As a Jew and a longtime Great Neck resident, it nauseates me that Steve Markowitz has found it necessary to apologize for revealing his observations about the political efforts of some extreme elements of right-wing orthodoxy in Great Neck. Steve is the ultimate role model of a Jew who has shown by actions over decades that he cares deeply about Judaism, his community and all of the Jewish people, even those who now vilify him.
Since the passing of Rabbi Mordechai Waxman z”l, no single individual in our community and perhaps well beyond our community has done more than Steve Markowitz to shed a bright light on the danger and horrors of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the need for understanding among peoples of different races and faiths and within his own faith.
Creating divisions among Jews is the antithesis of Steve Markowitz’s DNA and antithetical to his life’s work. Pointing out those who do create such divisions in an effort to prevent and repair divisions is consistent with Steve Markowitz’s life-long pursuit of “shalom bayit” among Jews and with others. Those efforts should be applauded not vilified.
To be clear: The divisive demonizing tactics of some Jewish religious leaders and groups to gain political advantage is much more than offensive. It may be illegal. There needs to be a formal and comprehensive federal investigation of the political activity of all religious groups providing political support or cover. If there have been violations of the legal requirements established to maintain their tax-free charitable status, that status should be revoked and their properties put back on the tax rolls. An institution enjoying tax-free income treatment can be religious or political. It can’t be both.
Why is this important? Because separation of church and state works in both directions. Synagogues and all other religious institutions have an affirmative legal obligation to refrain from political activity and they need to be held closely accountable to that standard. To confuse church and state invites governmental regulation. If governmental intrusion into religious affairs goes too far, such regulation can be reminiscent of the very sad conditions of Jewish life under Islam and in medieval Europe. As those restrictions matured over time there was no happy ending for Jews under Islam or in Europe. That is what Steve Markowitz has spent a lifetime educating people about. No apology is necessary.