(New York Jewish Week) — A crowd of activists gathered in the bitter cold in Columbus Circle. To the beat of a snare drum, they chanted in Hebrew and English for a ceasefire and the return of Israeli hostages
“Safety is what peace delivers, war never has a winner,” around 100 demonstrators chanted at the rally earlier this month. Some protesters carried signs that read, “Israelis say there is no military solution” and “Not one more drop of blood.”
The protesters, loosely organized as the Anti-Occupation Bloc, are Israeli Jews who came together a year ago to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. After the deadly Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 and weeks of bloody fighting, members pivoted to create a distinctly left-wing Israeli response to the war: a deep distrust of Netanyahu, an empathy for those suffering on both sides, a belief in coexistence and the conviction that the West Bank occupation is detrimental to both Israelis and Palestinians.
“We’re arguing that pro-Palestine and pro-Israel is one and the same. [We] Israelis are not benefiting from living in eternal war,” said Tamar Glezerman, an activist with the group.
“I myself have not benefited from that, I’ve only lost,” said Glezerman, a filmmaker whose aunt was killed on Oct. 7 at Kibbutz Be’eri.
The activists say they do not feel aligned with other protest groups in the city, who on one side they consider unsympathetic to Israelis, and on the other, uncaring toward Palestinians.
They advocate for both Israelis and Palestinians in the conflict, even as they work to process the Oct. 7 attack and its aftermath themselves.
The goal of their events is to show “there’s pain on both sides, that we don’t try to compare,” said activist Tzlil Rubinstein. “This is not a competition of who suffers more.”
The group started a year ago, after efforts by Israel’s right-wing and religious ruling coaliton’s plans to weaken Israel’s judiciary set off sustained, massive protests in Israel. The leftist Israelis joined weekly rallies in Washington Square Park, but did not feel completely aligned with other protesters’ pro-Israel patriotism. The early rallies were led by activists from Israel’s left, but were focused on the judicial overhaul and democratic rights, and not on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“It was just very awkward for us to stand in demonstrations in the center of New York full of Israeli flags, very, very Zionist. It’s just not our politics,” said Maya Herman, a PhD student in sociology at the New School and a co-founder of the Anti-Occupation Bloc.
“It’s not that we’re against the State of Israel, but we don’t associate with that,” she said, arguing that Israel is not a “clear-cut case of liberal democracy” due to the control it asserts over West Bank Palestinians.
Members of the leftist faction decided to organize a protest group of their own. They set up a WhatsApp group called “Israelis in New York – the radical group,” and added 15 acquaintances, Herman said. The group slowly grew as members enlisted friends and met like-minded activists at events, but it remained part of the larger pro-democracy protest movement.
“We never tried to make our own demonstrations. The point was to be part of the mainstream movement and make sure the mainstream thought about the radical left side,” Herman said.
That approach changed ahead of New York City’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade, which in June drew a contingent of prominent Israeli government ministers, including Knesset member Simcha Rothman, a leading force in the judicial overhaul legislation. Rather than march in a parade that included government ministers and right-wing American groups, including pro-settlement organizations, the “radical group” decided to hold their first separate demonstrations, which drew between 100 and 150 participants, Herman said. The activists heckled Rothman and other ministers from the sidelines of the parade with shouts of “Shame” in Hebrew and held a rally near the hotel where Netanyahu was staying for the U.N. General Assembly.
“It was a boost of adrenaline for the group,” said Herman, stressing that the activists still backed the larger pro-democracy protest movement and its organizers. “That moment in June really made the group much bigger and a group that is doing things by itself.”
Around the same time, the activists decided to call themselves the Anti-Occupation Bloc, affiliating with a group of the same name in Israel. As the bloc came together, members became friends outside of demonstrations, sometimes going out for drinks or having picnics around the events.
“It’s people who actually are Israelis in their identity, that they can hate it or love it, but that’s part of who they are,” Herman said. “I think that was something that was really missing — Israelis thinking left politics with other Israelis.”
Members of the group are generally politically active, but vary widely in their political views, age and the length of time they have been in New York. The core principles are non-violence and a focus on equal rights for all Israelis and Palestinians, even if opinions differ about how to achieve those aims, said Rubinstein. The group is informal, loosely organized and does not have a charter or official talking points. Rubinstein said the group’s members support Knesset parties ranging from the Arab-led factions to the center-left Labor.
The New York Anti-Occupation Bloc continued to coalesce ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to New York in September for the General Assembly and a meeting with President Joe Biden. The activists’ WhatsApp group grew to around 190 members during those events, and around 30 protesters turned out for some rallies, the last demonstrations before the Oct. 7 attack.
