A complaint arguing that a Reform synagogue violated New York labor law could point toward a new strategy for Palestinian rights advocates.
By Isaac Scher | Jewish Currents | Jan 25, 2022
The facts of the case show a notable synagogue struggling with whether to recognize anti-Zionism as a legitimate mode of Jewish life.
On July 22nd, Jessie Sander was fired from her job as a Hebrew teacher in the education program of the Westchester Reform Temple, a high-profile congregation in Scarsdale, New York. According to a legal complaint obtained by Jewish Currents, the dismissal—which occurred before Sander, 26, had even met her students—came in response to a blog post Sander co-wrote criticizing Israel.
Sander had been offered the job on May 10th, the same day that Israel initiated an aerial bombardment of Gaza that killed, according to the most recent count, 260 Palestinians over the course of 10 days. On May 20th, the day Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire, Sander and a friend published the blog post, in which they condemned Israeli “settler-colonial violence” and referred to themselves as anti-Zionists. “Being anti-Zionist has made us even more invested in building Jewish community and fighting for justice for all Jews,” they wrote. “Jews in the United States must speak out against genocide in our name and state-sponsored murder disguised as support for Jewish people.”
Less than two months later, Sander began her job at the synagogue. She found her reception by the staff “welcoming and loving,” she said. On July 15th, when she had worked at the shul for just over a week, the school’s director and assistant director called her into a meeting, “purportedly to discuss the 11th and 12th grade programming for the 2021-22 school year,” according to the complaint. But minutes later the director, who is also the shul’s associate rabbi, diverted the conversation to the topic of Sander’s blog post; the complaint says that he advised her to consider describing her views with a term other than “anti-Zionist,” and suggested that her arguments could be read as “calling for a second Holocaust.” She was fired a week later.