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                 Guest For  MONDAY FEBRUARY 9, 2009

                                    (Originally aired: May 1989)

                             RABBI   ELMER BERGER

                                               (1908-1996 R.I.P.)



                             Anti Zionist Reform Rabbi


           "American Jews for Alternatives to Zionism"



                         "The Jewish Dilemma:

           The Case Against Zionist Nationalism"


  The program can be viewed in its entirety by clicking the you tube link below:

   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oM9xvjbdNB4 - RABBI ELMER BERGER




Elmer Berger (May 27, 1908 - October 8, 1996) was a Jewish Reform rabbi widely known for his anti-Zionism. He was the executive director of the American Council for Judaism from its founding in 1943 until he resigned in 1968, at which time he founded American Jews for Alternatives to Zionism.

Berger was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of a Hungarian-born railroad engineer and a third generation German-American Jew born in Texas. As a boy his family attended the Euclid Avenue Temple where he was encouraged to study for the rabbinate by Rabbi Louis Wolsey. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Cincinnati, he was ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1932. He began his brief career in the ministry in Pontiac, Michigan before serving in Flint, Michigan from 1936 to 1942.

Berger married Seville Schwartz, the sister of a classmate at Hebrew Union College, in 1931. They divorced in 1946, and shortly thereafter he remarried to Ruth Winegarden, the daughter of a prominent furniture manufacturer who belonged to the Flint congregation. They were married until Ruth's death in 1979.

From the beginning, Elmer Berger was squarely in the camp of those Reform rabbis who opposed the Columbus Platform of 1935 which modified the movement's original anti-Zionism and rejection of traditional ritual. It was Berger's mentor, Louis Wolsey, who would in 1942 issue a call to convene the American Council for Judaism, and who hired Berger as its first executive director. In the organization's struggle against the founding of the State of Israel during the 1940s, Berger increasingly became the movement's public face, particularly with the publication of his book The Jewish Dilemma in 1945, which argued that Zionism was a surrender to the Nazi racial myths about the Jews and that assimilationism was still the best path for the Jews in the modern world.

The founding of the State of Israel in 1948, which prompted the defection of Louis Wolsey, did little to slow the activities of Berger and the ACJ, who felt that their chief purpose was to combat the influence of Zionism in the religious life of American Jews. He continued to write and lecture on behalf of the ACJ, becoming its Executive Vice President. In this position he became increasingly well known and widely despised by the Zionist camp in American Judaism, particularly after he toured the broader Middle East in 1955 and became increasingly identified with Arab and Palestinian causes.

After the Six Day War in 1967, an event which swept what had previously been an arguably ambivalent American Jewish community with a massive pro-Israel fervor, Berger was widely pilloried, including by other members of the American Council for Judaism, for declaring Israel to be the principal aggressor in the conflict. This ultimately led to Berger's resignation from the Council the following year, at which time he founded, with the support of some loyal friends, American Jews for Alternatives to Zionism, which was intended to serve only as his personal vehicle for writing and lecturing. This, he continued to do actively, although in a state of semi-retirement, splitting his time between New York and Sarasota, Florida.

Elmer Berger died in Sarasota of lung cancer at the age of 88. Among his direct legacies were his close involvement with the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and his mentorship of the noted Middle East scholar Norton Mezvinsky.

[edit] Bibliography (partial)

  • Elmer Berger: The Jewish Dilemma : The Case Against Zionist Nationalism, Devin-Adair, New York, 1945
  • Elmer Berger: A Partisan History of Judaism : The Jewish Case Against Zionism, Devin-Adair, New York, 1951
  • Elmer Berger: Who Knows Better Must Say So! American Council for Judaism, New York, 1955
  • Elmer Berger: Judaism or Jewish Nationalism: The Alternative to Zionism, Bookman Associates, 1957
  • Elmer Berger: Letters and Non-Letters: The White House, Zionism and Israel, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, 1972.
  • Elmer Berger: Memoirs of an Anti-Zionist Jew. Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, 1978.
  • Deane A. Tack, Elmer Berger: Thorns of Resistance, Destra Publishers, 1993 ISBN 0963598201
  • Elmer Berger: Peace for Palestine: First Lost Opportunity, University Press of Florida Gainesville, FL 1993 ISBN 0813012074

[edit] References

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmer_Berger_(rabbi)"

Categories: 1908 births | 1996 deaths | People from Cleveland, Ohio | American Reform rabbis | 20th century rabbis    


A Spokesman For Justice: A Tribute to Rabbi Elmer Berger


by Grace Halsell

Why, I asked one of the earliest and most vocal of the anti-Zionists, Rabbi Elmer Berger, do so many American Jews give their total support, including tax-free dollars, to Israel, yet prefer to stay in the United States?

I put the question to Dr. Berger soon after our initial meeting. The year was 1981. I had gone to a Middle East conference in a downtown Washington, DC hotel. After hearing Elmer Berger was in the audience, I sought him out. Tall, distinguished, with graying hair, he gave me a friendly smile: “Let’s go for a coffee, where we can talk.” Once we found a quiet corner in a cafe, Dr. Berger began:

“Most American Jews don’t want to leave America. They have no intention of seeking ‘normality’ by expatriating themselves to live in a ‘Jewish state.’ But in reality, it is a Zionist state and Zionism itself is an anomaly, a movement not to save souls but to seize land and gain power.”

