16 December 2009

Orthodox American Rabbis Visit Desecrated Mosque in Kfar Yasuf (Press Release)

Rabbi Avi Weiss with Mahmoud Abu Salah, former head of the west bank village Yusuf, condemning the attack on the vilage's mosque
Orthodox American Rabbis Visit Desecrated Mosque in Kfar Yasuf

Kfar Yasuf, Israel - December 15, 2009 On Tuesday, rabbis representing Open Orthodox communities in the United States and Israel visited the community of Yasuf, expressing shared pain and condemnation for the desecration of the Yasuf Community mosque, allegedly committed by Jewish extremists.

Wearing their kippot, Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Rabbi Yair Silverman, formerly of Beth Israel of Berkley CA and now rabbi of Moed in the Zichron Yaakov community in Israel, told a crowd outside the mosque: "We come in peace to express deep pain for what occurred. We condemn it with all our hearts and souls. As a people that has experienced such desecration, we come to reach out to you in the spirit of brotherhood."

The visit was conducted without press or military escort. "Just this morning, I looked in the papers and said, 'Wow, [the vandalism] was unacceptable,' and I felt it was very critical to reach out, human to human" said Rabbi Weiss. "There needs to be a strong voice of Torah protest against this."

At first, the visit created tension. "When we first arrived, people were confused why we were there. They were also angry. The pain of the community was palatable," said Rabbi Silverman. "But we needed to bear witness to the pain acknowledge that any desecration of one's religious worship is unacceptable."

When the rabbis initially extended their hands the community did not return the gesture. After some sign language and the help of an Arab interpreter, the mood changed. Eyad, a driver for the rabbis, said "I told the people that these rabbis have put their lives in danger to come and be by your side, to help as Jews. Listen to what they have to say."

The rabbis offered support to the rebuilding efforts and met with Munnir Abushi, local governor. "We joined them as brothers to share in their effort to rebuild, as we celebrate the hanukah message together that a bit of light can chase away the deepest darkness."
" said Rabbi Silverman. By the end of the visit, the two groups reached an air of respect and understanding and the rabbis departed to handshakes and warm wishes.

When asked about the outcome of the encounter, Rabbi Weiss said "In spiritual activism, I measure the success of an action by its purity- is it right or is it wrong. To come here today was the right thing to do. It's what the Torah is all about."

Ari Hart

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