The leadership of New York’s West End Synagogue is too committed to the ever-changing progressive party line to suffer a radical feminist like me
By: Phyllis Chesler – Tablet Magazine
As we know, a virulent, often vicious and increasingly intolerant “cancel culture” has permeated our campuses and much of the media—but it has also infested some of our synagogues. I now have firsthand experience of what this means.
Being disinvited is not a new experience for me. I’ve been disinvited from engagements before because my radically feminist views were not politically correct; because I dared to expose feminist hypocrisy among the sisterhood; and because I defended the truth, and thus defended Jews, Judaism, Israel, and post-Enlightenment values. I’ve also been disinvited because my academic studies about and activism against honor killing, face-veiling, female genital mutilation, Islamist terrorism, and an Islamist version of cancel culture (think Salman Rushdie) was seen as “Islamophobic.”
Here’s the story. In early May, a retired City University of New York (CUNY) professor, Susan Prager (a woman whom I do not know and have never met) invited me to deliver a lecture about anti-Semitism and feminism to the West End Synagogue (WES), a Reconstructionist congregation near Lincoln Square, possibly via Zoom, perhaps in person.
And now I’ve been disinvited. Why? Apparently, my alleged views on transgender and LGBTQIA people are key—even though this wasn’t the topic of my lecture—but such views rendered me unacceptable as a speaker on any other subject. I was also accused of possibly being a racist as well.
Are we living in the 1950s, and is this yet another version of McCarthyism? Have we plunged into Huxley’s Brave New World?
What would someone’s views about the transgender issue have to do with anti-Semitism and the survival of a demonized Israel? Moreover, are differences in opinion more important than freedom of thought and speech? Intellectual and political diversity? I guess they are in some circles.
Of course, the Talmud preserves both majority and minority opinions. For centuries, in fact, totally opposite views have lived side by side, a glorious example of tolerance and civility among those who take ideas seriously.
The good news: A number of WES congregants have written letters to the synagogue’s president, Harvey Weiner, and to the board of directors demanding that I be allowed to speak. I’ve been told that a handful of couples have already exited the synagogue; others have promised not to donate money to the annual appeal on Yom Kippur.
This is certainly not what I had in mind.
At first, I hesitated to write this piece. Did I want to expose the shortcomings of a Jewish house of worship? Especially when Jews are under such profound cognitive siege and Israel is, as ever, under attack.
However, I must ask: What religion are they observing at the West End Synagogue? Is it Judaism? Wouldn’t a Jewish approach involve the rabbi or the president picking up the phone and having a conversation with me? Or writing to me about their concerns?
But I learned more when professor Prager forwarded a copy of the letter that the synagogue’s board of directors sent—not to me, mind you—to its “concerned” community members on Friday, Aug. 12, explaining why they had rescinded their invitation to host my talk.