Judaism Unbound Episode 122: Let's Talk About Israel - Sharon Kleinbaum


To get a sense of the Israel conversation from the point of view of a congregational rabbi, Dan and Lex are joined by Sharon Kleinbaum, Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), in New York City. In their conversation, they discuss topics including the varied and evolving perspectives on Israel in Jewish-and-LGBTQ spaces, the consequences of institutional red-lines around Israel discourse, and the importance of interfaith bridge-building. [1]

 Image Credit: Harold Levine

Image Credit: Harold Levine

(0:01 - 17:40): To begin the episode, Kleinbaum outlines some of the challenges and opportunities that face rabbis who are looking to open up conversations about Israel and Palestine; [2] she looks back on the last few decades, on the ground in Israel and Palestine and through the lens of her own congregation's history. [3] Kleinbaum also reflects on the phenomenon that Queer-identifying Jews are disproportionately involved in activist movements related to Israel and Palestine. [4]

(17:41 - 30:35): Kleinbaum looks at the role that fear plays in cementing the beliefs that many people hold about Israel. She then tells the story of her congregation's ongoing relationship with New York City's Muslim community, [5] along with why it has been so important for bridging a variety of entrenched divides. Turning to Jewish institutional life, she calls on leaders to embrace an ambitious kind of pluralism, such that communities open themselves up to hearing from those with perspectives completely opposed to their own strongly held beliefs. Kleinbaum offers her take on the phenomenon called "pinkwashing," a topic that is especially controversial within LGBTQ communities (Jewish and otherwise). [6]

(30:36 - 43:16): Kleinbaum analyzes the role that institutional red lines play with respect to permissible discourse about Israel, Palestine, and Zionism in Jewish institutional spaces. [6] She also calls on progressives to hold onto the hope that they can help build a more just Israeli society in the future, imploring them not to walk away from Israel out of frustration with it. To close the episode, Kleinbaum compares and contrasts the diversity of opinion about God that is accepted in many Jewish spaces with the narrower spectrum of opinions that are tolerated around Israel and Zionism.

[1] Learn more about Sharon Kleinbaum by reading her bio. Learn more about Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which she leads, by visiting CBST.org.

[2] Kleinbaum cites controversy within her own synagogue, as an example of how Israel can play a divisive role in Jewish communities. To learn more about a situation she describes, where a small number of members of her congregation left the synagogue (and many others joined) due to the issue of Israel and Palestine, click here.

 Image Credit: The Daily Beast

Image Credit: The Daily Beast

[3] For a detailed look at the history of CBST, from its founding in 1973 through the present, click here.

[4] Explore the intersection of Israel-Palestine activism and LGBTQ identity further through this 2015 piece, written by Emily Unger and featured in Tikkun.

[5] For more on the work CBST does building bridges with New York City Muslims, click here.

[6] There are a wide variety of Jewish approaches to the idea of pinkwashing. Engage with two prominent viewpoints, radically different from one another, by reading "Israel and Pinkwashing," written by Sarah Schulman for the New York Times, and "Response to Common Inaccuracy: Israel is Pinkwashing," from the Anti-Defamation League.