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Jewish Library Letter

Jewish Library Letter

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Published by Rae Abileah
This is an open letter about the cancellation and censorship of a Jewish social justice panel event at the Jewish Library of San Francisco. The letter was sent to the Library on March 28, 2012 and copies were sent to David Waksberg, CEO, Bureau of Jewish Education, Rabbi Douglas Kahn, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council and Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

This is an open letter about the cancellation and censorship of a Jewish social justice panel event at the Jewish Library of San Francisco. The letter was sent to the Library on March 28, 2012 and copies were sent to David Waksberg, CEO, Bureau of Jewish Education, Rabbi Douglas Kahn, Executive Director, Jewish Community Relations Council and Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

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Published by: Rae Abileah on Mar 30, 2012
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06/23/2012

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March 28, 2012Howard Freedman, Director BJE Jewish Community Library1835 Ellis StreetSan Francisco, California 94115Dear Howard Freedman and Library Staff:We are writing to express our deep dismay at the recent cancellation of our panel event,
Reclaiming Jewish Activism: Re-discovering Voices of Our Ancestors,”
organized bymembers of Workmen’s Circle and Progressive Jewish Alliance and originally scheduledto be held at the Jewish Community Library on May 24
th
.While we have, in fact, succeeded in rescheduling this event at a more welcoming Jewishvenue in San Francisco, we find it particularly troubling that an act of censorship hasoccurred at the Library -- an institution that is supposed to be a symbol of open thought andlearning in the Jewish community.Our goal for the event has remained the same -- from our early discussions with the Librarylast year, through the cancellation in late February, to the present:to discuss work of earlier Jewish activists who continue to inspire the social justiceactivism of our three women panelists.
Julie Gilgoff 
, author of 
 A Granddaughter’s Rite of Passage: Tales from the McCarthy Era
,will discuss Red Diaper babies and their experience of their parents’ persecution during theMcCarthy era; she’ll pay tribute to her grandfather, Max Gilgoff, who organized to stop police violence against African Americans in his community, and died of a heart attack while being interrogated for his political activism.
Elaine Elinson,
co-author of 
Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California
(winner of a 2010Gold Medal California Book Award), will elaborate on the book’s profile of Jewishsuffragist Selina Solomons, who organized working women in San Francisco in 1911, andhow Solomons inspired Elaine’s own advocacy for voting rights and other civil libertiesissues today.
Rae Abileah
, contributing author to several books including
 Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists,
will speak about her great uncle, JosephAbileah, a Haifa musician who became a pacifist during the formation of the State of Israel.His life’s mission -- reconciliation between Arabs and Jews – is documented in a JewishCommunity Library holding,
 Israeli Pacifist: The Life of Joseph Abileah
.
 
When originally scheduled, this event was considered a good fit for the Library, with itsthree short presentations anchored in writings that connect progressive voices from the pastwith a contemporary generation of Jewish activists.Your cancellation of our panel had a special sting this month as we just received your Spring-Summer 2012 brochure in the mail, where our panel was supposed to be listed. Atone point, you must have felt that we would have added to your vibrant, provocative line-up of programs from exploring the lives of Jews in Cuba to a tribute to the late Yiddishvocal music performer and cultural activist, Adrienne Cooper. We are now at a loss tounderstand why you have canceled us based on narrow-minded, divisive guidelines fromthe Federation.From our discussions, we understand that the event was cancelled by the JewishCommunity Library, in consultation with its parent organization, the Bureau of JewishEducation (BJE), and with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), consultant-advisor to the local Jewish Community Federation Endowment. Federation funds supportmany BJE programs. The Federation’s 2010 revised funding guidelines, which prohibitgrant recipients from associating with organizations and individuals who oppose its strongsupport for Israel, apparently triggered the cancellation.Of specific concern was panelist Rae Abileah’s work with an organization that opposesoccupation profiteering and supports the boycott of products made in illegal Israelisettlements. Ms. Abileah is not officially representing her organization but speaking aboutthe work of her great-uncle, a spiritual Zionist nominated by fellow musician YehudiMenuhin for numerous peace awards. Six decades after McCarthyism’s assault on progressives and their values, we reassert thatcensorship by association is dangerous and unconscionable: that it subverts truth, unity, anddemocracy. Need we point out the chilling effect of the Federation’s exclusionary funding guidelines --adopted in response to criticism of its support for the 2010 Jewish Film Festival, after screening of a documentary about Rachel Corrie -- on dialogue about Israel within our community?The intent and ambiguity of these guidelines, and the threat of arbitrary enforcement, brings predictable – even if unintentional -- consequences. Attempting to block civil publicdiscourse on Israeli militarism in Federation-funded venues here occurs at a time when theissue is foremost in world consciousness; excluding dialogue that might promote healingwithin our community feeds polarization by demonizing those whose dovish politicalopinions support ethical Jewish values different from the Federation's.The Federation’s threat to decrease funding support – which one observer noted would banall major Israeli writers from such Jewish venues – also interferes with our Jewishinstitutions’ responsibility to engage all segments of a widely diverse community.

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Deborah Williams added this note
Freedom of thought and expression is a basic human right. For the most part this is a part of the New Zealand way of life. I am disappointed in the so called democratic country of USA. I am extremely disappointment in the country called Israel. Democracy? No!

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