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Editor's Report: Federation withdraws support from Shabbat Across WPG due to speaker's controversial views on Israel and Synagogues Uninvite Him

by Rhonda Spivak Feb 28, 2019

A large controversy has erupted surrounding Lex Rofeberg, who was scheduled to speak at Shabbat Across Winnipeg at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on the subject of Digital Judaism. It says in his bio that was distributed by Limmud Winnipeg that Rofeberg is "also an active member of the organization 'If Not Now' " [INN], a left-wing group that speaks out on Israeli-Palestinian issues. The website of INN says that "We are individuals who are differently affiliated, but together we act as IfNotNow. We work together to end American Jewish support for the occupation." The  website of INN  also says "We do not take a unified stance on  BDS, Zionism or the question of statehood."http://ifnotnowmovement.org/about-us/our-principles/

The Winnipeg Jewish Review does not know what exactly Rofeberg's views are (whether for example he does not believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state) since the WJR has not interviewed Rofeberg.

Rofeberg has made some comments on the subject of BDS in a facebook post. In a facebook post dated Feb 23 at 9:19 p.m., Ron East referred to a facebook post made by Rofeberg on Dec 21, 2108. In his Dec 21, 2018 post on facebook  Rofeberg  defined himself as "someone who actively supports some Bs/Ds/Ss, opposes some others, and doesn't know yet on others." [emphasis added] Rofeberg wrote that " BDS, by the way, isn't some big monolithic thing, it's actually a big web of different boycotts, divestments, and sanctions that don't always flow from one or the other." Rofeberg also wrote that BDS is not antisemitic and "BDS isn't demonic." (Note:To learn more about the activities of  the INN, go to  https://www.ngo-monitor.org/ngos/if-not-now/. The group crashed a Birthright Group to spread anti-occupation information https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Left-wing-NGO-crashes-Birthright-group-to-spread-anti-Occupation-info-561126. INN's website says "Birthright's programming has been funded by right- wing donors and designed to obscure, rationalize and defend the Israeli occupation." It further says "Join us in demanding birthright confront the crisis of the occupation.")

East wrote in his post Feb 23 at 9:19 p.m. " PLEASE BOYCOTT #SHABBATACROSSWINNIPEG AND Limmud Winnipeg until they remove" Rofeberg " from their programs." 

 

Journalist Marty Gold appears to have been the first person to really take notice that in Rofenberg's bio it said he was "active in IfNotNow." Gold also posted a column dated Feb 23 about this matter which can be read here: https://www.manitobapost.com/winnipeg-events/opinion-jewish-federation-of-winnipeg-unaware-guest-speaker-a-member-of-anti-israel-radical-group-117305

 

 

On February 26, The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg issued a statement  withdrawing its support from the Shabbat Across Winnipeg event. Their statement is below:

"Dear community members,


We have been contacted by several community members regarding a speaker with controversial ties who will be speaking at Shabbat Across Winnipeg this Friday night. When Federation was approached to be an event sponsor, we were unaware of these associations which have now been brought to our attention.
 

After careful and thoughtful deliberation, we have decided to withdraw our support from the Shabbat Across Winnipeg event. The

values of the speaker are not in-line with ours, as the representative body of Winnipeg's organized Jewish community.

 

Any further queries about Limmud, Shabbat Across Winnipeg, or event speakers, should be directed to Limmud.


Laurel Malkin
President, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. "


Rofeberg wrote in a facebook post "... the content of my Friday night talk is this week’s parsha, and what the mishkan/tabernacle teaches us about — I kid you not — digital Judaism in 2019!

Israel is not the subject matter at all."

 


On Feb 27, the Winnipeg Jewish Review contacted Florencia Katz , the staff organizer of Limmud Winnipeg and asked her what would happen in the event that a Limmud participant  asked Rofeberg  during a session about his views on the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or BDS. Katz said  if that occurred Rofeberg " would invite them to talk about it  outside the [Limmud] session."