The enormous horror of the Hamas onslaught rocked the group along with the rest of the Jewish world. Some members of the bloc have friends or family members who were murdered or kidnapped; others became isolated from friends in New York who couldn’t or wouldn’t appreciate their pain. Herman was horrified by the images of destroyed communities in southern Israel that reminded her of the kibbutz in central Israel where she grew up. The activists had believed the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza would lead to a disaster, but never envisioned the tragic dimensions of Oct. 7.
Protest activities halted, but the WhatsApp group buzzed with hundreds of messages a day, and kept drawing new members. Many of the activists were distraught and having a hard time getting through the day. “It’s a collective grief even if you’re not in Israel,” Herman said. The group became an emotional space where the activists could commiserate, start to process their shock and grief, and grapple with fundamental questions.
“We got to these really crazy moments of retrospective thinking,” Herman said. “Does it even matter to be political, to be activists, to do demonstrations? Can we change the reality?”
“It was a really deep existential crisis that is still bubbling beneath,” she said.
The war immediately put an end to the judicial overhaul legislation in Israel, and the protests against the process. The mainstream Israeli protest groups in Israel and the U.S. shifted their focus to supporting victims of the Hamas attacks, displaced Israelis, grieving families and the war effort, as the government floundered in its initial response.
As the shock of the attack wore off and the Anti-Occupation Bloc activists started to get back on their feet, they struggled to find a place among the array of protest groups taking to the streets around New York. Other Israeli protesters in the U.S. dedicated themselves to freeing the more than 200 Israelis held hostage by Hamas. The captives are also a priority for the Anti-Occupation Bloc, but the group wanted to push for a ceasefire. That ostensibly aligned them with far-left Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, but members of the Anti-Occupation Block felt these other leftist groups were unsympathetic to Israelis immediately after Oct. 7.
“We were just invisible to a lot of these groups when it all started on Oct. 7. A lot of these groups didn’t even mention what happened to Israelis,” Rubinstein said.
Herman said many leftist groups “immediately went to their regular spiel of Nakba [“disaster,” the Palestinian term for the founding of Israel] and occupation.”
“We were like, ‘We agree on all of those concepts and all of those historical facts,’ but we also think Oct. 7 was a different moment,” Herman said. “You have to understand what happened there was an insane terrorist attack on civilian society.”
“To attack women, children, and to mutilate and use sexual violence? What happened there is legitimized political resistance? Not according to us,” she said. “It was a conversation that we never had in the past.”
The Israeli activists also conceptualize the conflict differently than the American Jewish left, where contentious divides yawn between Zionist and anti-Zionist positions and other rhetorical fault lines. The framework is alien to most Israelis, who “don’t necessarily think in these concepts,” Rubinstein said.
“At this point, I don’t even know what people mean here when they say ‘Zionism,’” Glezerman said. The terms and rhetorical battles are “much more relevant to identity politics here and it’s not really a discourse that we need to take a part in,” she said. The activists do not use any flags at their protests.
Non-Israeli groups on both sides also seemed disconnected from the actual situation on the ground in Israel and Gaza, and did not include Israeli voices, the activists said.
“When American Jews are calling, ‘Not in our name,’ Israelis stand on the side and say, ‘Who says it’s in your name?’” Herman said. “The State of Israel now is really trying to protect its citizens. It’s probably not doing a good job of it, as always, but that’s the realpolitik.”
As for the pro-Palestinian protests that draw thousands to the streets of New York on a regular basis, the Israeli leftists reject them for condoning violence and atrocities against Israelis. The protest group leading most of the events, Within Our Lifetime, endorsed the Oct. 7 attacks and marches with banners that read, “By any means necessary.” Some anti-Zionist Jewish groups have joined or endorsed the events, such as student groups from the City University of New York. The Anti-Occupation Bloc activists are overwhelmingly opposed to joining the protests, despite their shared support for Palestinians.
“Do you think it’s ok to kill all those people in the name of national liberation?” Herman said. “This is your vision for the future? Do you even have a vision for the future?”
“You have so many things to say, all those words, like Israeli colonialism and settler violence and this and that, but no stakes in the game,” she said.
At the Columbus Circle rally, several hecklers in keffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian garment, shouted “Free Palestine” at the protesters, apparently identifying them as Israeli or pro-Israel supporters of the government. The Israeli demonstrators voiced their assent and responded with chants of “Ceasefire now.” The hecklers then switched to shouting “From the river to the sea” and “F–k Israel.”
The Anti-Occupation Bloc decided to hold another rally in early December at the Brooklyn Museum. The somber event was billed as a vigil for a ceasefire and release of hostages. The organizers said their demands also included humanitarian aid for Gaza, protection for West Bank Palestinians facing retribution from Jewish settlers and support for Arab citizens of Israel and activists on the ground. Glezerman said the different groups on all sides had omitted “parts of the narrative,” and that the Anti-Occupation Bloc was a “third alternative.”
