Rabbi Paula Reimers and her former Temple Emanu El congregants are
not unique in ending their relationship because of ideological
But in her case, Reimers did not welcome the change. Her last day
was July 31, when her contract ended.
"I loved that congregation," Reimers said. "I served for seven
years, and I really cared about them."
As a result of Reimers having spoken against human-rights
violations in Israel and elsewhere, members of the temple's board of
directors let her know she should "stay away from politics," Temple
President Rachel Robbins said.
"I have seen this forming a rift in other congregations," Little
White Chapel Rev. Ron Degges said. "It is one factor that could lead
to the departure of a clergyperson, whether a willing or a forced
Degges is past president of the Burbank Ministerial Assn. and also
consults with congregations in conflict.
The strained relations came to a head when Reimers invited members
of the Muslim Public Affairs Council to join the synagogue in
celebrating Sukkot -- the Jewish festival of shelters -- on Oct. 4,
2001, she said.
When Robbins' husband wanted to hang an Israeli flag in the
sukkah, the temporary shelter in which the Sukkot holiday is
celebrated, Reimers thought it would be insensitive to the Muslim
guests since "we have never had flags in the sukkah," and "this
wasn't a political rally," Reimers said.
Though a compromise was reached, with flags being hung in the
social hall where they weren't so "in your face," the experience was
the start of a "witch hunt" to have her replaced, Reimers said.
Not all temple members were pleased with how the board handled the
change of leadership. Former board member Jonathan Wolff and his
family left the congregation after six years. He said at least nine
other families left because of the way the decision was reached.
"Had it been handled differently, I don't think I would have
left," Wolff said. "There was a lot of bad behavior ... there were
fights and accusations. It was just not done in a very professional
Reimers is looking for teaching and rabbinical positions, but
finds that when she is asked about her position on Israel and says
that she thinks its government's policies are "unjust and destructive
to Israelis and Palestinians," the discussion ends there.