Rabbi Arik Ascherman, co-founder and former executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, will speak in Davis at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, at Congregation Bet Haverim, 1715 Anderson Road. His presentation is titled “The Sound of One Hand Clapping: Ibn Ezra, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and the Challenge of Power in Israel.”
A native of Erie, Pa., and a graduate of Harvard and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, Rabbi Ascherman served as Hillel director at UC Davis and as congregational rabbi both in this country and in Israel. From his student days to the present he has been engaged in social, religious and civil justice struggles.
Since settling in Israel, he has been active, in increasingly prominent positions in human rights causes, co-founding and co-directing Rabbis for Human Rights, subsequently serving as its executive director and now as director of external relations and special projects. He has been described as having “devoted his life to Israel and to the Zionist views of building and sustaining a Jewish state that exemplifies the values of justice and compassion.”
Rabbis for Human Rights was founded in response to human rights abuses by authorities observed during the first intifada (Arab insurgence). It includes Israeli reform, conservative, orthodox and reconstructionist rabbis and rabbinic students and describes itself as “the only rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, defending human rights of marginalized communities within Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”
Its stated mission is “to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations and … to pressure the state institutions to fix these injustices.” While it stands firmly against Palestinian violence and in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, it insists that “even in times of conflict, there are lines which we do not cross. The harming of innocent civilians crosses those lines.”
The numerous activities of Rabbis for Human Rights are aimed at protecting the stranger, the minorities and the weak. They include, among others, efforts at assuring fair access for all to their work places, schools, health resources and homes; educating the public on human rights issues, and promoting interfaith understanding by joint educational and social action projects with Christians and Muslims.
The group has been most noted, worldwide, for its sometimes physical interference with the bulldozing of Palestinian homes by the authorities for purely administrative reasons, and for their active assistance and protection of the olive harvest by Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Ascherman has been personally involved in all of these activities, experiencing numerous confrontations with authorities, arrests and court actions, but also sharing a number of prestigious awards for his humanitarian engagement. His visit to Davis offers an unusual opportunity to meet and hear a front-line fighter for human rights.
The public is invited. Admission is free but donations in support of the work of Rabbis for Human Rights will be accepted at the door. For more information, call Congregation Bet Haverim at 530-758-0842.