The activists also said they have an opportunity to amplify the message in New York, where their leftist views are more widely accepted than in Israel, which has shifted toward the right in recent years and even more so since Oct. 7. Last month, Israeli police blocked a ceasefire rally in Tel Aviv, but later allowed the event after court intervention. Police in Israel have also detained social media commentators for backing the Palestinians, saying their posts could incite terrorism.
The leftists’ views, especially in calling for a ceasefire, remain unpopular both in Israel and among U.S. Jews. A poll released earlier this month found that 72% of American Jews approved of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks. Support for leftist parties in the Knesset has cratered in recent years, and has remained low since the war, according to recent polls. The dovish Meretz party did not win enough votes to secure Knesset representation in the last election. The bloc is also a small part of the tens of thousands of Israelis in New York, with around 270 members in its WhatsApp group today.
Avital Shimshowitz, 54, an activist with the mainstream Israeli protest movement in New York, said she knows the Anti-Occupation Bloc protesters, and is “with the bloc in my heart.” But while she is also against the occupation, Shimshowitz has refrained from joining the group’s events because she believes they place too much blame on Israel for the current hostilities. She noted that the Anti-Occupation Bloc’s invitations for their events call for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and Netanyahu’s resignation, but don’t make demands on the Palestinian side.
“There’s no mention of Hamas, there’s no mention of any terror group, and for me, the terror group took our hostages and is also holding Palestinians hostage in Gaza,” said Shimshowitz, who protested against Netanyahu as part of the pro-democracy group UnXeptable and the Anti-Occupation Bloc before Oct. 7, and is also active in the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. “It points at Israel as the only player that can end this.”
Shimshowitz joined the Anti-Occupation Bloc for a protest in August after a settler killed a Palestinian and during the Celebrate Israel Parade, “but right now I don’t think that their message aligns with what needs to be done,” she said.
Beyond the immediate war, the Anti-Occupation Bloc activists are looking past a potential ceasefire toward a long-term solution to the conflict, even if the way forward is not yet clear. The repeated rounds of violence in recent decades were evidence, they said, that Israel’s approach was not working and new leadership was needed.
“We can’t continue doing this over and over again and expect something to change,” said Rubinstein, adding that most of the activists saw their future back in Israel. “We have to go back to the negotiating table to push for a solution, to be creative.”
The activists said that all sides need to accept that both Israelis and Palestinians are remaining on the land and will need to coexist. They also hope to enlist more American Jews in their movement, Herman said.
“I believe in a better future and it has to come with us demanding it,” she said.
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More than 1,300 attend a free Shabbat dinner at Ayat, a Palestinian restaurant in Brooklyn
(New York Jewish Week) — More than 1,300 people made their way to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, last Friday night to take part in a free Shabbat dinner at Ayat, a local Palestinian restaurant owned by restaurateur Abdul Elenani and his wife, Ayat Masoud, for whom the restaurant is named.
The dinner was called for 9 p.m., but guests began gathering a couple of hours earlier, milling about outside the restaurant, chatting and waiting to be let inside. Meanwhile, more than 150 people of all ages — several wearing kippot, others with keffiyehs wrapped around their necks like scarves — participated in a Shabbat service that preceded the meal.
Intended as an antidote to turmoil across New York City — including in its Jewish and Palestinian restaurants — since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent war in Gaza, the dinner attracted New Yorkers who remain hopeful that coexistence is possible. Many, but far from all, were affiliated with left-wing and anti-Zionist Jewish groups that have held regular protests calling for a ceasefire since immediately after Oct. 7.
Among the attendees was New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who learned of the dinner via two Jewish groups he is known to be active in: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Kolot Chayeinu, a progressive congregation in Park Slope. He describes himself as supporting a peaceful two-state solution and ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“This is about a Palestinian making a generous Shabbat dinner without regard for their politics,” Lander told the New York Jewish Week. “Nobody is being asked at the door what their position on the conflict is. Everyone is welcome.”
A steady stream of guests arrived at the restaurant at 1616 Cortelyou Rd. throughout the night. Elenani opened the doors at 9 p.m. and, by 10:30, there was still a line down the block to get in.
The Kabbalat Shabbat service, held in the street outside the restaurant in a tent that Elenani rented for the night, was led by Laura Elkeslassy, a Brooklyn-based singer, actor and educator born in France with roots in Morocco and Israel, along with two members of the Egalitarian Sephardi/Mizrahi Kehilla of Brooklyn, a prayer community of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East.
Jessica Roda, an academic who taught a course at Georgetown University that explored the modern history of Jewish-Muslim relations, was one of those who showed up early. She came to Ayat in hope that there “might be healing here,” she told the New York Jewish Week.
“A lot of people are here — different types of people,” Roda said. “Hopefully more of this is what we need. Being together.”
