There was a flap not so long ago that launched a thousand queries about the appropriateness of politicking in shuls.
Both parties have done it, and, depending on the year and who is doing it more, both parties have taken shots at the other party for doing it.
In any case, this time the shul at the center of the controversy was Miami’s Temple Israel.
We have an update to our earlier story: There’s been a reconciliation — of sorts. And a bit of a retreat from a lay leader’s pledge never again to venture into election year waters.
Stanley Tate, a longtime member, a major benefactor and a past president, had quit because Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, was scheduled to speak on a Friday night. Tate is a leading south Florida GOP fundraiser.
As a result, the synagogue board disinvited Wasserman Schultz and swore off election-year events, it sounded like for good.
“We will continue to decline to have candidates speaking during active campaign periods,” Ben Kuehne, the temple’s then-president, told me at the time.
An array of Jewish activists I interviewed for the story thought this a shame — the synagogue is a natural venue for constituents to engage with candidates, they said, as long as programs are balanced over time. (Kuehne had offered to reach out to GOP equivalents for their own Friday night appearance, but it was too late for Tate, who had wanted to deliver a riposte to Wasserman Schultz himself in real time, something Kuehne rejected.)
I saw Tate last week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. He told me had rejoined the temple, along with a number of other families who had wanted out because of the incident.
He said his conditions had been fulfilled: Kuehne and Rabbi Jody Cohen, whom he said had backed Wasserman Schultz’s speech, were gone.
His strong implication was that the controversy had played a role.
The way he put it: "The president lost his election. The rabbi’s contract was up. So I rejoined the congregation."
Not exactly right, according to Kuehne and his replacement, Joan Schaefer.
The rabbi terminated her own contract, giving the Temple board the Reform movement’s requisite year’s notice because she is transitioning into a rabbinical career focusing on the elderly and dying. "She realized she had a skill set in hospice service," Kuehne said. In any case, Kuehne said the decision on her replacement was made in April, and was announced in early June while the controversy was still under way.
And Kuehne isn’t exactly gone — he’s a vice president. And there was no "election," something Schaefer confirmed to me. Terms are limited to two years, Kuehne said, some presidents prefer just one — and he left after one to focus on fundraising for an endowment program to be timed for the temple’s centenary, in ten years.
There was a degree of audible eye-rolling about Tate’s claims when I spoke with Kuehne and Schaefer. "It’s a Republican political convention," said Kuehne, himself a fundraiser for Democrats who has been a delegate to that party’s conventions in the past. "I guess people are in a mood to be antagonistic."
But Kuehne and Schaefer are glad Tate’s back on board.
"We are honored to still call Stanley Tate an esteemed pillar of our community," Schaefer said. "Let bygones be bygones," Schaefer said.
Interestingly, Kuehne and Schaefer both rolled back Kuehne’s earlier conviction that the temple would never again deal with electoral politics.
Neither would count out a debate or programs before November. The focus now is on the high holidays, Kuehne said, "but we’re still trying to squeeze (a political program) in" before November.