Limmud Winnipeg  issued a statement on February 26  in response to the controversy, standing by their decision to let Rofeberg speak at Limmud:

"Dear Limmudniks, there has been some concern from several community members regarding a presenter this year who has some controversial ties to groups whose views and actions related to Israel are not considered mainstream.

Lex Rofeberg, one of the many presenters this year, is a rabbinical student with a passion for making Judaism relevant in modern society. He has connections with some groups which some may view as controversial, especially as they pertain to Israel-Palestinian relations.

Over the years, Limmud has had a wide variety of presenters on a wide range of Jewish matters and this year is no different. We are an apolitical and non-denominational organization, do not encourage boycott or censorship of ideas, and advocate on behalf of free dialogue and open debates.

Our decision to allow him to present at Limmud 2019 is in no way an endorsement of his political views. Any sponsorships or organizational affiliations with Limmud are not an endorsement of the content or discussions which are presented. This reflects the Limmud approach to building unity from diversity.

Lex is presenting on Judaism today, on the topics of “Digital Judaism: Weaving the Ancient with the Contemporary”, and “Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Jews, How Sports and Religion are really the Same Thing”.
 

From our previous experiences with Lex, is a passionate Jew and he looks forward to a weekend of dialogue about modern Judaism.
 

We encourage for participants to engage respectably while at Limmud. Looking forward to seeing you at Limmud for a weekend of learning, dialogue, culture and fun."
 

In a facebook post dated Feb 27, Rofeberg noted that "It has been a great joy of mine to speak at Limmud events in the past, in Atlanta twice and Boston once. Rofeberg also wrote in the same post in regard to the Jewish Federation's withdrawal of its support of Shabbat Across Winnipeg that "This withdrawal comes in response to a great deal of feedback from the community, including some who believe that my IfNotNow membership makes me anti-Israel, antisemitic, or a self-hating Jew."

On Feb 27 the three synagogues hosting Shabbat Across Winnipeg made a decision to withdraw their invitation to Rofeberg to speak on Shabbat  on Friday March 1. Ron East posted the statement made by the  three synagogues disinviting Rofenberg on facebook and Rabbi Alan Green commented  on facebook in response, "Well done Winnipeg !" Below is the statement of the synagogues:

"Dear Friends,

 

As you may be aware our three synagogues, Congregation Etz Chayim, Temple Shalom and Congregation Shaarey Zedek, are hosting a community Shabbat dinner this coming Friday evening.

 

This provides the opportunity for our greater community to come together and enjoy a Shabbat Service and traditional dinner.

 

As part of the Shabbat experience, we also want to be engaged and had arranged for a young rabbinic intern, to speak on Digital Judaism, a topic of growing interest in our community.

 

Over the last week our community has been inundated with messages and social media commentary, decrying our decision to invite this speaker, specifically as it relates to the beliefs and political positions of an organization with which he is affiliated.

 

While we strongly believe that engaging in open dialogue, and challenging assumptions is healthy and valuable, and indeed inherently 'Jewish', the objective of this Shabbat is to be a peaceful, thoughtful and engaging evening where we celebrate and break bread together as a community. With over 200 Jewish Winnipeggers already signed up to attend, we have an obligation to provide a meaningful Shabbat experience.

 

To that end, and in the overall spirit of Shalom we have withdrawn our invitation to our speaker.

 

Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to celebrating Shabbat together.

 

Congregation Etz Chayim, Temple Shalom, and Congregation Shaarey Zedek"

 

 

 The controversy about Rofeberg even reached Toronto, as on Feb 25, the Jewish Defence League [JDL] based in Toronto issued a call to action to stop Rofeberg  from speaking at Shaaarey Zedek Synagogue. The JDL called on its followers to contact the Jewish Federation, Limmud, and the three synagogues and demand that Rofeberg's talk be cancelled.

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.