Bringing people together was a key part of Elenani’s plan. The invitation to come to the Shabbat dinner was shared via Ayat’s Instagram and on the Ditmas Park Facebook page, which has nearly 9,000 members. It read, in part: “We invite all our incredible neighbors, especially our Jewish neighbors, to a heartfelt Shabbat dinner at Ayat Restaurant. It’s not just about breaking bread; it’s about breaking barriers, fostering dialogue and connecting on a human level.”
Elenani, who was born in the United States to Egyptian parents, was insistent that the Shabbat dinner be free of charge. “Hospitality is what I was raised up to do,” he said. “If you are going to invite people to your table and your place, if you are actually doing an invite for people to come in for a dinner between Jews and Muslims during this time specifically, charging is the wrong thing to do.”
Elenani has six Ayat restaurants — with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and Allentown, Pennsylvania — but he chose to host the Shabbat dinner at the Ditmas Park location because of negative publicity it received at the end of December from the British newspaper The Daily Mail. The reporter took umbrage with Ayat’s menu in which the fish section was called, “From the River to the Sea,” a phrase frequently used by pro-Palestinian activists that Jewish watchdogs view as a call for Israel’s destruction.
Elenani was outraged by the accusation. “All my life I have always wanted to make peace between Jews and Muslims,” he said.
Elenani, who opened his first Ayat restaurant in Bay Ridge in 2020, told the New York Jewish Week that he has long dreamed of opening a warehouse with a kosher kitchen alongside a halal kitchen. It would have, he said, “a large communal table in the middle where people of both faiths come and grab their food and sit together, break bread together and talk about life.”
On Friday night, lots of bread was broken. In addition to saj, a Middle Eastern flatbread, there were seeded water challahs purchased from Gombo’s Heimishe Bakery, a kosher bakery in Crown Heights. A huge challah filled half the length of a table in the center of the restaurant. People sat on either side of it, pulling from the bread while eating their meals and talking.
The idea to hold the event was Elenani’s, but his wife, the restaurant’s namesake, was fully supportive.
“We have always shared the idea that we have nothing against the Jews,” Masoud said. “We always find peace. I am an attorney. I have so many Jewish friends in the legal field. In law school, I used to put together a lot of interfaith events with the Israeli members of school. When Abdul decided to do this — to me, there is nothing more important.”
After reading about the event on Instagram, local members of Jewish Voice for Peace, which describes itself “the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world,” reached out to Elenani and offered their assistance in planning the event. “We were consulting,” said Emily Lever, who identified herself as a JVP spokesperson.
Elenani said that JVP members handled the ritual part, advising him on challah, candles and wine, which is not normally sold at the restaurant during regular business hours though patrons are invited to BYOB.
Several in attendance Friday night expressed surprise at the size of the crowd, in which guests filled both the upstairs and downstairs dining areas, as well as inside the tent where the service had been held. Surveying the packed room, klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd was overheard saying, “This is a major Jewish event!” before heading outside to play an impromptu concert on the street.
As for the meal — which Elenani said he paid for out of his own pocket — Elenani used the meat from 15 lambs, 700 pounds of chicken and 100 branzino fish to prepare enough food for 1,000 people. Ayat Masoud’s sister, Asma Masoud, is the chef at the restaurant and she and her staff cooked and served mansaf, a popular Palestinian dish made of chunks of lamb cooked in fermented yogurt; roasted chicken seasoned with a spice rub of allspice, sumac, curry, paprika, garlic, nutmeg, and cinnamon. There was hummus, babaganoush and a chopped salad.
The recipes, said Ayat Masoud, who was born in the United States but whose parents are from Jerusalem, “are not my recipes.They are my mother’s, and her mother before her. They have been passed down for generations.”
For guests who don’t eat non-kosher meat, Elenani brought in Lev, a pop-up catering outfit run by two Israeli expats — Loren Abramovich, hailing from a moshav in the Galilee, and Daniel Soskolne from Jerusalem — who specialize in “the rich mix of culinary traditions Jewish immigrants brought from around the world together with the Palestinian traditions.” They prepared a “kosher-style” chraime, a spicy Moroccan fish stew that was topped with tahini and cilantro and served with fresh chunks of water challah. For attendees who wanted kosher-supervised food, there were sandwiches from a local glatt-kosher caterer — though there appeared to be little demand for them.
Lisa Maya Knauer, a 67-year old anthropologist who lives in Prospect Park South and describes herself as “an anti-Zionist Jew,” came to try the food, to meet people and to support a small, local business.
“As someone who is anti-occupation, and against the war, I wanted to support a restaurant that is owned by a Palestinian person who is very committed to creating goodwill and to creating relationships with neighbors,” she said.
Misha Shulman, the rabbi of the New Shul in Greenwich Village, who was born and raised in Israel, learned about the event from a WhatsApp group for members of left-wing Israelis in New York.
“Even for an anti-occupation Israeli, to be invited by a Palestinian, is rare these days,” said Shulman. “For most Palestinians right now, the situation is so painful and dire that they find it hard to be in community with anybody who supports the existence of the State of Israel.”
