Chicago Synagogue Officially Designates Itself ‘anti-Zionist’

Tzedek Chicago already defined itself as 'non-Zionist' and was explicitly established to attract Jews disenchanted with communal support for Israel and skeptical of Zionism at large

The Forward
Arno Rosenfeld
FILE: Jewish protesters gather to express their support for BDS, 2012.
FILE: Jewish protesters gather to express their support for BDS, 2012.Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace
The Forward
Arno Rosenfeld

Tzedek Chicago was founded seven years ago, in part, to create a Jewish community free from a strong attachment to Israel. The congregation went beyond its original “non-Zionism” this week to become what is likely the first synagogue in the country to be affirmatively “anti-Zionist.”

“I’m so proud of the thoughtful way we engaged with each other in this process,” Scout Bratt, the shul’s president, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the decision. “While we knew individual members would have their own personal opinions, we ultimately treated this as a communal decision, not an ideological litmus test.”

The decision to add a statement decrying the creation of Israel as an “injustice against the Palestinian people – an injustice that continues to this day” was taken by a vote of the congregation’s 200 member families after the board unanimously endorsed it in December. Seventy-three percent of households voted in favor of the motion.

There is little data on how many American Jews identify as Zionists, or support Zionism, but many establishment organizations point to proxy questions to argue that the vast majority of the community is sympathetic to the tenets of Jewish nationalism. For example, the Pew Research Center found in May that 82 percent of Jews said “caring about Israel” was essential or important to being Jewish, and 81 percent told the American Jewish Committee that it was antisemitic to say that “Israel has no right to exist.”

Some pro-Israel activists assailed Tzedek Chicago’s announcement on social media.

“I don’t think they know what Judaism even is,” Daniel Koren, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, wrote on Twitter.

Establishment groups have long shunned Tzedek Chicago, with JTA reporting in 2019 that the congregation was not listed in the local Jewish federation’s directory of synagogues.

Others noted that it was an incremental move for a congregation that was established with an explicit eye toward attracting Jews who felt alienated from synagogues and other Jewish institutions that celebrate close ties to Israel. Rabbi Brant Rosen, who founded Tzedek Chicago, has long described it as a community for Jews skeptical of, or opposed to, Zionism.

“There are increasing numbers of Jews out there, particularly young Jews, who don’t identify as Zionist and resent the implication that somehow to be Jewish today one must be Zionist,” Rosen told Religion News Service in 2015. Rosen, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, had previously helped found the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is itself anti-Zionist.

But while Rosen told RNS that he believed Tzedek Chicago was the first congregation to intentionally eschew positive attachment to Israel, the synagogue is in fact one of at least half a dozen congregations to take similar positions, according to a Forward analysis.

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