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Lex Rofeberg

Posted Feb. 26 - updated Feb. 27
By BERNIE BELLAN
Now in its ninth year in Winnipeg, Limmud – a weekend program of learning organized by a group of volunteers, has found itself enmeshed in controversy over the appearance of a speaker who is associated with a group stridently critical of  Israel’s “occupation”.

Limmud describes itself as a” volunteer run festival and celebration of Jewish thought, culture, learning, teaching and fun! Dedicated to the Jewish experience and exploration in all its variety, Limmud is committed to harnessing the energy of people from right across the Jewish community”.

The speaker who has aroused controversy though is someone by the name of  Lex Rofeberg. In biographical information available on the Limmud website, the 27-year-old Rofeberg is described as “a Jewish educator and activist. He currently serves as the Strategic Initiatives Coordinator of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future and as co-host of its Judaism Unbound podcast. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Judaic Studies from Brown University, and is in his 4th year of study towards rabbinic ordination through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.”
The bio goes on to note, however, that Rofeberg is also “an active member of the organization IfNotNow".

Apparently no one associated with Limmud took note of Rofeberg’s association with that particular group or, if anyone did take note of it, it was not considered sufficiently controversial as to disqualify Rofeberg from appearing at Limmud.
Further,  Rofeberg is also scheduled to be the guest speaker at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Friday, November 1st during “Shabbat Across Winnipeg” when he is slated to give a talk on “Digital Judaism: Weaving the Ancient with the Contemporary”.

However, others who took note of Rofeberg’s association with the group “IfNotNow” were deeply critical, both of Rofeberg’s appearance at Limmud and his being asked to be the guest speaker at the Shaarey Zedek Friday evening.
Apparently the first individual to pay attention to Rofeberg’s association with “IfNotNow” was journalist Marty Gold. According to Gold, he saw an ad for “Shabbat Across Winnipeg” in his “Facebook feed Thursday (Feb. 21) at midnight.” When he saw that Rofeberg was to be the guest speaker March 1st at the Shaarey Zedek, Gold says he  “clicked on it for more details. I read his (Rofeberg’s) bio. It was right there for all to see, ‘an active member of IfNotNow.’”
According to its website, here is what IfNotNow is about: “During the violence of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, young Jews angered by the overwhelmingly hawkish response of American Jewish institutions came together under the banner of IfNotNow to demonstrate their resistance through the beauty of Jewish ritual. Moved to act by moral anguish and inspired by Hillel’s three questions, they organized Mourner’s Kaddish actions in nearly a dozen cities across the country and lamented the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian life. They had three demands: Stop the War on Gaza, End the Occupation, and Freedom and Dignity for All.”

Gold says that “like a journalist trained by Yoram Hamizrachi, I started asking questions, and told Manitoba Post I was doing a column. I uncovered this story.”
Gold did post a column criticizing Rofeberg’s appearance here this weekend which was posted to the online website “Manitoba Post” at https://www.manitobapost.com/winnipeg-events/opinion-jewish-federation-of-winnipeg-unaware-guest-speaker-a-member-of-anti-israel-radical-group-117305

Ron East (who is the son of the late activist Yoram Hamizrachi) took note of what Gold had written about Rofeberg and began posting on Facebook, calling for a boycott both of Shabbat Across Winnipeg and Limmud. (East is also scheduled to present at Limmud, but has said he will not appear if Rofeberg appears.)
As others began to add their voices online (on Facebook) to the growing controversy, the organizers of Limmud found themselves under pressure to respond to calls to disinvite Rofeberg to Limmud. (Similar requests were made of the Shaarey Zedek.)

Today, February 26, the Jewish Federation released a statement:
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

Finally, later today, the organizers of Limmud issued the following statement:
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.


We have asked a spokesperson for Shaarey Zedek Congregation whether there are any plans to cancel Rofeberg’s appearance at Shabbat Across Winnipeg this Friday, but as of Feb. 26 evening have not heard back.
If there are any further developments in this story, we will add to it in the coming days.

Updated Feb. 27

The following email was just received from Congregation Shaarey Zedek  :

Shabbat Across Winnipeg Tri-Synagogue Dinner
A Message from the Event Sponsors

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

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#2 Reader who cares about IsraelMichael Lind 2019-02-28 23:22
I'm sorry to hear that Limmud has not taken a pro-Israel position regarding this issue. IFNotNow is a group which has found it fitting to repeatedly misappropriate Israel's holiest prayer, the Kaddish, for use in cheap street theatre/public protests against Israel, to "mourn" people who tried their best to harm Israel. This is only one example of their unacceptable behavior. It's an anti-Israel group which, in an effort to be as welcoming to Israel's enemies as possible, does not even take a position on whether or not the modern state of Israel should continue to exist (see the "Our Principles" statement on IfNotNow's website regarding the "question of statehood" surrounding Israel). As the organizers of Limmud said in their quote in this article, "some" may view this group as controversial. As someone who cares deeply about Israel, I feel that Limmud should disaffiliate themselves with anyone who is associated with IFNotNow.
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#1 Citizen journalist/podc asterMarty Gold 2019-02-27 04:21
I want to make clear, I did not criticize his planned appearance, I reported on the facts and on the various provocative acts of the organization who called him "one of our leaders" by their own Facebook post Feb 23, 1018. Ron East was quoted in my first column of being against any presence of this person at community founded events, in light of the IfNotNow actions undermining programs like Birthright that the Federation supports; 14 arrested at an occupation of a Federation office in Boston; harassing a speech by a Holocaust survivor's grandson last Shabbas at Chabad House in Austin; and vocal support for BDS. The controversial and aggressive behaviour of INN goes far beyond the Gaza issue and all readers of Jewish media deserve a fuller accounting of what they have done and WHY the showcasing of such an individual was demeaned by IDF veterans, Holocaust survivors and their families, and especially the Federation's own donors.
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