“I love this event,” said New York-based musician Noa Fort, who was born in Israel and is a part of the anti-occupation bloc, which had gathered at the restaurant the previous Monday. “It feels like a huge reunion because I know so many people here from so many walks of life and it is lovely to see people who I didn’t know were interested in those bridges and they’re showing up to a dinner like this. I knew they were Jewish or Israeli but [it’s nice] to see them here for similar reasons that I’m here: building bridges and connections between communities.”
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Rabbi Art Green, prominent scholar of Hasidic Judaism, is barred from Hebrew College following sexual misconduct allegation
(JTA) — The founding dean of Hebrew College’s rabbinical school has been barred from its campus over the fallout from allegations of sexual misconduct brought by a faculty member who was previously his student.
Rabbi Arthur Green, a prominent scholar of Jewish mysticism, retired in May 2022 after two decades at the non-denominational Boston-area seminary. In separate email announcements on the same day, both Green and the college said a private matter concerning another member of the college’s community contributed to the timing.
Last week, however, Hebrew College’s leadership informed the community that the matter cited in 2022 involved “a report by a community member of an unwanted and distressing sexual advance” by Green, and that Green is no longer allowed to set foot on campus at all.
In an email to Green informing him of the ban last week, Hebrew College’s leadership mentioned “conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel” that it called “concerningly similar” to the previous report of sexual misconduct. It also accuses Green of breaking a confidentiality agreement he made with the college.
In an interview with JTA, Green said he inappropriately kissed the faculty member but rejected the school’s claims that a second inappropriate incident had occurred or that he had violated his agreement with the school. Green also said that following the initial incident, he carried out several steps required by the school, but stopped short of taking part in a public “ceremony” that he said had been requested.
The ban, which was announced last week in an email to the Hebrew College community hours after Green was informed about it, marks an ignominious coda to a storied career for a rabbi who is widely considered a leader in neo-Hasidism or Renewal Judaism. The author of more than a dozen books, Green served as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College before founding Hebrew College’s pioneering rabbinical seminary near Boston in 2003. As a teacher and administrator there, Green oversaw the seminary as it grew and contributed to a widespread disruption of the denominational rabbinical school model.
“Rabbi Art Green is no longer employed at Hebrew College nor welcome in the Hebrew College community because he engaged in sexual misconduct that caused significant emotional harm to a member of our community and was a serious violation of our institutional policies and our communal values,” the college’s president, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
She added, “Rabbi Green’s conduct and communication since the reported incident have not reflected a genuine understanding of the harm he has caused, nor has he undertaken a good faith process of teshuva,” Hebrew for repentance.
Green insists that he has not crossed a line since striking a retirement agreement with Hebrew College. Anisfeld did not describe the incident in Israel, or when it occurred. A source affiliated with Hebrew College said the college did not take steps to verify the incident.
Green does acknowledge acting inappropriately with a male faculty member who was previously his student, and expressed regret about it.
“I did something wrong,” he told JTA. “So I’m aware of that. I take responsibility for that.”
He also said he believed the incidents did not merit his ouster and questioned whether the allegations were used as a pretense to eject him from the school he shaped.
Green detailed the allegations against him and the events leading to his being barred from campus in a draft email he shared with JTA on Friday and said he intended to send to his contacts. He sent an abbreviated version of the same email on Sunday afternoon.
In the email he sent, he wrote, “I am, and have always been, a bisexual man” and had “made the difficult decision to keep this private while still a rabbinical student nearly sixty years ago” in order to build a career in the Jewish world.
In the draft email, he had written that he had been looking for companionship after the 2017 death of his wife of 49 years.
“My admittedly inappropriate loss of control was an expression of affection by a lonely old guy, not an assertion of power to demand or force sex,” Green wrote in the draft.
He also said that he believed he had been wronged by Hebrew College’s handling of the incident.
“I consider myself a victim of the extreme ‘Me-tooism’ that has come to plague our society,” he wrote in the draft, referring to the movement to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual misconduct. He added that the faculty member “reported to Sharon he had ‘felt some sexual tension’ between us on prior occasions. I would just call it closeness.”
In the sent email, he acknowledged “another unwanted kiss by me” more than 30 years ago with a different person who he said was not a student.
“I take full responsibility for these encounters, my misjudgment of the situations, and the unintentional harm I caused to people for whom I cared,” he wrote. “I have communicated with them and sought to repair the harm. I am committed to ongoing awareness about this matter and exercising extreme caution in the future.”
Through representatives, the junior faculty member declined to speak about his experience. (JTA has spoken to two people with whom he shared his account.) He has retained attorneys, including Debra S. Katz, who is known for representing alleged victims of sexual assault such as Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
The attorneys said in a statement that the faculty member had “participated in a restorative justice process with Rabbi Art Green. As part of that process, our client and Rabbi Green agreed they would alert the other party before making any public statements. We are disappointed that Rabbi Green has failed to adhere to that commitment, forcing our client to hear through the grapevine of the narrative Rabbi Green is advancing.”
