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Temple Beth Shalom leader settles in to life in Spokane

Rabbi Michael Goldstein, of Temple Beth Shalom on the South Hill, joined the congregation on Aug. 1. “My wife and I felt instantly welcome here in Spokane,” he said. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Rabbi Michael Goldstein, of Temple Beth Shalom on the South Hill, joined the congregation on Aug. 1. “My wife and I felt instantly welcome here in Spokane,” he said. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Drivers on Interstate 90 aren’t the only people who’ve noticed a large sign near the Maple Street exit that urges a boycott of Israel. Members of Spokane’s leading synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, have questioned Rabbi Michael Goldstein about it, the rabbi said Sunday

He told his congregants to ignore the sign.

“To me, the best answer was to not give it any attention,” said Goldstein. “The whole premise of the sign is to be misleading at best.” Goldstein explained that the sign’s statement “end 50 years of oppression” is aimed at the state of Israel.

“If we do the math and subtract 50 years from 2010, we arrive at 1960,” said Goldstein. “Israel was not in the West Bank or the Golan Heights in 1960, so it must be the sovereign state of Israel that they object to.” It was during the Six Day War in 1967 that Israel captured the West Bank and the Golan Heights, among other areas.

“There is only one way to understand that sign: the whole premise is delegitimizing the existence of the state of Israel,” said Goldstein.

A story in The Voice last week explained that Spokane residents Marianne Torres and Michael Poulin had paid for and erected the sign in support of an international boycott-Israel campaign. Torres and Poulin own the property and the $800 sign, and have been doing work related to the Palestinian cause for the last 25 years.

Goldstein, who joined Temple Beth Shalom on Aug. 1, said signs like that often are put up by groups who claim to be tolerant, yet remain uninterested in dialogue that challenges their views.

“Tolerance is about a willingness to listen to other points of view,” said Goldstein. “They say they are for peace and against war. To me, peace is a willingness to live in proximity and to co-exist with people you don’t agree with. We don’t have to agree with each other to live in peace.”

Goldstein moved to Spokane from New Jersey, where he worked for three different congregations.

“I’m from Houston, Texas, but I lost the accent somewhere along the way,” Goldstein said.

He replaced Temple Beth Shalom’s longtime Rabbi Jacob Izakson, and said he felt instantly at home in Spokane and with his new congregation.

“When a congregation is seeking a new rabbi, it’s a lot like an online dating service,” Goldstein said. “The congregation will post a detailed profile about itself, and a rabbi looking for a new congregation can go look for a match.”

E-mail conversations and phone interviews are then followed by visits, if so desired.

“It’s up to the congregation whether it wants to meet me,” said Goldstein, whose first visit to Spokane was in April.

So far, his biggest problem has been not having enough time to explore the area.

“We have a subscription to the symphony, which we very much enjoy,” said Goldstein, about favorite Spokane activities. “We like to take our bikes and go biking around on a sunny day, and we’ve been skiing on Mount Spokane. We really like the community.”

And in true Spokane fashion it only took a few months before the rabbi found himself recognized around town.

“I guess I do wear an easy identifier,” said Goldstein, pointing to his yarmulke, smiling. “But I like that people come up and say hello to me.”