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Over 100 synagogue members call for controversial rabbi to resign

Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov has apologised for Haggadah essay, which called Israeli politicians ‘war criminals’

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There have been calls from members of NNLS for Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov to resign from the shul after controversial comments she made in a Haggadah supplement (Photo: YouTube)

Over one hundred members of the UK’s flagship Masorti synagogue have called for a rabbi who labelled Israeli politicians “war criminals” to be removed from office.

At least 130 members of New North London Synagogue in Finchley, north-west London, have called for Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov to resign.

Writing to the shul’s chief executive officers last Tuesday, the members requested an extraordinary general meeting and said they “call on Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov to resign forthwith as a rabbi of NNLS”.

The group asked that executive officers “ensure that accurate and robust statements are publicly disseminated regarding the stated policy of NNLS with regards [to] Israel”.

Signatories come from across the NNLS community, which encompasses three different prayer services.

The JC understands that some members have resigned from the shul over the rabbi’s controversial essay and others are considering leaving.

Two days after the EGM requisition, Rabbi Lara Haft Yom-Tov, who uses “they/them” pronouns, apologised for the comments they made in a “Justice-oriented" Haggadah supplement.

In their essay, Let all who are hungry come and eat, Rabbi Yom-Tov wrote that “...the same war criminals who have forced Palestinian families to flee their homes will lift up their matzah and wax poetic about the Israelites’ rush to escape Egypt.”

They also wrote: “The same politicians who have manufactured a famine in Gaza, leading millions to the brink of starvation, will proudly declare: ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat’.”

After a call for their resignation, the rabbi told NNLS members: “I apologise for using the term ‘war criminals’. I recognise that through my words, I’ve caused pain to many members of our community and damaged our relationship. I missed the mark and I’m sorry.”

Speaking to the JC, one NNLS member, who wished to remain anonymous said: “Calling Israeli politicians ‘war criminals’ and calling them out for strategically instigating a famine is not compatible with the values of the synagogue and the wider Masorti community.

“That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a broad tent in the community, but the history of Rabbi Lara’s anti-Zionist credentials, with former association with groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and the Halachic Left, there are many concerns about whether this is appropriate.”

The anonymous member added: “We do not understand why Rabbi Lara is still here [at the NNLS]. They did not apologise for the inclusion [of their essay] in the Haggadah supplement or for their association with all the other people [in the supplement]. It was an apology for using the words ‘war criminals’ but not an apology for anything else.”

“The EGM will call out these issues and ensure that the wider membership knows how a rabbi with such anti-Zionist credentials could be hired in the first place,” the member said.

Rabbi Yom-Tov said the NNLS community had “shared heartfelt concerns” about their essay.

In an email to members sent after the EGM requisition, the rabbi wrote: “I deeply appreciate everyone who trusted me, and the rest of the NNLS team, enough to share your thoughts.”

“I regret that my piece didn’t reflect the deep love and concern that I feel for all Israelis, and particularly for the hostages and their families.”

The “justice-oriented Haggadah reader” essay did not mention the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Explaining their connection to Israel in their email to synagogue members, Rabbi Yom-Tov wrote: “Israel embodies a precious safe haven for the Jewish people [...] the Jewish people, like all people on earth, have a right to safety and democratic self-determination.”

Originally from Washington DC, the rabbi moved to Israel in 2018 and said that they “quickly fell in love, not just with a nice Finchley boy that I met in yeshiva, but also with the sight of children playing in Gan Sacher on a Shabbat afternoon and the magic of living in a city that vibrates with spiritual intensity.”

While a student rabbi, they were listed as part of the Rabbinical Council for the controversial anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for Pease group. They have spoken at JVP events and have written in favour of defunding the police.

Rabbi Yom-Tov joined NNLS two years ago and is part of an outreach team working with young adults in one of the UK’s biggest synagogues.

When their essay drew controversy last month, the chair and co-CEOs of NNLS, together with Rabbi Wittenberg and Rabbi Zahavit Shalev, sent an email to synagogue members distancing themselves from Rabbi Yom-Tov’s comments: “This article does not reflect our views, those of the community or of Masorti Judaism, and our rabbis and leadership were not made aware of it in advance of publication, as they should have been.”

They added: “Rabbi Lara is a new member of our newly enlarged rabbinic team and has made positive contributions which are widely appreciated. We will be taking appropriate steps to ensure this is a significant learning experience and will work with Rabbi Lara to help them appreciate the power of their office and their responsibility to NNLS and the wider community.”

NNLS and Rabbi Yom-Tov have been approached for comment.

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