The Synagogue

Congregation B'nai Emunah | Tulsa

1719 South Owasso Avenue Tulsa, Oklahoma 74120 USA

Main (918) 583-7121 | Reservations (918) 935-3373

CHARLOTTESVILLE

As the Administration struggles—and fails—to find its voice on the events in Charlottesville, the rest of the political world seems blessedly free of equivocation. The killing of Heather Heyer was an act of homegrown domestic terrorism. The injuring of seventeen others was the American equivalent of the truck attack in Nice in 2016. Republicans and Democrats have been appropriately outraged, and have not hesitated to condemn white nationalism and white supremacism in all its forms.

Our President, in contrast, seemed painfully slow to name the event as a moment of genuine emergency and chose, instead, to assign blame to “both sides.” This is a patently false construction of this episode. When white supremacists gather with torches in an assault against fundamental American values, it is dangerous and wrong to pretend that counter-protesters have just as much to answer for. Like many, I assume that Mr. Trump has difficulty criticizing people who felt that his election was a signal that their moment on the national stage had arrived. David Duke is delighted with his new President. That is an incontrovertible sign that something has gone seriously wrong.

The President is now bemoaning the fact that the removal of Confederate memorials somehow compromises the health of American culture and impairs the telling of our national story. It is much more likely that the remaining statues will become rallying points for the resurgent radicalism of the far right. If there is a threat to our national well-being, it will come from nativism and the exclusionary nationalism of the Breitbart camp.

All of us have a job to do. We must call our President to account; support those who oppose racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigrant bias; take the risk of public action; and underscore the truth of Charlottesville. The health of our democracy has been profoundly shaken. All of us must be present, accounted for, and mobilized for the struggles ahead.

Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman

EXECUTIVE DISORDER

The formative document in American Jewish history is not a legal treatise or an epic tale. In point of fact, it was not written by a Jew. It is a letter composed by the first American President to the “Hebrew” congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. The community had written with its heartfelt congratulations, and Washington wrote back with great warmth and sincerity.

The astonishment is that he went beyond the requirements of etiquette. He could have responded with eighteenth century politesse, and simply thanked the Jews for their expression of loyalty. Instead, he far exceeded that standard to leave us phrases that ring in the collective American ear. Sensing the anxieties of an American minority, he promised to lead a government that gave “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” At the essential moment, Washington defined America.

And not only that, he did so for a community that was quite obviously “other.” The first Jewish immigrants came to American from Brazil in the fall of 1654. By the time of Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, the community was barely a century old, and included many newly arrived foreigners. Most of these were Portuguese Jewish immigrants who had yet to form an American identity. But Washington included all of them in his greeting. By some magnificent leap of political imagination, Washington saw all of them as American.

It is now a little over two centuries later, but this is most certainly an Old World moment, marked by paralyzing fear and perverse suspicion. In place of Washington’s vision of America—a place where its citizens recline under the fig tree of good fortune—we allow ourselves to be tortured by images of carnage. The world has not always been a pretty place, but it does not require us to pull up the ramparts and run in terror from refugee children. Good people who voted for the new administration are most certainly not hand-wringing cowards. Yet the leaders who speak in their name behave as if they were. This is not strength, but a failure of good sense, and a grotesque denial of fundamental responsibility. Why are we here if not to help one another? What could possibly be the sense of offering assistance to persecution.

Little by little, we must regain the advantage on behalf of humanity, confidence and the love of God. Adding to the grief of refugees and would-be immigrants is not a part of the American covenant. Washington saw the newcomers of his period as the promise of a diverse and healthy nation. He felt their energy, good will, and urgent need for refuge. We have a right to expect that all who succeed him will sing the American anthem with the same broad-minded love.

Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman

B’NAI EMUNAH’S CENTENNIAL GALA

By Brian Edward Brouse

Synagogues that reach their centennial celebrations are sometimes tired versions of their youthful selves. But Congregation B’nai Emunah has reached the hundred-year mark with its vigor and energy intact. For the last full year, CBE has celebrated a centennial event every month without fail and published new liturgical materials, CD compilations of its music program, and biographical portfolios on its founders, its presidents, and each of the seven senior rabbis in the history of the congregation. It also succeeded in engaging its young people in creating a large-scale Lego replica of the Synagogue building. That model represents the hope that the Synagogue will be cherished by the next generation, just as it has by those who founded and nurtured it for ten consecutive decades.

The year began with an inaugural event featuring filmmaker Tim Blake Nelson, who touchingly described his childhood experiences at the Synagogue and hilariously recalled the leading personalities of the time. The culminating Centennial Gala on the night of Sunday, December 11, was a fitting climax. Over 300 guests, including members and friends of the Congregation, came to the Synagogue for an uplifting experience of joy and celebration. Gala co-chairs Nancy Cohen, Mark Goldman, and Jolene Sanditen-Stephens set the stage with a decision to bring guests together for a festive night of feasting and dancing. The building was beautifully illuminated inside and out with swirling blue light, and every corner of the facility said something about the Synagogue’s past, present, and future. Three historic videos featured important voices from the past: Rabbi Arthur Dov Kahn; past president Dr. Manuel Brown; and Gete Weisman, who spoke about the life and hard work of her parents, Louis and Bessie Blend. Another display featured cherished objects from the Synagogue archive, including programs from previous anniversaries and historic photos from the collection of Rosetta and Avrom Brodsky. A third gallery was given over to a light-hearted display of one hundred imprinted kippot (yarmulkas) representing life-cycle events from every period of congregational life.

