A Message from the CBI Clergy

A Message from the CBI Clergy

An Assault on Religious Freedom: On the Ruling in Kennedy v Bremerton School District
June 28, 2022

Yesterday, the Supreme Court continued its assault on the constitution – this time on the bedrock issue of separation of Church and State. In the case of Kennedy v Bremerton School District, the Conservative majority court ruled 6-3 against the school district. Bremerton was trying to protect public high school students from a football coach who violated their religious freedom by pressuring them to join his public prayer on the 50-yard line immediately after games.

This decision represents a seismic shift in the law safeguarding religious freedom. It eviscerated decades of legal precedent that protected students’ religious freedom, shielding them from religious coercion. It severely blurs the First Amendment protections which for over two centuries have benefited our houses of worship, government, and individuals.

As Jews, we understand the importance of this constitutional right. No student should ever be made to feel excluded – whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field – because they don’t share the religious beliefs of their coaches or teachers. Public schools should be open, welcoming, inclusive environments for all students, regardless of faith or belief.

As a religious minority, we know all too well the importance of this fundamental right to religious freedom. The United States of America was the first nation to build a society on the foundation of separation between church and state. During a visit to Newport, R.I., in 1790, a year before the Bill of Rights was ratified; President George Washington received a letter from Moses Seixas, warden of the Touro Synagogue, seeking assurance of religious freedom for Jews. President Washington gave an unequivocal guarantee, returning a letter stating that the new government would “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

And, yet, we find ourselves here: this is a pivotal moment for our country. It is no coincidence that the erosion of the line between church and state has come alongside devastating losses on so many of the rights we hold dear; many of them in just the past few days. As that line has blurred, public education, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and more have come under attack.

These decisions cannot deter us. We must work together to hold back this tide of religious extremism from encroaching further on our public schools and our fundamental rights. Separation of church and state is a shield that protects the rights of everyone and frees us to come together as equals. We will work together to build a stronger, vibrant, and diverse democracy.

Congregation Beth Israel joins with major Jewish organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Action Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation in strongly condemning the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning the 50 year precedent of Roe v Wade.

Today we are outraged. We are not surprised – the direction of this partisan court has known – but we are no less angry. The current Supreme Court has repeatedly disregarded the separation of church and state and our ability, as Jews, to exercise our religious rights and freedoms. By relegating our most fundamental rights to the whims of state and local politics, the court has put lives at risk.

While nothing will change in Oregon – abortion is still safe and legal in our state – we will not be silent.

Reproductive freedom is not a new issue for Judaism. We have not a half-century, but many centuries of legal precedent in our Jewish history, affirming that the life of a mother takes precedent over the life of an unborn fetus. The brutal and abrupt removal of the freedom to make personal health care choices in the United States will put many people at risk. History shows that abortion bans do not stop abortions, they only stop safe abortions. People of color, low income and other marginalized people will be disproportionally affected.

Significantly, this ruling is an affront to religious liberty in our nation – something which should be protected by a reasonable Supreme Court. While we recognize that there are those whose religious beliefs condemns abortion, those beliefs are not universally held and should not be forced on those, such as the Jewish community, whose religious teaching differs.

Since the court has now abandoned universal protection of individuals to make their own private health care choices, it is up to the voters to ensure that politicians are held accountable for protecting our rights. The Reform Movement has launched the “Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign” to “protect, expand, and strengthen Democracy.” Congregation Beth Israel and our Social Action Committee will be a leader in our state and an example to our country on this effort.

We also support the work of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette in their efforts to care for the health and safety of those seeking reproductive health care in our state – including those who come from repressive states seeking care. Please donate to them and volunteer.

Kol aravim zeh b’zeh – we are all responsible for each other. Today, we are devastated. Tomorrow, we get back to work.

Now, We Act
May 16, 2022

Reading the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion that is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade made my blood boil. I’m angry. As a rabbi, the idea that to be religious one must be anti-abortion is incorrect on every level and reflects a high level of ignorance for both religious diversity and human complexity. This is a religious stance that Judaism does not recognize, and a definition of life that Judaism does not abide by. To quote my colleague Rabbi Rachel Bearman:

“The Jewish tradition has more than two thousand years of precedent to offer this conversation- the vast majority of which states clearly that the person who is pregnant is a full life and that the fetus she carries is considered to be a part of her body until it is delivered and is separate from its mother. Within Judaism, the idea that a fetus is not a nefesh, a soul, until it is born is not a contemporary innovation. In fact, it is clearly established in the Torah, Mishnah and Talmud. The idea that those who seek to deny women the right to make their own decisions would justify their machinations with the language of religion infuriates me.”

