Orthodox Jews Start Prayer Protest Outside OU Office in New York, Angered by Its Support for Trump

About 40 activists attend first ‘Moral Mincha’ on Monday, angered by organization’s recent support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. ‘We aren’t in the business of selling our souls to be the court Jews of this administration,’ says one participant

Protesters attending the inaugural “Moral Mincha” in New York, near the Orthodox Union office, June 18, 2018.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

NEW YORK – Orthodox Jewish activists on Monday started a weekly prayer service outside the offices of the Orthodox Union, protesting the organization’s support for the Trump administration.

The grassroots gatherings are called “Moral Mincha” and are inspired by Rev. William Barber’s Moral Monday prayer book protests.

The OU was in the news last week when it gave Attorney General Jeff Sessions a plaque last week proclaiming “Pursue justice.” The honor infuriated many Orthodox and formerly Orthodox American Jews.

While the OU has since walked back its Sessions endorsement – by signing onto a letter with 25 other Jewish groups condemning the administration’s policy of separating children from their undocumented immigrant parents – that was not enough for the 40 or so activists at the first Moral Mincha worship service.

“We welcome the OU’s statement promising to work with legislators, but what are they doing to end this horrific policy and protect immigrants?” asked Rebecca Krevat, one of the gathering’s organizers and a founder of the Facebook group Hitoreri: An Orthodox Movement for Social Change. Another Facebook group, Torah Trump Hates, partnered in the Moral Mincha.

“It’s important that they live their values,” said Krevat, urging participants to press rabbis at OU-affiliated synagogues to persuade the organization to be more proactive about changing the Trump administration’s policy.

“We want to make sure the OU isn’t just paying lip service after an embarrassing PR moment,” Krevat told Haaretz.

The OU is best known for its issuance of kosher certification, but it’s also a network of mainstream Orthodox synagogues and a political advocacy arm.

Hitoreri posted this prayer on its Facebook group: “May we merit to have the same immediacy of an answer to our mincha prayer – that HaShem [God] quickly turns the hearts of the leaders of Orthodox Union and the administration of the United States back to the Torah values of welcoming the stranger and protecting the widow, the orphan, and the poor and that they abandon the evils and false gods of this administration.”

A police car was stationed outside the OU’s office on Monday. When an officer was asked where the group was protesting, he responded that he and his partner were there because of the planned prayer service but they hadn’t seen the group – which actually gathered down the block on a plaza outside the National Museum of the American Indian.

Rebecca Krevat and Rabbi Mike Moskowitz at the prayer protest outside the Orthodox Union office in New York, June 18, 2018.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Rabbi Mike Moskowitz led the afternoon prayer service and later told Haaretz, “I believe that Torah values protect the vulnerable. Jews have a history of allying ourselves with oppressors, in order to feel comfort that it’s not us” being oppressed. “But it’s not us yet,” he said, warning that U.S. Jews may be safe today but could be at risk tomorrow. Moskowitz currently works as scholar-in-residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan.

Another protester, Shais Rishon, said the OU’s honoring of Sessions “was a terrible slap in the face to actual Orthodox values.” Rishon is an Orthodox rabbi and is better known by the stage name MaNishtana .

Shais Rishon, aka MaNishtana, at the prayer protest outside the Orthodox Union offices in New York, June 18, 2018.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

While a slight majority – 54 percent – of Orthodox Jews said they voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, according to a survey by the American Jewish Committee, “it’s important to show that the other 46 percent of us aren’t in the business of selling our souls to be the court Jews of this administration,” said Rishon.

Sruly Heller, another participant in the prayer service, told Haaretz that he wants to see the OU start a “forward-facing critique of what’s going on, as a religious organization that ostensibly values life.”

The OU had not responded to a request for comment by press time.

By the conclusion of the brief afternoon worship service, participants had decided to return every Monday afternoon for the foreseeable future, to continue their Moral Mincha prayers. Next week, though, one woman said, they will bring alcoholic beverages to have a kiddush afterward.