Brant Rosen, Suburban Chicago Rabbi, Doubles as Firebrand Critic of Israel

Evanston Congregation Stands by Jewish Voice for Peace Leader

Stand by Me: Rabbi Brant Rosen tends to the spiritual needs of a suburban Chicago synagogue, even as he speaks out fiercely against the Israeli occupation.
Stand by Me: Rabbi Brant Rosen tends to the spiritual needs of a suburban Chicago synagogue, even as he speaks out fiercely against the Israeli occupation.

By Menachem Wecker

Published November 20, 2013, issue of November 29, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 5)

The ramifications of his activism hit even closer to home at his younger son’s bar mitzvah, which occurred the month after he wrote the blog post. “I don’t want you to mention the word ‘Gaza’ once,” his son told him. Rosen admits that he was busy giving public statements on Israel at the time and trying to enlist supporters. “I was shamefully unfocused on the matter at hand,” he said.

Since that time, Rosen has made some effort to accommodate those of his congregants who feel uncomfortable with his Israel advocacy. Among other things, he may be the only American rabbi who doesn’t want people to “over-identify” him with his synagogue. He begins every outside speech he gives by stressing that he is only speaking personally. His official JRC bio emphasizes that his writings aren’t “official or unofficial positions or policies of JRC.” This, he said, was one of his synagogue board’s red lines in the aftermath of his blog post.

Rabbis who are involved with AIPAC never issue disclaimers like his, Rosen observed. “They don’t for a second take pains to say, ‘By the way, when I speak about AIPAC, I’m only speaking for myself,’” he said. “And I know for a fact that that is a source of great pain to many Jews who belong to these congregations.” The lack of transparency “creates the illusion that the Jewish community is in lockstep on these issues.”

Throughout his activism, Rosen has kept in mind the source of his paycheck. “The minute they feel like I care more about Palestinians than I care about them — who are my congregants — that’s the day, I think, I will lose my congregation,” he said.

Rosen also noted that his blog post came after a 10-year tenure at JRC: “If I had done this one year in, I would have been out on my ass.”

Rosen accounts for his congregation’s tolerance in two other ways: Reconstructionism attracts people seeking alternatives to prior, unhappy synagogue experiences, so they are more open-minded, he said; and they’re a self-selective group.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv?
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.