In the June 21, 2019, issue of the Chronicle, there was a letter titled “Keeping Synagogues Relevant.” In the letter, it was stated that “The Reform and Conservative movement are definitely becoming less relevant.” Although I do not intend to set forth the facts which demonstrate that this statement is wrong, I do want to correct a major error in the letter.
Essentially claiming that the Reform and Conservative movements are no longer religious movements, the letter states: “Case in point: The Reform movement honoring Al Sharpton at their convention.” This statement is not true. The Reform movement has never honored Rev. Sharpton at its convention.
On May 20, 2019, Rev. Sharpton did give a talk at the Consultation on Conscience of the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement. The invitation to give those remarks resulted in criticism because of aspects of his past record relating to Jewish matters. (Other than being invited to give remarks, Rev. Sharpton was not “honored” at the Consultation of Conscience.) In his remarks, Rev. Sharpton appealed for a united front in combating anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bias, and acknowledged his past role in stoking divisions. The “overarching message” of Rev. Sharpton was that blacks and Jews must overcome past differences to confront an increase in bias against all groups.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, acknowledged the pain that Rev. Sharpton’s appearance caused others in the Jewish community. Rabbi Pesner said: “At this moment — when children are being separated from their parents at the border, and Jews are being murdered in synagogues, and people of color are being gunned down at their churches, and people in mosques are being firebombed — we need to stand together, and Rev. Sharpton has stood with us these past couple of years.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, added that Rev. Sharpton’s role as an ally in this moment of increased bias and violence needs to be considered in understanding why he was invited to speak at the Consultation on Conscience. Rabbi Jacobs said: “We are in a moment of urgency, and Rev. Sharpton has spoken up and has stood strongly with the Jewish community.”
Barton Z. Cowan