Public Comment

Why Rabbi Lerner's Move of his Synagogue from San Francisco to Berkeley is Hard News

By Mike Godbe
Tuesday August 03, 2010 - 01:45:00 PM

When Rabbi Michael Lerner started Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco, it was a featured news story in the S.F. Chronicle. Rabbis who thought his brand of critique of Israel might be destructive to the Jewish community, while others thought it more appropriate to welcome him. 

Rabbi Lerner has been the editor of Tikkun magazine, the only national or international Jewish magazine to publicly identify itself as both pro-spirituality and opposed to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. Founded as the "liberal alternative to the neo-conservative voices in the Jewish world," Tikkun has become a consistent critic both of the militarism and materialism in American society and of the absence of an explicit spiritual consciousness in liberal and progressive social change movements.  

If anything, Rabbi Lerner's profile as a firebrand and public intellectual has grown since that time. His book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006) was a national best-seller. His ideas have been profiled in the Washington Post, NY Times, People Magazine and many other places. In the last four years he was a guest on Meet the Press, Bill Moyers' tv show, Larry King, and many others.  

Two months ago Lerner's Tikkun announced that it would give one of its Tikkun Awards to Judge Goldstone who had authored the UN's critical report on Israeli human rights violations in its attack on Gaza which left 1,600 Palestinians dead in January of 2009. Commenting in the Jerusalem Post, Alan Dershowitz (who represented OJ Simpson and is now defending Israeli actions in Gaza and "targetted assassinations" of those "suspected of being terrorists") labeled Lerner "one of the Rabbis for Hamas" and "the worst of them"--though Lerner frequently critiques Hamas as well as the Israeli government and has been a strong advocate for non-violence in his 2003 book Healing Israel/Palestine. Lerner received several death threats from those who identified themselves as "lovers of Israel" and a few days after the Dershowitz was reprinted in the Huffington Post, Lerner's house was attacked by right-wing Zionists and plastered with posters identifying him as "a self-hating Jew" and someone who embraced anyone who hated Israel. The case is still under investigation by the Berkeley police.  

Rabbi Lerner's synagogue Beyt Tikkun will hold High Holiday services at the Pacific School of Religion, 1798 Scenic Ave, a block north of the UC Campus and 2 blocks east of Oxford Street in Berkeley. Lerner has already announced that part of the focus of his High Holiday services, traditionally a time for ten days of repentance from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) will be addressing the need for all Americans (not just Jews) to atone for the terrible way we have treated the Earth, most recently manifested in the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico after the Obama Administration broke new ground by allowing deep water drilling off the U.S. coast by British Petroleum and other oil companies. Lerner argues that this is not an isolated problem, but a manifestation of an attitude of exploitation of the earth's resources without any serious regard to the way we are destroying the environment. Rabbi Lerner believes that this, coupled with the continued funding by the Democratic Congress of the war in Afghanistan and the close to one thousand military bases of the US around the world gives every American a reason to do serious repentance, and he invites non-Jews as well as Jews to register for his services.  

Yet Beyt Tikkun's fame in San Francisco was not primarily in regard to its progressive politics but its creative spirituality. Rabbi Lerner was the author of a 1994 national best seller called Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, and played a prominent role in the creation of the Jewish Renewal movement. The services he leads along with the Adama band led by Achi Ben Shalom incorporates not only traditional prayers and the traditional High Holiday melodies, but also dancing, singing, meditation, and guided visualization.  

Rabbi Lerner, 67 years old, has moved his community to the East Bay on advice of his doctors after a surgery for cancer last year.  

For more information: Contact Mike Godbe 510 644 1200