Writing Rabbi Sends Apology

Published November 12, 2004, issue of November 12, 2004.
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JERUSALEM — An angry e-mail message sent by a leading Conservative rabbi to his movement, in which he slammed it for refusing entry to a worshiper during Rosh Hashanah services in Jerusalem, has now generated a repentant retraction.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, the director of the prestigious Mandel Jerusalem Fellows program, who wrote the letter, recently apologized to leaders of the Conservative movement, and said his original letter was based on inaccurate information.

Gordis, who is best known for his widely distributed letters chronicling his adjustment to Israel, compiled in the book “Home To Stay,” had sent out an e-mail claiming that a man named Fernando Szlajen was denied entry to Beit Knesset Yisrael, a Conservative synagogue in downtown Jerusalem. The contents of Gordis’s e-mail criticizing the Conservative synagogue were published last month in Ha’aretz.

But Szlajen, who is studying in Gordis’s program, has subsequently told the press that he was unable to enter the synagogue because he had arrived an hour before services and it was locked — not because he was not a member.

Szlajen said he then tried to access the synagogue via the movement’s nearby youth hostel, but the guard at the entrance refused to allow him in because he wasn’t a “member.” He then returned to the synagogue, which was still locked, and crossed the street to the Great Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation, to attend services, under the impression that he had been intentionally refused entry to the Conservative synagogue.

“I didn’t write the letter and I didn’t even know it was written,” Szlajen said last week, referring to Gordis’ e-mail. “I just mentioned the incident in passing, but I didn’t think anything would come out of it.”

In his most recent e-mail to movement leaders, Gordis apologized for “the pain that was caused, however inadvertently, I am sorry.”

“I was ‘venting’ to colleagues who care about the Conservative movement as much as I do, and didn’t pause to think about the likelihood that the e-mail would be passed on,” Gordis wrote.

The leader of the Beit Knesset Yisrael congregation, Avinoam Sharon, appears unmollified. “We were blackened and embarrassed by a story that was totally untrue,” he said.






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