As one congregant of Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia entered the synagogue Monday, he told Rabbi Sholom Deitsch, “It’s a great day today.”
He was talking about the moving of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that day. And he wasn’t the only one.
“What I heard is a sense of euphoria [from congregants],” Deitsch said. “I think people view this as a very significant day and a day long in coming.”
Before moving the embassy this week, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal last week. The deal, heavily criticized by Israel, had split the Jewish community. And some original opponents of the deal, including Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), urged Trump not to abandon the international agreement.
While both events are subject of chatter among congregants, according to some area rabbis, it was the embassy opening that drew an emotional response.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek, a Conservative synagogue in Potomac, said there was “widespread support, approval and enthusiasm” for the embassy move among his congregants.
Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish homeland, since King David, said Rabbi David Kalender of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax. In that sense, he said, Jews didn’t need American validation. But, he added, the congregation is happy to see Jerusalem’s role recognized.
Kalendar said he used last week’s Torah portion to discuss the embassy move. “Our approach here is that we don’t approach things through politics, but through Judaism.”
Most rabbis interviewed for this article said they don’t like to take political stances because they want their congregants of varying viewpoints all to feel welcome. Congregants were talking about the issues at social times, like Kiddush, or through other events or programming, they said.
Rabbi Rachel Hersh of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda said that while the synagogue is committed to Israel, many in her community are “broken-hearted Zionists.”
“I think there’s definitely a sense of dismay and concern about the American desire to move the embassy,” she said.
Rabbi Saul Oresky of Mishkan Torah in Greenbelt, a Conservative and Reconstructionist congregation, said he is a bit “gun-shy” when it comes to issues like the Iran deal and the embassy move. Israel used to be bipartisan, he said, but it is less so now.
He characterized his congregation as “probably more J Street than AIPAC.” When a congregant ask for the synagogue to send around a petition from Stand With Us, a rightwing Israel advocacy group, Oresky declined, saying it wasn’t a proper use of the synagogue mailing list.
Despite this, Israel isn’t at the front of congregants’ minds most of the time, Oresky said. The congregation tends to focus on social issues and Jewish values, including participating in the Women’s March and working on homelessness.
But Rabbi Mina Goldsmith of Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon said the only political issue her congregants talk about is Israel.
Like Kalender, Goldsmith “brushes up against” political topics by talking about them in the context of Jewish ethics and values. And while she was happy about the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and embassy move, she heard little from her congregation, which is “pro-Israel, but largely apolitical,” she said.
“I was surprised very few people have spoken to me about it,” she said. In fact, she remembers just one: a man who told her, “Can you believe he really did it?” after Trump quit the Iran deal.
The Iran deal was less of a prominent conversation topic at local synagogues, according to the rabbis. Deitsch said it is just removed enough from Israel not to carry the same emotional and visceral feelings as Jerusalem and the embassy.
There are also many viewpoints on what the solution or next steps should be with the Iran deal, Weinblatt said. He did see people agreeing on one thing, however.
“People would like there to be bipartisan support for whatever action is taken,” he said. “I think what people want is for the United States to work together.”
President Trump fulfilled two of his campaign promises of paramount importance to the Jewish people everywhere, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and thus validating Israeli sovereignty over the most contested city in the world, and canceling the Iran deal while imposing new sanctions on the Iranian regime bent on the annihilation of Israel. President Trump took these steps despite incredible international and domestic pressure not to do so, yet our religious leaders are “gun shy” to speak out and offend their more ” J Street then AIPAC congregations” ? The fact that no members of the Democratic Party attended the opening of the new US Embassy speaks volumes, yet more than seventy percent of American Jews still insist on voting for the Democrats. This mindset is getting increasingly difficult to understand.