The first public sign of allegations against Green came in May 2022, when he and Anisfeld sent separate messages to the Hebrew College community announcing his retirement.
In Green’s email, sent first, he mentioned “a private matter concerning an incident that occurred some time ago, which involved an act on my part that deeply impacted a colleague in our community.” He added, “I feel badly about that situation, and that too has contributed to my decision to retire this year.”
Anisfeld’s email, arriving a little less than an hour afterwards, also referenced “a private personnel matter that deeply impacted another valued member of our Hebrew College community” as part of a “combination of factors” influencing the timing of Green’s retirement. But the email also lauded Green and his contributions to Hebrew College. “I know we will continue to be blessed by Art’s lasting influence as a teacher, mentor, scholar, and friend,” she wrote.
Neither email provided any details about the “personnel matter”; both emails said Green and another party were involved in a “restorative process” with the community member and had requested privacy.
The emails were referring to the faculty member who had previously been Green’s student. Green wrote in his email draft that he and the faculty member were “quite close” from the faculty member’s student days. He said he chose the student to be a research assistant on a large project and characterized his relationship with the then-student as a “growing friendship.”
In the fall of 2019, after the student had been ordained as a rabbi and joined Hebrew College’s faculty, Green allegedly made the first unwanted sexual advance, according to the two people with whom the faculty member shared his account. Green and the faculty member were among a group that had traveled to Uman, a city in Ukraine that is the burial place of the turn-of-the-19th century Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and is a major pilgrimage site for his followers. Green’s “Tormented Master,” published in 1979, is considered a definitive biography of Rabbi Nachman.
According to the friends with whom he shared his account, the faculty member — once the group had arrived at their hotel — found himself in a room alone with Green, who proceeded to make an unwanted sexual advance on him. One of the friends, a former classmate, told JTA, “They were there, and Art made a sexual advance toward my friend physically.”
The classmate added, “My friend stopped him and then has spent the next many years of his life trying to put it back together again.”
Green denies that he crossed any boundaries in Uman and said any accusation that he committed sexual misconduct on that trip is “absolute nonsense.” He said people in the group were pairing off to share hotel rooms, and that he had offered to split a room with the faculty member. Once it became clear that there was no need for the two to share a room, he claimed, they slept in separate places. He did not reference the Uman incident in either version of his Sunday email.
“Since this person … is an out gay man, I thought other people might be uncomfortable sharing a room with him,” Green told JTA. “So I said that I would. It then turned out there was an extra room and we did not share a room. That’s the end of the story. Nothing happened.”
The second incident occurred that December and, according to Green’s email draft, is the allegation that prompted Hebrew College to initiate disciplinary action against him.
Green acknowledged, in his email draft and to JTA, that he kissed the faculty member “in a way I shouldn’t have” while the two were in Green’s Boston-area home.
Green attributed his behavior to having smoked marijuana with the faculty member. He said the faculty member had given him the drug, which felt particularly strong.
He wrote in his email, “What began as an expression of genuine affection was completely inappropriate and out-of-bounds to our relationship. I accept responsibility for my behavior and regret it deeply.”
But he added in the draft that had the faculty member felt any discomfort, Green expected him to resolve the situation privately. “I figured that if he was upset, he would let me know, but he didn’t,” Green wrote in the email draft.
Subsequently, Hebrew College administrators informed Green that he had been accused of misconduct.
According to Green, the college and the faculty member’s attorneys, the college attempted to resolve the issue through a private mediation and reconciliation process between Green and the faculty member. In the email she sent to the Hebrew College community this month, Anisfeld described the allegation as an “unwanted and distressing sexual advance, which was viewed as a breach of personal and professional boundaries.”
After learning of the alleged misconduct, Green said Anisfeld imposed several penalties, including suspending him from faculty meetings, asking him to engage in a guided conversation with the faculty member, and requiring that he sign a statement saying he would not be alone in a room with a student with the door closed. Green said he acceded to all of the penalties.
Then, at the end of 2021, Green says Anisfeld called him into her office and informed him that he was to retire in the coming year.
“I was, of course, close to retirement anyway, but I did not like this feeling of being pushed out of a program that I had created,” Green wrote in the draft. “Eventually, however, I agreed, frankly because dealing with this matter had become so painful and distressing.”
To JTA, Green said he had questions about the motivations behind his ouster. He said he had been distressed when a demand that he not attend faculty meetings in December 2021 was extended to the winter term in January 2022, when the Hebrew College community convened for a series of conversations about whether to change a policy that barred students with non-Jewish partners from attending the rabbinical school.