Though Judaism is historically, profoundly, patriarchal, it has asserted at numerous times throughout our history that human dignity is among its very highest values — while also emphasizing that bodily autonomy is a critical piece of what it means to be made in the image of God. To therefore use “Biblical authority” to undermine women’s dignity and autonomy is itself a form of blasphemy.

So, now what?

Now, we act. Now, we must exercise our voice!

Oregon has the fewest legal restrictions in place for people seeking abortion care because in Oregon, we trust women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families and elect leaders committed to protecting reproductive freedom and health care. But we cannot take that for granted. Every vote matters.

Tomorrow is election day. State and local elections matter now more than ever. Oregon must continue to elect leaders that will defend access to abortion and seek to expand it. There are anti-abortion candidates on the ballot. We must stay informed. We must remain vigilant.

Nationally, in 2020, Congregation Beth Israel joined with the URJ and RAC campaign “Every Voice, Every Vote,” an effort expanding voter participation and civic engagement, especially among populations historically disenfranchised, and in geographic areas with a history of voter suppression. Many of our members participated tirelessly in Every Voice, Every Vote ahead of the 2020 General Election. We wrote postcards, did phone and text banking, and even made supportive videos.

The virtual URJ launch of the 2022 Every Voice, Every Vote Campaign  is happening TOMORROW, Tuesday, May 17th at 5pm. Please join and get involved! 

Yes, I’m still angry and that anger fuels my action. One of the best ways to make change and to advocate for abortion access is to vote!

—Rabbi Rachel L. Joseph

Arrest Made Relating to Vandalism at CBI and Other Houses of Worship
May 8, 2022

Dear Congregants of Congregation Beth Israel,

Earlier today we learned that an arrest has been made in the anti-Semitic incidents on our campus. Through diligent efforts by various branches of law enforcement, it was determined that a single individual was responsible for spray painting a Nazi referenced death threat on the outside of our sanctuary, an attempted arson at the Muslim Community Center of Portland, breaking a window at the Eastside Jewish Commons/Shir Tikvah and throwing a large rock through the window of the library on our campus. The alleged perpetrator of these crimes committed over several days was arrested this morning and is in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center.

State charges have been brought and we are told that further charges, including Federal Hate crimes, could be forthcoming.
We are grateful to the Portland Police Bureau, Portland Fire & Rescue Investigation Unit, and the Beaverton Police, as well as the involvement of the FBI, US Attorney General’s office and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, among others, who are investigating these crimes. Being a part of the Secure Community Network has kept us all informed and connected, and we are grateful to our Regional Security Advisor, Jessica Anderson, for her efforts.  Thank you also to our Facilities Manger Dallas Van Winkle for preserving the crime scene on our campus. We are told this provided important evidence.

Should the alleged perpetrator be found guilty of these crimes, we can all rest easier in our house of worship knowing that he is in custody. Although the crimes committed were against property, we know that left unchecked, hate speech can lead to violence. We are grateful that we are all safe.

This series of events, which has shaken our community, is an important reminder that even incidents which seem random and unrelated or too minor to bother with, should be properly reported. We are all responsible for one another.

Our congregation is also grateful for the outpouring of support we have received this week, from political and religious leaders and from ordinary people appalled at the actions of a very few. We feel the support and know that we are not alone. We all stand together against hate.

–Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana

Dear Congregants of Congregation Beth Israel,

As you may know from media reports, last night our historic sanctuary was marked with a hateful anti-Semitic slogan. There was also minor fire damage, which is something we have seen before. However, having this Nazi referenced statement spray-painted in yellow on our building, just a few days after we commemorated Yom HaShoah pains my heart. I wish we could live only in the world where we honor our Holocaust survivors and hear the beautiful music of the choirs from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and the Pacific Youth Choir fill our space. I wish we could only live in the world where we come together no matter our background to face our past and promise Never Again. But the world won’t let us stay there. We are reminded that hatred and intolerance continue to infect our world. We must call out hate speech against ourselves and against others so that everyone can feel safe in their homes, in their schools, in their work and in their houses of worship.

Thank G-d no one was hurt in last night’s incident and the physical damage to our campus is minimal. But the damage to our sense of safety is harmed. For that, we will work with the police, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies to apprehend those responsible and to ensure this incident is not repeated.

We will not be deterred. We will not be made to feel unsafe in our own house of worship. We are not the slaves of Egypt but a free people, confident and sure.

That is the best response to hatred in the past and in the present. Like those who came before us to proudly build the sanctuary we enjoy after suffering a devastating anti-Semitic arson which destroyed their previous building, we proclaim: we are here.

We shall not fear.

–Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana