Minneapolis rabbi discusses decision to interrupt president's fundraiser

Minneapolis Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg interrupts President Joe Biden at a fundraiser Wednesday to urge him to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken is in Israel today, urging the country to protect civilians as its troops encircle Gaza City. Its airstrikes and ground operations have killed more than 9,000 people in Gaza.

Blinken intended to call for “pauses” in the fighting, after President Joe Biden used that wording at a fundraiser in Minneapolis Wednesday. His comments were in response to Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, who interrupted the event to to ask President Biden to call for a cease-fire.

Other attendees shushed Rosenberg and told her to leave. Staff later escorted her out of the dinner, which cost a minimum of $1,000 per guest.

Rosenberg, who is on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, spoke with MPR News host Tom Crann Thursday about her decision to speak out at the event, and about how she’s navigating disagreement in the Jewish community.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Also on Thursday, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas Executive Director Steve Hunegs, said while he supports humanitarian pauses in the fighting, a cease-fire would mean victory for Hamas and no accountability for the attack that killed 1,400 Israelis.

To hear the conversation with Rosenberg, click play on the audio player above or read a transcript of it below. Both have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us why you decided to go to a fundraiser and interrupt the president to call for a cease-fire — and to identify yourself a rabbi while you did so?

Millions of people around the world and hundreds of thousands of American Jews are speaking out, saying, “Cease-fire now.” And there have been overwhelming actions in the last weeks. And Biden has yet to pick up this very clear call.

Obviously, what is needed is a cease-fire. Every day hundreds of people are dying. I had the opportunity to tell him that directly, and I am humbled and honored that I was able to amplify the voices of so many millions of people who are calling for a cease-fire.

The president responded that a pause should be considered to get prisoners out. And now comes news that Secretary Blinken will request this of Israel. Is that enough?

A pause is not enough. No more deaths. That’s it. That’s it. That’s the only thing.

There’s no way that we bomb our way to safety for anyone. The idea that we would settle for a pause and then go back to bombing is, is just — and this is why when you ask why I did it as a rabbi, I became a rabbi because I’m part of a millennia of ethical tradition that understands that all life is sacred. And that’s my duty. That’s what I’m going to keep fighting for.

What do you think when you hear Prime Minister Netanyahu say that a cease-fire would equal Israel surrendering to Hamas and terrorism?

I don’t think that Netanyahu has the best interest of Jews and Israeli safety. He has continually put Jews and Israelis at risk.

It’s clear from the audio of you interrupting the president that emotions are raw and people are very polarized. We can hear people shushing you and saying, “Get out.” I understand you were escorted out of the event. How do you navigate that polarization?

I know that many people are scared and many people are grieving. Palestinians around the world are scared every day, and Jews are so scared.

We have Israeli family and friends who were killed [in the Hamas attack] on Oct. 7. And we have Palestinian family and friends in Gaza and the West Bank. And we have people still waiting for their family to come home. And I so deeply feel all of that grief and fear.

As Jews, we have centuries of fear that we’re feeling [because of] very real violence that we have experienced that is still alive today, from white supremacists from Christian nationalists — who is where the real threat to Jewish safety comes from.

And Jewish tradition and prayer and ritual teaches me to take that fear and transform it into an ethical life in which we know that — B’tzelem Elohim, our most sacred teaching — that every person is created in the divine image. All human lives are sacred. And we know that our lives and safety are intertwined, and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe. And when I see what’s happening in Gaza, I think about what I wanted people to do for my ancestors, for my people. And that is what I'm called on to do.