Temple Beth Am to Hold Shabbat Afternoon Services At Private Residence Due to Pro-Palestinian Rally

AJC calls the decision “difficult, but understandable.”
December 22, 2023
Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, California, March 2015 – photo by Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDigital.com CC BY-SA 3.0

Temple Beth Am (TBA) announced in an email on Thursday that their afternoon Shabbat services will be relocated to a private address due to a pro-Palestinian rally being held near the Olympic and La Cienega synagogue.

The email, which was obtained by the Journal, noted that the protest was being held at La Cienega Park at 3 p.m. on Shabbat. Rabbi Adam Kligfeld wrote that it was an “agonizing decision … In 2023? In the city of Los Angeles? A Jewish community even considering not holding religious services at their own synagogue because of a looming threat posed by a rally that has a very good chance of spilling from pro-Palestinian rhetoric to virulently anti-Zionist and dangerously antisemitic? It boggles the mind that that is where we are in modern America,” wrote Kligfeld. “But it is where we are.”

Referencing Paul Kessler, the rabbi pointed out that “a Jewish man was killed at a similar rally in Thousand Oaks last month” and that an elderly Jewish couple was recently assaulted in Beverly Hills. He also noted Jewish students “had to take refuge” in a library at Cooper Union in New York City as pro-Palestinian protesters were banging on the building’s doors.

“It very well may be that it is the most prudent thing to do what we are doing, to relocate services, to not put anyone in harm’s way in the name of TBA or Jewish practice,” Kligfeld wrote. “But the decision hurts.”

“It very well may be that it is the most prudent thing to do what we are doing, to relocate services, to not put anyone in harm’s way in the name of TBA or Jewish practice … But the decision hurts.” -Rabbi Adam Kligfeld

He acknowledged that “many expressed discomfort with the notion of cowering, rather than representing.” “Perhaps we, as a community, ought to have done the neighborhood version of that this Shabbat: shown up, in large [numbers], not to counter-rally, but to counter-pray, and counter-study and counter-Jew,” Kligfeld wrote. “Perhaps we ought to have called for hundreds of TBAers to change their Shabbat afternoon plans, and descend upon TBA’s campus not to engage in protesters, but to engage in Judaism, and refuse to yield these square blocks to those who wish us and our friends and family in Israel harm. A significant piece of me wanted that to be the decision. And … we made a different decision, with truly heavy hearts.”

In a separate message, Kligfeld and TBA President Mark Samuel urged community members to become part of “a large and robust crowd” at the private residence during Saturday afternoon’s Shabbat services.

The rabbi told the Journal in an email that the community has been “mostly supportive” of the synagogue’s decision, although some wished “we had not yielded the space/campus, but rather doubled-down on our presence that night” and were “concerned for setting a bad precedent.” “And some, who are truly ideological outliers in the community, consider us to be over-reacting by a long shot, and contributing to unnecessary hysteria, and believe such rallies pose no harm or danger to Jews,” Kligfeld added.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles said in a statement to the Journal, “ADL supports freedom of assembly, however, in a time of increased antisemitic incidents and polarizing rhetoric, we are concerned that this sets a dangerous precedent of having the Jewish community pay the price for the right of those who spew hate and vitriol to gather. After last weekend’s barrage of bomb threats to over 400 synagogues and Jewish institutions, we call on LAPD and BHPD [Beverly Hills Police Department] to be vigilant in ensuring that the protests don’t devolve into antisemitism.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles also said in a statement to the Journal, “Our Community Security Initiative (CSI) are closely monitoring the security situation and the rescheduling of services at Temple Beth Am this Saturday as a result of a nearby planned protest. We are disheartened and saddened that Jewish ritual observances have to be moved out of an abundance of caution. We continue to hope and pray for peace.”

“The decision by Temple Beth Am is difficult but understandable given the current climate,” American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Director Richard Hirschhaut told the Journal. “The safety of congregants must always be a top priority for synagogues. It is not a decision made in a vacuum, but with insight gleaned from recent pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rallies having descended into vandalism and even violence. Still, it’s regrettable that Shabbat plans must be altered for this reason.”

Shabbat services for Friday night and Saturday morning will still be at the synagogue as planned.

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