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In honor of Yom Kippur, I present one of my all-time worst pictures, taken at one of the most sacred Jewish sites in the Western Hemisphere – the bima (pulpit) from the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, the 2nd oldest Jewish community in the Western Hemisphere, after Willemstad, Curaçao. I was there for my brother’s wedding in 2015. Visiting there was no less emotional than visiting the remaining wall of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem (Wailing Wall.)

Shana Tova, Chag Samayach and Happy New Year. You can say it however you want. Another circle around the sun, or in our case another cycle through the moons. Demosthenes, a Greek said, “All Greeks are liars.” Prosterman, a Jew said, “Many Jews are big phonies.”* He’s careful not to overly generalize and self-incriminate as Demosthenes did, and very rarely refers to himself in the third person.

As a rabbinical school reject, I claim the standing to offer a special brand of Yom Kippur teaching; the 1st is this: If you’re going to apologize, don’t cop out with the scripted, “I’m sorry for any ways I may have hurt you.” The formula for a valid apology is this: 

  • I'm sorry it happened, 
  • I recognize I hurt you. 
  • You have a right to feel as you do, 
  • I won't do it again, 
  • What can I do to make it right? 

As for forgiveness, our other major theme, its works best if you can make it unconditional, but that often requires processing through the 5 steps of apology.

The 2nd teaching has to do with the consequences of some of the most destructively phony Jews in our history – the Gush Emunin (Bloc of the Faithful). They are notorious as the most violent, brutally exclusionary, bigoted sect among us. They are the most fiercely nationalistic about “purging” Palestine and the occupied territories of…Palestinians. But it wasn’t always so.

Sadly, the most visible manifestations of all three Semitic religions are all violent, misogynistic and oppressive. ALL religions are paternalistic, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (I’m an equal opportunity iconoclast.) Specifically, the brutal imperialism and illegal occupation of Palestine in the name of Israel (but not Judaism), the alarming and violent efforts Christian Nationalists to end democracy in the U.S., and the perversion of Islam into a creed of violent, primitive “no-nothings,” who twist the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad into a message of violent exclusion he did not intend. All three religions have their ayatollahs, who make women wear silly costumes from head-to-toe, and violently prosecute a very narrow interpretation of Biblical or Koranic myth, to suit their power-mongering agendas.

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Gush Emunim in Israel was perverted into a violent movement by an early follower, and then by American born Rabbi Meir Kahane. I actually had a brief walking interview with him after he spoke at the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor in 1979, when I was a columnist for The Michigan Daily. Because I just looked and acted like a normal Jew (imagine that?) he was forthcoming with me. Then I trashed him in The Michigan Daily. My column about him in the Daily elicited some hateful right-wing letters to the editor, attacking me.

Gush Emunim was founded by Rev. Abraham Isaac Kook, a classic “religious Zionist,” who opposed “secular-political Zionism,” and the formation of a political State of Israel. Religious Zionists preferred to allow the new Jewish society to grow organically, amidst the Palestinians, Arabs, Druze and Orthodox Christians already there. Jews and Palestinians got along pretty well in Palestine until the organized, massive influx began in the early 20th Century.

Rebbe Kook’s son, Zvi took the flock in the other direction, and before Kahane utterly perverted it. So what began as an organic, agrarian-spiritual movement morphed into a monstrous, hateful and destructive force, which has subsumed much of the original religious Zionist ideal, and Judaism itself. For many, it represents the most anti-Jewish and counterproductive dynamic in Jewish history. They misuse perverted interpretations of scroll and scripture to justify brutal crimes against humanity, to promote a nationalistic agenda, void of any spiritual connection.

My all-time Phony Jewish Leader award is still held by Rabbi Harry K. Danziger, the emeritus rabbi of my family congregation, Temple Israel in Memphis. He not only defamed me to his Board and staff, but threatened to have me placed on the FBI No Fly List in 2003. I had sent a letter asking for an apology, re-sent it three times and made numerous follow up phone calls and voicemails no one responded to. Why? Because I asked for a public apology for having been booed off the bima (pulpit) in the Temple Chapel in 1993, the night I gave a talk arguing AGAINST the firstt Iraq War! No war anywhere is “good for Israel,” contrary to right-wing myth.

So the world is full of phony Jews and destructive Jewish spiritual leaders, who brand anyone who criticizes Israel as a “self-hating Jew.” But we’re not all like that. Some Jews adhere to the teachings and ideals we learned in Bar/Bat Mitzvah training, Temple Sunday school or Hebrew school. We STILL support the Civil Rights Movement and BLM after all these decades, and do our best to drive Republican Jews into the ignoble irrelevancy they deserve

We have great leaders like Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-TN) one of the most progressive members of the House, more thoughtful, progressive rabbis (male and female) than ever, and a rich history of progressive activism and dark humor going back 3,000 years. That includes including turning the “self-hating” slur back onto the real self-haters who propagated it.

So…Shana Tova, Chag Samayach and Happy New Year. You can say it however you want. I won’t correct your pronunciation.