“I said to myself, ‘How far does this ‘He’s uncomfortable with my presence’ go?’” Green told JTA. “But then I thought, well, Sharon and I have different views on this intermarriage issue. She was very much for the change in policy, and she knew I was quite strongly against it. So, she might have found this was a convenient way to exclude me from that conversation.”
He added, “I can’t prove that. But she told me no, I could not participate in that Zoom conversation because [the faculty member] would be unhappy with my presence. And I think that was bullshit, shall we say.”
Anisfeld flatly rejected the allegation. “The intermarriage policy process is completely irrelevant and unrelated to this matter,” she told JTA by email. The school removed the ban on interfaith relationships in January 2023.
Green said Anisfeld and Hebrew College officials had escalated penalties against him over time. He said he had been barred from the two most recent Hebrew College graduations and had been kicked off a school listserv.
He also said Anisfeld had asked him to participate in a “public ceremony of confession,” but he declined.
“My generation doesn’t play that game and doesn’t do that kind of thing,” he told JTA. “I just found it distasteful.”
In recent years, a reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations has changed the norms and expectations for how institutions should respond to them, with a broad move toward greater transparency and increased understanding that misconduct can harm people beyond the direct victims. In a 2018 eJewishPhilanthropy essay, two advocates for “restorative justice” — a process for institutions to address sexual harassment allegations — described a “conference or circle with survivors, offenders, and their support people” as one possible avenue.
“Ideally, the person who has been harmed asks for restorative justice but, at times, offenders or people from the community inquire about convening a process,” Alissa Ackerman and Guila Benchimol wrote in the essay. “Inclusivity and collaboration are central because restorative justice recognizes that people belong to communities and that the harm they have caused or endured impacts wide networks.”
Anisfeld did not respond to a question about a public ceremony. In their email announcing Green’s campus ban, Anisfeld and the current and former chairs of Hebrew College’s Board of Trustees blamed his unwillingness to complete all that was asked of him.
“As an institution committed to the value — and the possibility — of teshuva, we have repeatedly asked Rabbi Green to engage in a communal process regarding this matter,” they wrote. “Rabbi Green has declined, and he therefore has been prohibited from visiting campus, or attending Hebrew College programs and communal activities.”
Last week’s email from the college leadership raised questions among some of those who received it. “One of the things that was curious to me is: Why do we need to know this?” said Shaul Magid, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth College who counts Green as a friend and teacher and also said he holds Anisfeld in high regard. “All the letter can do is really tarnish Art’s reputation at this point. He’s already retired.”
Green said in his email that relations between him and Hebrew College had become strained in the years since the initial allegation against him. “Although I agreed to all conditions as stipulated by Hebrew College I was surprised to find additional demands and restrictions that felt, and continue to feel, vindictive and unnecessary,” he wrote in the Sunday email.
In the email, he also said Anisfeld sent the letter announcing his ban following “an alleged additional incident that occurred recently in Israel, thus supposedly justifying publicity on Hebrew College’s part.”
In the letter from the Hebrew College leadership to Green last week, they wrote, “The College has also become aware of a report of conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel that, as described to us, is concerningly similar to your admitted conduct during the Incident.”
Anisfeld did not offer details about that incident. Green and the two other men involved in what Green believes is the incident say it took place on Purim last year and involved an encounter at Green’s home following a party celebrating the holiday. Green said he was “very drunk” when he and another man began “touching each other, holding each other, not sexually, not genitally.” Both he and that man told JTA that their encounter was consensual.
A third man in the room, who was then an acolyte of Green’s, became alarmed. Through a representative, he told JTA that he felt violated when Green “revealed his physical desire for me and my friend’s bodies.” Previously, he had seen earlier requests for him to stay at Green’s home “as service to a holy rabbi, a kabbalist and theologian.” He said he soon left but experienced the night as “a soul-shattering crisis” because of the nature of his relationship to Green.
“I served him as one would serve Rabbi Nachman or the Baal Shem Tov,” two 18th-century Hasidic sages, the man said. He added, “Not once did warning bells ring in my head.”
Green has written about rabbis who have been accused of abuse. In 2004, when Marc Gafni, a prominent rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement, was accused of a wide range of sexual offenses, including having sex with underage girls, Green vociferously defended him in a letter to the editor of the New York Jewish Week.
Praising Gafni as “a creative teacher of Torah,” he said that Gafni’s misdeeds were long in the past and that Gafni had been “been relentlessly persecuted for those deeds by a small band of fanatically committed rodfim,” a term that in traditional Jewish texts refers to a would-be murderer who himself must be murdered.
Two years later, multiple women in Israel said Gafni had lured them into sexual relationships using his power as a spiritual leader. Green, like other U.S. rabbis who had initially stood by Gafni, dropped his defense.
“The stories were from long ago, and he had rejected and outgrown that side of himself,” Green told the Forward at the time. “These are now new cases and new investigations.”
