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And A Happy Anti-Zionist Rosh Hashanah To You and Yours: Anti-Zionist Rosh Hashanah 5783 – Denver, Colorado

September 26, 2022

Rob Prince, bar mitzvah photo. November 1957. Jamaica Jewish Center, Jamaica Queens, NY

Signs of the changing Jewish landscape here in Colorado among the state’s modest, but not insignificant Jewish Community.

  • A story related to me this morning by someone with long involvement of the city’s mainstream Jewish Community here in Denver. He told of a meeting at the Boulder Jewish Community Center – an impressive edifice on East Arapahoe Ave on the way out of Boulder towards the high plains. At an open mike a young Jewish progressive activist puts the issue square on the table: “We’re not joining your synagogue(s) until you deal more humanely with the Palestinian issue.
  • This is the same Boulder Jewish Community that for years fought tooth and nail against Boulder becoming a sister city with Nablus, West Bank, Palestine. That effort eventually did pass the Boulder City Council but not before some of the town’s more prominent – and considered more liberal – rabbis publicly savaged a young Jewish woman who had spearheaded the issue. She remains actively involved in the Boulder-Nablus sister city project which has, since approval, taken on a life of its own.

In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d witness this – a Jewish New Year’s service, Rosh Hashanah service with an anti-Zionist theme here in Denver, Colorado. It was organized by a small group of local Jewish women, young women at that, one of whom who is the daughter of a deceased long-time friend and political collaborator of mine. I wondered how many – or rather, how few – would show up 3? 5? which would make half a minyan Is half a minyan enough to do a service, a ritualistic question I could not answer. And then I was trying to determine when was the last time I had attended a Rosh Hashanah service? 1957? Maybe as recently as 1958? But none since.

What would it be like? What does it mean? An anti-Zionist Rosh Hashanah service?

I had no idea but decided to go and see for myself.  But then I don’t own a yarmulke, or even know if my talis in which I was bar mitzvahed is stored somewhere in the garage. I have the vaguest memory of having taken it out sometime since moving to Colorado 53 years ago, looking at it, thinking about Hebrew School at the Jamaica Jewish Center just off Parson’s Blvd and Hillside Ave. in Queens, New York.

from the ceremony program

The meeting was far on the other side of Denver. We live northwest, the service was way southeast not far from Tamarac Square (for those who know Denver) in one of the organizer’s backyard. Close to 40 people in attendance, with the exception of three of us, everyone else, easily under the age of 40. Among the “elders” was my old friend SK greeting me with affection and interest. There were times, with Israel was committing massacres of Palestinians that four of us – SK and her husband DG, Nancy and I – showed up in front of the capitol in downtown Denver., three Jews and Nancy. And here she was the mother of one of the organizers. We talked some; I hope we reconnect in a more substantial manner. But back to the audience, those present – they were more women than men, a good sprinkling of different gender persuasions. Setting the tone, one woman wore a t-shirt “Gaza Fights For Freedom”.  Don’t think we’d see another one like that in other Denver synagogues. The critique of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, the sympathy, solidarity with Palestine was pervasive among those present. Long tedious explanations and history unnecessary. Was not particularly surprised to learn that a number of these folk are in the Denver chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and like groups.

When did this happen? How did it happen? Well I think I know something about that but will leave it for later.

Judaism, like the other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam is in its origins and much of its present structure both patriarchal and male chauvinist. Not that there hasn’t been some progress in Jewry in America dampening this long part of the tradition, but for the most part, it still holds firm. But this service was run by three Jewish women, all of whom knew their Judaism well, knew its ritual,its spiritual essence as well as any rabbi (so me thinks!) and ran a beautiful, heartfelt, touching service, even one that could touch such a hard core secularist as myself. The service, which lasted about an hour (mercifully) was as professionally done as it was unorthodox, but yet maintaining the spirit, the essence of Judaism as I remember it. A thing of beauty, really. I kept thinking – why does this remind me of Spinoza’s Judaism? Because it is that I suppose. All living and non-living things “holy”.

At the end of the ceremony the hostess announced, among other things, the October 8 “Together For Palestine” event sponsored by 18 Church, Left, Middle East Peace organizations among the Jewish Voice for Peace. An announcement of an upcoming meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace was also made.

For a 77 year old Jewish Marxist (me), who, whether it is true or not, has felt so alone for so long – more than half a century – opposing Zionism as some kind of pervasive but persistent aberration of Judaism, this gathering was like a homecoming.  I tried to hold back tears, but I couldn’t. I’m not one known for tears. Gave me such hope! Hope for what? Hope that someday Judaism can rid itself from the political Zionist monkey on its back, this particularly Jewish form of bigotry against Palestinians in particular, Arabs and Moslems more generally. Maybe this is a seed? I hope so.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    September 26, 2022 4:19 pm

    What a handsome young man. So nice to read he grew up to defend Palestine. It gives me hope for the world.

    • September 26, 2022 6:30 pm

      Yes, he is a dashing sort … spoiled terribly by his mother and aunt who used to iron even his underwear.

      • William Conklin permalink
        September 26, 2022 7:25 pm

        I hope the washed it first!

  2. Eileen Davis permalink
    September 26, 2022 6:40 pm

    Wonderfully written, Rob. Your photo has a beautiful expression. Shanah Tovah — may you live long and be well, and write well, for many years.

    • September 26, 2022 6:50 pm

      So good to hear from you Eileen. Thank you for your Rosh Hashanah greetings … So, let’s try to keep in touch better than we have Rob

  3. Phil Jones permalink
    September 26, 2022 7:26 pm

    It’s encouraging to hear that some people can practice a religion without a us-versus-them mentality. BTW I guess there was a reason we were roommates in 1966 since, like you, I’m a totally committed secularist. Also, like you, I reject in particular the major monotheistic religions, but since I grew up Catholic, it’s Catholicism that annoys me the most……Cheers, Phil

  4. Ibrahim Ashrawi permalink
    September 26, 2022 10:17 pm

    What an encouraging and beautiful event you wrote about. Shanah Tova. Let’s connect soon. —Ibrahim and Dana

    • September 26, 2022 10:19 pm

      Ibrahim, Dana – warmest regards to you both. Dana I still have that poster – Texas Freeze Walk on my wall and think of you when I look at it.

      • Ibrahim Ashrawi permalink
        October 4, 2022 9:55 pm

        We remember seeing it during our brief visit with you in 2006! Too long!

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