Rabbis of LA | Rabbi Dov Muchnik: When a Rabbi Confronts Activists

February 1, 2024
Rabbi Dov Muchnik

Sixty miles north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, Oxnard, a city of 200,000, has been known for it traditional, low-profile lifestyle. But last month, pro-Palestinian activists sought to provoke Oxnard’s city council into endorsing a longshot U.S. House of Representatives resolution. The plan: One Oxnard councilman would go before a three-member committee to bring the House Resolution 786 — which calls for “an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine —  before the full council for a vote. 

Thanks to an anonymous contact inside City Hall, Rabbi Dov Muchnik, a chaplain with the Oxnard Police Dept., learned of the plan four days in advance. 

Twenty years after establishing a Chabad community in Oxnard, the Rabbi Muchnik is widely known and highly regarded. So on Tuesday, Jan. 10, the rabbi and two dozen Jews were present for the contentious council committee vote. But nearly all of the remaining 130 seats were occupied by the activists’ noisy supporters. “A big group of pro-Palestinians, not necessarily from Oxnard, was there,” the rabbi noted. “They travel around. They make a lot of noise. They use this as an opportunity to push their anti-Israel agenda.”

Rabbi Muchnik, a Brooklyn native, learned that several weeks earlier the same crowd showed up 25 miles away in Ojai. “That meeting turned violent,” he said. “A lot of screaming. The city council actually shut down the meeting and left the council chambers. They come with signs, keffiyehs, and all kinds of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel propaganda.”

As soon as the rabbi learned of the resolution, he asked if it could be dropped from the agenda. Yes, he was told, only if council members decide they don’t want to hear it. The council member who sought to put the resolution on the agenda, Arthur Valenzuela Zavala, a young Latino who has has also been in the news for a DUI and domestic abuse accusations. 

Rabbi Muchnik spent the Sunday and Monday before the meeting “formulating our response. Should we ignore it? Pack the house?” As a father of 10, ranging from 1½ to 21, he is not unfamiliar with occasional disagreements. But this was far different.

He reasoned that since members of the public have three minutes to speak, “there will be a lot of hate and anti-Israel lies. Therefore, we must counter that.” By noon Monday, Muchnik began inviting community members. Some Oxnard Jews declined the invite and admitted they were afraid or just did not want to become involved. “The majority of the pro-Palestinian crowd clearly were not from the area,” Rabbi Muchnik said. “Some lied and said they were from the city. They were seen in Ojai, though, and said the same thing there. While most of the protestors were in their late teens and early 20s, the rabbi said some older Muslims “were heated but spoke more rationally,” he described the majority as rabble-rousers who did not speak respectfully to the three city council committee members. 

When there was an outbreak and they actually were kicked out, they promptly started shouting at the committee that they were guilty of genocide and had blood on their hands. “When a Jew or pro-Israel person got up to speak,” Muchnik said, “we were booed  — especially when we said something like ‘Israel has a right to defend itself so long as Hamas continues to hold the hostages.’” 

The angry crowd repeatedly was warned to maintain decorum – no booing, no sounds — but continued to interrupt the proceedings. When it was Rabbi Muchnik’s turn, he reminded the crowd and Oxnard City Council that “God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, the Land of Israel as a lasting inheritance.” The Torah, he said,  clearly states that a person has to defend himself. “G-d forbid, if somebody comes to kill you, you have a moral obligation to neutralize them first,” he said. “It’s called self-defense.”

Three hours into the Council subcommittee meeting, “all hell broke loose,” Rabbi Muchnik said.The rowdy crowd began shouting “Long live Palestine! Free, free Palestine!” Young voices began referring to Mayor John Zaragoza as “Genocide John.” They screamed at the Oxnard police, claiming they had received training from Israel and that city government funds go to Israel.

By evening’s end, there may have been a slender smile on Rabbi Muchnik’s face. A vote was called, going 2-1 against bringing the resolution to the full seven-member council, and the motion died

“The community feels safe,” he said, “because these are not people from our community. There have been few antisemitic incidents the last 20 years.”

In the summer of 2003, Rabbi Dov and Racheli Muchnik and their first child, then 18 months old, opened the first Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center.  In 2005, the Center moved to a larger home, and in 2012 to an expanded Hollywood Beach site. Last September, four months after Chabad’s 20th anniversary, came the biggest move of all: To a 10,000 square foot, two-story facility that overlooks the ships in Channel Islands Harbor.

Chabad House and the Lamplighter Jewish Academy, led by Rebbetzin Racheli, with 60 fulltime students from grades 1 through 12, now have all the space they have dreamed about.  There also is fulltime security at the synagogue, and that isn’t all. There’s one more unique note. “We happened to secure a state grant,” Rabbi Muchnik said, “where local police departments can request funding from the state to pay officers overtime to guard institutions that may be affected by the war.”

Fast Takes with Rabbi Muchnik

Jewish Journal: What is your favorite Jewish food?

Rabbi Muchnik: My wife’s chicken soup.

J.J.: Favorite place you have visited outside of Israel?

Rabbi Muchnik: South Africa. I spent two years in Johannesburg as a rabbinical student. The physical beauty of the country is stunning.

J.J. Favorite family activity?

Rabbi Muchnik: Going to the beach to watch the sunset together. We are blessed to live nearby.

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