County Human Relations Commission “to promote the equal treatment of all individuals; to protect residents’ lawful interests and their personal dignity; and to prevent public and domestic strife, crime, and unrest within Orange County,” and all the work the Commission has done in the past in service to the community.

We are concerned, however, about the upcoming Women’s History Month “Courageous Conversations” event featuring keynote speaker Linda Sarsour. The Commission has announced that this is an event “… about community unity and bringing people together…” Yet by inviting Ms. Sarsour, whose statements on Zionism and Israel alienate many in the Jewish community, the Human Relations Council is dividing rather than uniting us.

In the wake of the Christchurch and Pittsburgh attacks, and rising Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, it is essential for us to stand united in opposition to all forms of hatred and bigotry. We fully support the Commission’s desire to address women’s history, Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims; we urge that speakers be chosen who bring all of us together to strengthen our community.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Jen Feldman, Kehillah Synagogue

Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Beth El Synagogue

Rabbi John Franken, Judea Reform Congregation

Rabbi Zalman Bluming, Chabad of Durham-Chapel Hill

Kehillah Synagogue Writes Durham HRC

Israel, Durham HRC

In November, the Durham Human Relations Commission (HRC) presented a draft proposal recommending that the Durham City Council removes the singling out of Israel from their divisive and discriminatory April 16 statement. 

On behalf of its board of directors, The Kehillah Synagogue’s Co-presidents wrote the Durham HRC the impressive letter printed below. 

Read more letters to the Durham HRC here.

Letter to the Durham Human Relations Commission (December 6, 2018)

Dear Chief Commissioner Standaert, Subcommittee Chair Ricardo Correa and members of the Durham Human Relations Commission,

The Kehillah Synagogue of Chapel Hill thanks you for your Subcommittee’s thoughtful approach to addressing the concerns that the members of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish community have raised regarding the Durham City Council’s statement on international police exchanges. About one-fourth of our congregants reside in Durham and more work there.

Please adopt the report as drafted when you next meet on January 8.

Thank you for examining in detail the Durham City Council’s statement of April 16, 2018, the circumstances leading to its adoption, and reaching out to the diverse stakeholder groups whom the statement directly affected. Thank you also for attending two community forums, one which the Jewish Federation held that many from the Jewish Community and other faith-based groups attended, and the other that the Judea Reform Congregation hosted where Mayor Schewel answered audience questions. We thank you for considering the many diverse perspectives.

The Kehillah has a deep and well-known commitment to supporting human rights through our Social Action Committee. Our Rabbi and members of our congregation have been leaders in championing the interests of low-income and minority populations in the Durham-Chapel Hill area. We have long-standing, meaningful relationships with many social service and interfaith organizations. The Council’s statement condemning Israel jeopardized these relationships threatening the wellbeing and safety of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish community. As so many of the rabbis from the Triangle stated in their joint letter, the statement was a “punch in the gut.”

Your Subcommittee’s draft report highlights the many ways the City Council’s process might have been improved and offers suggestions for the future. We concur. In particular, we support the statement, “Because of the process by which the statement was passed and the fact that the statement could have been written more clearly in some parts, we believe the statement contributed to tension in our community. We also believe there are steps that can be taken to address this. The City Council should revise the language in the April 16th language [statement] to provide clarity based on the concerns and findings outlined here…”

We appreciate the Commission’s commitment to both bringing our community together and speaking out against antisemitism. After the recent Pittsburgh shooting, the Kehillah held a vigil in which over 700 persons from many different faith-based churches participated. Our Rabbi Jennifer Feldman said, “We stand in solidarity against hatred with our LGBTQ+, Latino, African American, Muslim, immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, and with people of faith everywhere.” The Kehillah members fully intend to work with the Commission and the City Council to continue building strong interfaith relations. Everybody wins by such actions.

Jonathan Kotch and Andrew Werden, Kehillah Synagogue Co-presidents and the Kehillah Synagogue Board of Directors