A short welcome by the co-chairs gave way to blessings by Rabbi Daniel Kaiman over two magnificent challot, baked for the occasion by Dr. W.C. Goad. This was followed by an elegant, five-course dinner of sea bass, cavatelli pasta, and a rich chocolate dessert, all catered by Justin Thompson Restaurants. Golem NYC, a retro-hip ensemble of new-wave Jewish musicians, flew into Tulsa for the occasion and kept guests dancing from beginning to end. Meanwhile, a thousand images of Synagogue members and friends were projected onto large screens in Kaiser-Miller auditorium and gave depth and context to the event. It was especially meaningful to those present that the event took place with the Sanctuary Ark illuminated on one side of the room and the brightly-lit stage on the other. This was truly an example of a congregation celebrating an important milestone in its own home.

Immediately following the meal, CBE president Craig Silberg thanked everyone for coming, and commended the hundreds of volunteers who were involved in the year-long centennial celebration. Rabbi Fitzerman followed with his hope that the next century would be marked by moments of great joy, deep curiosity about Jewish tradition, and the pursuit of justice and equity in the larger world. One mark of a healthy religious community is the ability to see beyond its own needs and sweep the whole world into its circle of concern.

David Edward Charney, past president and CBE Foundation Board member, spoke about the Scott Foreman Zarrow Rabbinic Endowment Fund, a new effort to ensure top-flight leadership in the century to come. Millions of dollars have been raised, with a general campaign now beginning. When the Zarrow Endowment is fully funded, the Synagogue will join the ranks of a tiny number of congregations world-wide with an endowed rabbinate.

Rabbi Fitzerman closed with the official presentation of a new Torah scroll. Originally commissioned by the congregation for its 90th anniversary, the Torah had been dedicated, but not yet brought to the center of a congregational event. With the prompting of music by the visiting band, the Congregation formed great circles around President Silberg as he held the Torah, and began to dance. Many congregants participated in the writing of the Torah, and their contributions were symbolized by the presence of Joseph Charney, the youngest person in attendance, and Norman Levin, the most senior of the Synagogue’s elders. Both were seated in throne chairs in the center of the room. Dressed in a mantle fashioned by Rabbi Fitzerman, the Torah was mounted on staves created in Tulsa for the occasion and carried aloft in a swirl of sound and light.

DAYS OF CONCERN

My next-door neighbor is a tzaddik and a mensch. A prominent, successful attorney in Tulsa, he called me on the day after our daughter’s wedding to express concern about the new administration. He wanted me to know that Stephen Bannon, the presiding genius of a white nationalist news site, was anthema to him and to many of his peers. He was deeply disturbed that Bannon would be central to the new administration, and that I was not alone, now or ever. He promised he would stand with me and our community to name and oppose any threat or danger.

The call felt like both a blessing and an alarm. Like many of you, I know a lot about Stephen Bannon, and the habits of many of his disciples and supporters. There is a pro-Zionist thread that runs through his discourse, but that doesn’t begin to offset the general tone of Breitbart, the name of the little media empire he has created. It is deeply hostile to the idea of multiculturalism and strongly antagonistic toward minority viewpoints. The Anti-Defamation League calls the Breitbart community “a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.” Just in case you’re wondering, this is not good for the Jews or (to reprise the famous poster) any other living people.

If B’nai Emunah is like the rest of the Jewish community, there are some who voted for the President-elect and many more who voted for his defeated opponent. I try very hard to refrain from criticizing those who disagree with me, and I offer my respect to those with different views. My commitment to multiculturalism goes very deep, and it includes the members of our own community.

But there is no doubt in my mind that the Bannon appointment, like many things we heard in the course of the campaign, is the sign of a grievous and fundamental misconception. We can differ on questions of big and small government. We can differ on the best way to confront ISIS or global climate change. But hatred of Muslims, homosexuals, and Jews, along with any other perceived threat to alt-right America, is wrong for the country and our future as a nation.

There are some American Jewish organizations that profess to be puzzled. How to oppose without losing access? I am not confused about this issue. Anti-Semitism and the disparagement of other minorities is plainly disqualifying and cannot be tolerated. I do not stand with the accommodationist camp and I hope that you will refuse to do the same. I hope that those who voted for the new president will make it clear that their chosen candidate has erred, and those who did not will protest energetically. Some things cannot be allowed to stand, and this is surely the time to raise our voices in opposition.

 

Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman

Kapparot

A hundred homing pigeons were released today at the Synagogue. Each was held in turn by a child in our Religious School, a parent, or a grandparent, and sent with prayer and blessing across the Arkansas River. That's a hundred homing pigeons for a hundred years of congregational life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The ritual expresses the hope that we will be free of care as the new year begins. Happy birthday, B'nai Emunah, and thanks the over hundred people at the front door of the Synagogue!

Altamont Bakery

We're proud to say that the Altamont Bakery was just awarded a national grant for its work in the field of pro-social small-business. The Slingshot Foundation, a national group of young Jewish funders, liked our model of a cooperative bakery that pairs Synagogue volunteers with intermittently homeless mentally ill citizens of Tulsa. Thank you Slingshot for foregrounding our efforts!