Jewish synagogue teacher files lawsuit after being fired for anti-Zionist blog post

Jewish synagogue teacher files lawsuit after being fired for anti-Zionist blog post
Westchester Reform Temple is being sued by a former employee who claims she was unfairly dismissed. (Facebook)
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Updated 04 February 2022

Jewish synagogue teacher files lawsuit after being fired for anti-Zionist blog post

Jewish synagogue teacher files lawsuit after being fired for anti-Zionist blog post
  • Jessie Sander, 26, fired after 15 days of work at Westchester Reform Temple, New York state
  • Lawsuit alleges violation of labor laws preventing employers from policing how employees use time outside work

LONDON: A teacher who was fired from a job at a Jewish school after posting comments critical of Zionism and Israel on her personal blog has filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging that it violated labor laws. 

Jessie Sander, 26, had worked at Westchester Reform Temple school in Scarsdale, New York state, for 15 days before she was fired last July.

Warren Haber, the synagogue president, said at the time that it “made this termination decision after much consideration and in accordance with WRT’s religious mission.”

But Sander, who is Jewish, said her firing is a violation of labor laws that prevent employers from policing how employees use their time when not at work.

Her lawsuit, which was filed before New York State Supreme Court in Westchester, accuses the school of violating labor law by firing her “because of her uncompensated lawful recreational activity, outside of work hours, off the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property.” It seeks her reinstatement plus compensatory damages.

She believes that she was fired for her critical views of Zionism and Israel, as expressed in a previous blog post, seen by her employers. Sander said when her employers came across the post, she was called in for questioning.

Rabbi David E. Levy asked whether she supported the Palestinian faction Hamas, and what she meant by calling herself anti-Zionist.

She told the New York Times that he had agreed with much of what she had said during the questioning, and had praised her as a good role model for the students. But a week later she was fired.

When she asked why, Eli Kornreich, the temple’s executive director, told her: “It’s just not a good fit.”

Sander said: “In the earlier meeting, I was like, ‘Wow, here’s a manager who gets it and says, ‘No one should fire you for your political beliefs,’ then at the next meeting it was, ‘Oh, except for me’.”

The temple defended her firing on the basis that the synagogue’s work is based on the principle of Clal Yisrael, which calls for “strengthening our commitment to Israel and the Jewish people of all lands and working to establish understanding and commonality among the various expressions of Judaism.”

But previous rabbis at WRT have expressed critical views of Israel. One, Rabbi Jonathan Blake, criticized “extremists, cynical political officials and wealthy patrons” in Israel for promoting “a grandiose vision of Jewish totalitarianism in the biblical Holy Land.”

Unlike Sander, however, they stopped short of questioning the right of Israel to exist, and of dissociating Zionism with Jewish identity entirely.

In her blog post, Sander wrote: “We reject the notion that Zionism is a value of Judaism. Zionism is not equivalent to, or a necessary component of, Jewish identity. To conflate Zionism and Judaism is not only inaccurate but dangerous.”

She continued: “In fact, support for israel often conceals deeply antisemitic views, as seen in some vocally pro-israel evangelical Christian groups.”

She also critiqued a common justification for the existence of Israel: That it provides a homeland for the long-persecuted Jewish people.

“Antisemitism (and white supremacy) do not disappear with the existence of israel — israel only placates us against revolution by giving Jewish people hope that there is a safe haven from antisemitism while turning us away from the struggle all marginalized groups must fight together,” said Sander. “As American Jews, we demand an end to American funding of Palestinian genocide.”