LOS ANGELES ((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles’ third-oldest Conservative synagogue, told congregants it would be moving its Saturday afternoon Shabbat services this weekend due to safety concerns over a pro-Palestinian protest happening at a nearby park.
In an email sent to the community on Thursday, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld and temple president Mark Samuel said that “out of an abundance of caution,” afternoon services would be moved to a private home. But they stressed that the synagogue did not make the decision lightly.
“I don’t remember a more agonizing decision,” Kligfeld wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “On one hand, not that much is at stake. This was not Kol Nidre or a bar/bat mitzvah or even ‘normal’ Shabbat AM service, times during which hundreds of people are on our campus happily and unselfconsciously and proudly doing Judaism. This was about ‘only’ the 12-16 people or so who normally show up for Shabbat afternoon services and learning. Not that momentous.”
He continued: “On the other hand, it felt hugely momentous. In 2023? In the city of Los Angeles? A Jewish community even considering not holding religious services at their own synagogue because of a looming threat posed by a rally that has a very good chance of spilling from pro-Palestinian rhetoric to virulently anti-Zionist and dangerously antisemitic? It boggles the mind that that is where we are in modern America. But it is where we are.”
The rally is being billed as “Black and Palestinian Solidarity for a Ceasefire this Christmas” and is set to take place Saturday at 3 p.m. in La Cienega Park, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the synagogue located in L.A.’s heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
In the email, Kligfeld referenced the recent slew of antisemitic incidents in the L.A. area, including the death of pro-Israel protestor Paul Kessler, who was fatally injured during an altercation during dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies in the suburb of Thousand Oaks in early November. A man has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the case.
In addition to Kessler’s death, there have been numerous other incidents since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7 that have rattled the L.A. Jewish community — including a hate crime against a Jewish man on his way to synagogue in Beverly Hills, a charter school housed at a synagogue teaching students that Israel was committing genocide and a break-in at a Jewish family’s home that was also investigated as a hate crime.
Kligfeld also acknowledged that “during the conversation we had about this, many expressed discomfort with the notion of cowering, rather than representing.” He encouraged his congregants to “respond to this moment … by having a large and robust crowd.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said it is monitoring the situation. “We are disheartened and saddened that Jewish ritual observances have to be moved out of an abundance of caution. We continue to hope and pray for peace,” the organization said in a statement to the Jewish Journal.
Temple Beth Am is not the first synagogue to have its Shabbat services disrupted by pro-Palestinian protests. A Melbourne, Australia, synagogue was evacuated by police during Shabbat services last month after a violent turn at a major protest in an adjacent park.