Then the rabbi, who was born in 1908 and served congregations in Michigan, explained that a half-century ago he became convinced that “Zionism was deleterious to Jews and to the long-range interests of the United States.” Through his own personal activities, for two decades through the American Council for Judaism, and later through the American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism, Rabbi Berger has impressed a multitude with the sincerity of his conviction, his personal courage and the depth of his commitment.

Dr. Berger has long reminded his co-religionists that they, after the Palestinians, “are the second greatest victims of Zionism.” As for American Jews giving their allegiance and dollars to Zionism, he observed they were subsidizing an operation which has as its ultimate objective “the expatriation of the contributors themselves.” American dollars are not going to support an Israeli “democracy,” said Dr. Berger. “Israel’s highest courts have said ‘The state of Israel was established and recognized as the state of the Jews. This is the sovereign state of the Jewish people.’ This being the case, those for whom the state was created would qualify as first-class citizens and non-Jews would be relegated to another, lesser category.

“The Zionists did not draft a constitution for their new Jewish-Zionist state,” he continued. “Rather, they passed ‘Basic Laws’ that protect and elevate those of one religion and denigrate those of other faiths. The first of these basic laws states that any Jew, at any time, has the right to immigrate to Israel. This right is given only to Jews.

“The second of the basic laws provides that any Jewish immigrant automatically acquires Israeli citizenship. This is automatically given only to Jews. A third law states that it is the central task of the Zionist state to bring all Jews to the Zionist state. A state that regards the immigration of Jews as its ‘central task’ cannot at the same time allocate its services and resources on a completely equal basis among its citizens who do not qualify as part of ‘the Jewish people.’”


“Basic Laws”

These “Basic Laws” mean, Dr. Berger said, that Zionism constitutes “an ethno-centered, exclusivist, aggressive ideology.” Yet, Zionists largely have been successful in selling the American public on the idea that it is a “benevolent, liberating, progressive movement.”

Because this view has been so successfully presented, few dare speak the truth about Zionism, said Dr. Berger, adding that “while Israel does indeed practice wide-spread and cruel discrimination against a large segment of people, the U.S. State Department refuses to deal with Israeli violations of human rights except in a cursory, bland and shallow manner.”

As for the U.S. media role in selling Zionism, Dr. Berger said, “I shudder a bit when someone speaks of Zionist ‘control’ of the press. But Zionist influence is something else. The sheer mass of Zionist handouts does ‘influence’ the American media.” He mentioned that much of the early Zionist propaganda convinced many Americans that Arabs were lazy while “strong, industrious Jews had made the desert bloom.” As regards Menachem Begin, “There was a flood of news stories whitewashing the former ‘terrorist’ and pressing upon his brow the laurel wreath of ‘statesman.’ The cumulative effect of all the releases contributes to the mind-set of the American people."

Concerning The New York Times, much of its coverage, as well as its lack of coverage, of certain Arab issues, “reportedly is due to the concentration of Jews in New York—there being more Jews living in New York state than in all of Israel.”

Once, Berger related, he and other anti-Zionist Jewish leaders sought an interview with the Jewish owners of the Times to complain about its pro-Zionist bias. “They promised us the top management, which would of course be Jewish. But when our group got there, we were ushered in to talk with a non-Jew, Clifton Daniel, who was married to [former] President Truman’s daughter, Margaret. And Daniel tried to convince us that the Times owners and managers were not Zionists so much but that many of their readers were. He seemed to assume, or at least wanted us to believe, that a major newspaper such as the Times does not shape public opinion, which of course it does.” The rabbi added that, since the New York paper carried so much Zionist propaganda, “rather than The New York Times it might well be named the Jewish Times.”

Dr. Berger, who was ordained a rabbi in 1932, is the author of The Jewish Dilemma, A Partisan History of Judaism, Judaism or Jewish Nationalism, Who Knows Better Must Say So, Letters and Non-Letters , Memoirs of an Anti-Zionist Jew and numerous articles and pamphlets. After the death of his closest comrade in his anti-Zionism fight, his wife Ruth, Rabbi Berger retired to live in Longboat Key, Florida. Though now approaching 90 and retired, he has been generous with his time and talents in making presentations at conventions and talking with small groups. At one gathering, a listener asked if he had regrets about speaking out so forcefully on such volatile issues as justice for the Palestinians.

“I have few regrets in my life,” he said. “I owe the Arabs nothing. And they owe me nothing. Our paths have met or been parallel when we have both stood upon those great, monumental rocks of human values which, despite the parochialism of so much of life, are the genuine universalities.”

When one listener spoke of his life as being “heroic,” he replied he did not seek that role. Rather, he hoped to embrace humility, “for there is still so much to be done before there is justice in Palestine and before the universalism of the prophetic tradition in Judaism and Christianity and Islam dominates the tribalism.”


                                   Monday February 9, 2009

                                 10:30 - 11:30 AM  / (NYC Time)

                 Channel 34 of the Time/Warner & Channel 83 of the RCN 
                       Cable Television Systems in Manhattan, New York.

The Program can now be viewed on the internet at time of cable casting at


                  NOTE: You must adjust viewing to reflect NYC time

                                          & click on channel 34 at site


                                    241 West 36th StreetNew York,N.Y. 10018 Phone: 212-695-6351 E-Mail: HHC@NYC.RR.COM


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