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Laura Sturza Rabbi Paula Reimers and her former...

November 02, 2002

Laura Sturza

Rabbi Paula Reimers and her former Temple Emanu El congregants are

not unique in ending their relationship because of ideological

differences.

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

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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

departure."

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

way."

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.

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