My wife, Joy, my son, Luke, and I had dinner recently with our friend Michael Lerner and his wife, Debora, in their Berkeley, California home. Two nights later, we shared in a Shabbat service in their living room. Luke especially loved the lively singing and dancing of the Beyt Tikkun congregation, which brings together Jews and other spiritual seekers each week from around the Bay Area. Michael is a rabbi, and it was a delight to see him in his element-leading prayers, teaching Torah, and joyously moving around the room with his hands clapping high over his head.
As I looked out his window over the San Francisco Bay, I remembered that the location of this very house, complete with address and directions for how to get here, has been posted on a right-wing Jewish Web site that labels Michael as a traitor to Judaism. Why? Because he has defended the human rights of the Palestinian people, protested the building of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, and says that taking other people's land and bulldozing their homes is wrong. He says it violates Jewish law and ethics.
Michael is committed to the state of Israel and also has been outspoken against Palestinian violence. But he has shown the courage to challenge the policies of the Israeli government and the attitudes of many Jews toward the Palestinians. Michael Lerner calls for a new movement of nonviolence in the Middle East, and in the United States, toward a just peace in the embattled Holy Land. Because of his courage, his Tikkun magazine has lost many subscribers and, most critically, many donors. Michael has received death threats and a torrent of criticism from defenders of Israeli government policy. But Lerner's prophetic voice has also struck a chord, both with Jews looking for a voice of conscience and with others seeking a voice for peace.