I am honored to introduce Grace Gleason, the new Project Assistant for the American Jewish Peace Archive (AJPA). She was hired through a generous grant from Ewa and Danny Abraham, founder and president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East PeaceI first came to know Grace through her inspiring sermons at Mishkan Chicago, a Jewish spiritual community in Chicago. As an activist, with the young adult anti-occupation group IfNotNow, she took a great interest in the historical activism documented in the Archive. 

Below you can read her reflections on the short video "Excommunicated" about the actual excommunication of New Jewish Agenda members and others in 1982 for their pro-peace and pro-LGBTQ positions. 

Kol tuv,

Aliza Becker, Director


Batya Kallus (Betsy Cohen), Reena Bernards, and Clare Kinberg, three former activists with New Jewish Agenda, recount their experience of being excommunicated by a beit din (an authoritative Jewish court) in 1982, following a letter published by the New Jewish Agenda critiquing Israel's actions in the Lebanon War.

Reflections on "Excommunicated"  by Grace Gleason

Watching former New Jewish Agenda  (NJA) leaders Reena Bernards and Batya Kallus recount their experience of being excommunicated by a beit din (an authoritative Jewish court) in 1982, following NJA's publication of an open letter critiquing Israel's invasion of Lebanon, I was duly upset, comforted, and motivated to think strategically.

On the one hand, the excommunication was a victory for NJA. It garnered widespread coverage in national media, and the prevailing narrative - that NJA members were victimized by the out-of-touch extremists - worked in NJA's favor. Who would want to be on the side of the extremists and not the righteous dissidents? The media coverage of this beit din likely pushed people to sympathize with NJA,  and piqued interest in the group's work. Activists often consider this kind of polarizing event a windfall.

On the other hand, the excommunication was a sad moment in American Jewish history. Part of what was so sad for me about it was how I saw that the beit din was just the extreme manifestation of a sentiment that is in fact pervasive and widespread among Jews globally: that a person forfeits her Jewishness by critiquing policies of the Jewish State. The excommunication was simply a magnification of this sentiment. As an observant Jew who draws great value from a sense of peoplehood, the idea of being excommunicated from the Jewish people was such a painful thought (even though in the case of NJA the legal authority was quickly delegitimized). 

Thinking about what must be happening for a leader to feel the need to excommunicate fellow Jews just reminded me of how scared and traumatized many of us are, in particular those of an older generation, and how much healing we need to do as a people.

Amidst these many reactions, it was powerful for me to identify with Batya, Reena, and Clare. I saw how they emerged with strength and humor after being targets of attacks on their character and their Jewishness because of their activism. In the midst of of organizing post-election actions with IfNotNow and feeling vulnerable as an aspiring Jewish leader publicly critical of the Israeli Occupation, I felt safer and supported. 

I believe that this understanding of intergenerational solidarity is one of the many insights and resources that the American Jewish Peace Archive  (AJPA) has to offer to young people who are taking personal risk in their activism. It's so important that we support each other, and we can also feel supported by a knowledge of history, a wider and deeper community of elders who have gone before us. This is just one of the reasons why I am excited to begin my work at AJPA, and to think about how to make the treasures the Archive offers available and useable to activists in my generation.

Grace Gleason is the Project Assistant at the American Jewish Peace Archive (AJPA). She is a Jewish educator and fellow at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva in the Chicago area. She served as a  Leaders hip Fellow  at Mishkan Chicago from 2014-2016. Additionally, she is an activist and a leader with IfNotNow. She earn ed a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with honors from The University of Chicago in 2014.


The mission of the American Jewish Peace Archive is to document through oral history the accounts of Jews in the United States who have worked in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation since 1967, and in so doing, to facilitate dialogue and inquiry between the generations, to provide primary source material for scholars, and to provide guidance and inspire hope for the future.