Rabbinical college criticised for Israel memorial email

The chair of an organisation dedicated to supporting the families of Israel's war casualties has expressed concern about a proposal by a US rabbinical college to "broaden" commemorative ceremonies.

In the run-up to Yom Hazikaron, Israel's annual day of remembrance for people lost fighting for the Jewish state, a dean at the Boston Hebrew College emailed his students suggesting a new way of preparing for the day.

According to a report in Commentary magazine, the email said: "Our kavanah [intention] is to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine.

"In this spirit, our framing question for Yom Hazikaron is this: On this day, what do you remember and for whom do you grieve?"

Nava Shoham Solan, the chair of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organisation, said she believed the intention was good but that the idea still made her tremble.

Ms Solan, whose first husband died fighting for Israel, said she was shocked the college advised equating the remembrance of those who died in battle with "Israel's enemies, terrorists who acted in cruel ways with the intent of harming Jews, without any differentiation between soldiers, women, and children – in order to destroy the Jewish state".

She added: "Is it possible that such a deep lack of understanding can exist in our midst, such a short time after the establishment of the Jewish state, and while it is still struggling daily for its existence?

"Observing the memorial day of the Jews who were killed defending their homeland and their people from slaughter, together with the commemoration of those that, with knives in their hands, were on their way to carry out that slaughter – is a sin against truth," she said. "It is a sin against morality, and reflects a misperception that is no less than contempt."

The suggestion also prompted an outraged response from Daniel Gordis, the founder of a rabbinical school in Los Angeles and an award-winning writer. In a piece expressing concern that US rabbinical schools were distancing themselves from Israel, Mr Gordis wrote: "It is the rare email that leaves me speechless.

"What the students were essentially being asked was whether the losses on Israel's side touched them any more deeply than the losses on the side of Israel's enemies."

He said: "Could one even begin to imagine President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying to Americans, while the Second World War was raging and young American men were clawing and dying their way across Europe and the Far East, that Memorial Day ought to be devoted in part to remembering those among enemy populations who died at our hands?"

Mr Gordis said he was told by the dean that the email was about "trying to engage with these issues".

According to the website of the Hebrew College, the institution is rooted in the "Hebraist-Zionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries" and is dedicated to promoting promotes learning in "a context of communal commitment and concern" for Israel.

    Last updated: 4:43pm, July 14 2011