SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) – No Jewish stream has an official policy on whether synagogues should display the Israeli or American flag. In any case, it’s unlikely the Reconstructionist movement would dictate a decision to its individualistic member congregations.Left to their own devices, these congregations have varied practices, providing a microcosm of the greater American Jewish community.Some are proud to show their stripes – and stars.Temple Beth El in Newark, Del., hangs the Israeli and American flags on either side of the bimah.”I say that although we are loyal citizens of the U.S., Israel is our spiritual homeland,” Rabbi David Kaplan explains.Some, like Congregation Shalom Rav in Austin, Texas, don’t display either flag.Some, like Congregation Dor Hadash in San Diego, Calif., display both flags, but not on the bimah.Some congregations use another congregation’s space and simply maintain existing practices. Congregation Shir Hadash in Milwaukee rents space at a synagogue that displays Israeli and American flags in the room, so they keep the flags up.Most people say the issue never arises. But that’s not always the case. The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., took down its Israeli and U.S. flags about five years ago in response to a congregant’s petition to the synagogue board.”He said they were political symbols and the sanctuary is sacred space,” Rabbi Brant Rosen recalls. “It got in the way of people’s prayerful concentration, especially when they were up on the bimah, on either side of the ark.”The board “had a good, healthy discussion,” Rosen says, and the decision was not unanimous. But the flags came down.Then there are the creative types.Temple Beth Or in Miami displays the Israeli flag, the American flag and what Rabbi Rebecca Lillian calls “the Planet Earth flag,” which shows a photo of Earth taken from space.The flags hang at every synagogue service and event. The idea of removing them, Lillian says, has never come up.
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