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Tucson’s two oldest synagogues plan Kristallnacht anniversary pulpit exchange

Rabbi Robert Eisen
Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Rabbi Robert Eisen of Congregation Anshei Israel and Rabbi Batsheva Appel of Temple Emanu-El will exchange pulpits this weekend for “Unity in the Faceof Brokenness,” a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Kristallnacht, which is German for “Crystal Night,” is also known as “The Night of Broken Glass.” But it went far beyond shattered windows. From Nov. 9-10, 1938, mobs in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, spurred on by Nazi officials, torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews. In its aftermath, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht is seen as a turning point, when the Nazis’ anti-Semitic rhetoric and legislation shifted to the violence that culminated in the Holocaust.

While the rabbis planned their pulpit exchange before the Oct. 27 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, that tragedy must now inform their talks.

“The way anti-Semitism works, it seems to me, is divide and conquer,” Eisen says. “It often picks on one small group, while the attack is really on our people as a whole, and it tries to eat away or divide or drive a wedge. And as it tries to break us, the best response is to come together. That’s why we titled it ‘Unity in the Face of Brokenness.’ I don’t believe we’re broken but I believe people are trying to break us apart, especially from the outside.”

Although the suspect in the Pittsburgh shootings allegedly shouted, “All Jews must die,” Eisen says, “the Jewish community around the world could have said it was an aberration, it was one place.

“But we felt it … it hit people personally. I refer to it as almost the equivalent of the Jewish 9/11.”

We must channel that pain, Eisen says, into “a resolve to ensure that we can build a world where we’re not hurting anymore.”

“As I look around, I sometimes feel we are so obsessed with fixing the world, we forgot to take care of ourselves,” Eisen says.

The best way to take care of ourselves is by “reinforcing and renewing our commitment to living Jewishly,” he says, explaining that many of our universal values, for example, love of animals and concern for all living things, stem from particularistic Jewish values, from our specific rites and rituals, in this case, kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws.   

“It may sound strange to people but if we start with ourselves and the values that we believe in,” it will have a ripple effect on the world as a whole, he says.

Eisen will speak at Temple Emanu-El’s Shabbat service on Friday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Appel will speak at Anshei Israel’s 9 a.m. service on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Appel also emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community.

“In our Jewish community,” she says, “I think there are times when we are really, really good at coming together,” such as the vigil for the Pittsburgh victims that was held Oct. 29 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. “That was so
phenomenal,” she says, not only to see the Jewish community come together but also the greater Tucson community, both religious and non-religious.

“We didn’t want this significant anniversary to go unnoticed, so Rabbi Eisen and I felt we needed a way for us to come together that supported our differences in terms of worship, etc. They’re a Conservative congregation; we’re a Reform congregation. There are lots of ways in which we are similar, and then there are other ways in terms of observance that we’re very different. We wanted to be able to respect that and to build on that,” she says.

“We’re going to talk about community, we’re going to talk about memory,” Appel says, “and we’re just looking forward to bringing those communities together.”