Manhattan synagogue refuses to rent space to Republican club for speech by election denier
The Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue on the Upper West Side with the motto “Judaism that Stands for All,” has refused to rent space to the Upper West Side Republican Club for an event that would have featured former Bill Clinton advisor and current Donald Trump supporter Dick Morris. The event was scheduled to be televised on C-SPAN in late October.
While SAJ regularly rents space to schools and for private events, Board Chair Janet Brain and Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann told THE CITY in a joint statement that the Club was no longer welcome.
“We were happy to rent our space to the Upper West Side Republican Club for many years, consistent with the community’s commitment towards civility and dialogue,” the synagogue leaders said.
“This recent request to use SAJ’s space was the first one by the club since before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the first request to televise their event for a national audience. The climate in our country has changed since the 2020 election and January 6,” said synagogue leaders in a statement first reported by the West Side Rag.
“We cannot abide… any speaker in our sacred space whose words amplify and broadcast the anti-democratic ideas of the January 6 insurrectionists, or who condone or incite violence against our elected representatives, whether today or in a future election,” they added.
While the statement did not name Morris, who has said that the 2020 election was “absolutely stolen,” West Side Republican Club President Marcia Drezon-Tepler told THE CITY that people need to “leave Dick Morris’ name out of this” and accused the synagogue of putting out “misinformation.”
Morris and his speaking agency did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement on Monday night, Drezon-Tepler — who told THE CITY that she was a lifelong Democrat who left the party because of what she said was the “antisemitism” of Democratic “Squad” Reps. Illan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tliab — said that “A Jewish institution more than others should realize what it means to marginalize any group, for that’s what the Nazis and others throughout the ages have done to the Jews.”
Drezon-Tepler told THE CITY that the synagogue’s statement was “misinformation,” while forwarding a September email exchange where its administrative director told her group that “…the Executive Committee of SAJ has determined that because of recent developments with respect to the Republican Party we are no longer comfortable renting space to the West Side Republican Club. We appreciate the relationship we had until March of 2020. However, it is not one with which we are able to continue moving forward.”
In response, a member of the Republican Club wrote that “It’s very sad that an institution that claims to be open to everyone should be so prejudiced, even racist. I was so heartened that the SAJ had housed us for so long. Now, I’m deeply disappointed.”
Asked about their earlier email to the West Side Republican Club, SAJ officials said that their statement to THE CITY spoke for itself.
SAJ was founded in 1922 by Dr. Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, also the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, who “was the first modern Jewish thinker to articulate that Judaism was not just a religion or a culture, rather an evolving religious civilization,” according to the history detailed on the synagogue’s web page.
The page also notes that SAJ “began affirming LGBTQ+ members and interfaith families” in the 1990s, and stresses its founder’s conviction that believers should not “check our minds at the door.”
SAJ’s decision not to rent to the Republican group comes after the Museum of Jewish Heritage declined to host a conference in May by the Tikvah Fund that included Ron DeSantis as a speaker.
The group eventually moved that event to the Chelsea Piers, where the Florida governor who signed that state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law gave a speech during Pride Month in June as many local elected Democrats condemned the venue for hosting him.
“Many groups are wary of inviting lightning-rod right-wingers,” one of those officials, Brad Hoylman, told THE CITY this week when asked about the synagogue’s decision not to rent to the Republican club for the event with Morris. “Understandably,” he said.
Marcia Drezon-Tepler said her club is working on finalizing another venue for Morris to speak at, and lamented that SAJ no longer welcomed them.
“Their logo says ‘Judaism that stands for all,’ ” said Drezon-Tepler. “Apparently it stands for all except for Republicans.”
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