Green had also warned about the dangers inherent in relationships between spiritual teachers and students. In a 2010 book outlining neo-Hasidic theology by reinterpreting traditional Jewish edicts, including the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery, Green wrote that spiritual teachers “always need to be aware of human weakness, their own before that of all others.”
The book included a reminder for teachers: “Sexual energies are always there when we flesh-and-blood humans interact with one another, anywhere this side of Eden,” he wrote. “Check yourself always. Be aware; know your boundaries. Precisely because good teaching is an act of love, the teacher is always in danger.”
He concluded, “Make sure that all your giving is for the sake of those who seek to receive it, not just fulfilling your own unspoken needs, sexual and other.”
Israel Can Limit the ICJ’s Potential Damage
JNS.org – Israelis on Friday displayed what is called Jewish joy—they celebrated that the pogromniks only broke the windows, but did not kill anyone. The good news was the International Court of Justice did not effectively order us to wait to be tortured and murdered, by demanding a halt to the Gaza War. That is certainly good—but only in the twisted world where the ICJ is putting Israel, not Hamas, on trial for the absolutely absurd charge of genocide.
Otherwise, the decision was horrible. The court accepted South Africa’s argument that it has jurisdiction and that Israel could possibly be proven to be committing genocide. The case is not over and will go on for years. In the meantime, the court has made clear that it considers itself to have authority to review and superintend every aspect of Israel’s war for survival—and demands monthly reports. No other country receives such treatment, and it is designed to make the military constantly look over its soldiers’ shoulders.
The ICJ is not an independent body—it is an organ of the United Nations. Its justices serve a renewable nine-year term, further undermining their independence. The judges are elected by the General Assembly and Security Council, and their positions largely track the foreign policy of their home countries. Thus while we might get lucky sometimes, over the long run, the policy of the court will reflect the policy of the United Nations.
The General Assembly’s obsessive condemnation of the Jewish state is well known—Israel would never agree to have its fate determined by them. But agreeing to the jurisdiction of the court indirectly does the same thing. In Israel it is thought unacceptable to have judges appointed by democratically elected politicians decide the meaning of ordinary laws. Yet we have agreed to have judges elected by dictatorial regimes decide the basic question of whether we can exist—whether we can defend ourselves.
It does not have to be this way: The ICJ does not automatically have jurisdiction over countries—they must specifically agree, typically by agreeing that The Hague can decide a specific dispute or questions under a specific treaty. In this case, Israel signed the Genocide Convention, which provides that “disputes between the…parties” about the treaty can be decided by the ICJ. But that does not mean cases like this, where a totally unrelated state has brought a purely political complaint in a matter it has no relation to. The court should not have accepted jurisdiction, and by doing so it effectively claimed for itself power to supervise the conduct of wars around the world, so long as some country claims genocide is involved.
Israel did not have to agree to the ICJ jurisdiction to be a member of the Genocide Convention, and in retrospect, doing so was a major mistake. Countries are allowed to opt out of ICJ jurisdiction in various treaties, and very commonly do so. Indeed, 16 countries have opted out of the Genocide Convention minus the ICJ jurisdiction—including the world’s largest democracies, the United States and India. Even the world’s biggest superpowers did not trust the ICJ to hear cases involving the use of force in an apolitical way.
The United States also did not agree to the provision of the Genocide Convention that deals with speech, knowing the court can twist legitimate speech into supposed “incitement.” Indeed, those who think the statements of some Knesset members are what got Israel into trouble should consider the comments of President Obama, who spoke of “eradicating a cancer” in the campaign against Islamic State, or Biden, who once said, “We should never take anything off the table when we are in war.”
But Israel did not opt out, leaving itself exposed. The Genocide Convention was a response to the Holocaust, and it seemed appropriate that the Jewish state would be fully on board. Also, Israeli officials did not expect such a gross abuse of the court’s authority. But they should have. And the Genocide Convention which Israel so respected was turned into a farce, a platform to accuse the Jews of genocide even as they defend themselves from a systematic attempt to wipe them out.
The hearings in The Hague were a judicial Oct. 7—a completely unjustified surprise attack that shows us we must fundamentally rethink our defensive posture. In this case, the extraordinary work of the State’s lawyers, and good fortune, prevented disaster.
But we must see that mere sentimentalism, or some lingering faith in international institutions, cannot be allowed to leave us open to such attack again. Even a slight change in the composition of the court or the geopolitical climate would bring a disastrous result—and hostile states like South Africa can roll the dice as many times as they want, with no consequence if they lose and a huge payoff if they win.
Thus Israel must immediately end its acceptance of the ICJ’s jurisdiction concerning the Genocide Convention. This will not end the current proceedings, but it will prevent further such attempts in this or other conflicts. Moreover, Israel must review all of its treaties for provisions granting ICJ jurisdiction and opt out of those. The United States did just that when Iran used a long-forgotten treaty to bring America to The Hague a few years ago.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.