ST. LOUIS PARK, Minnesota. June 11, 2012 — In a letter to its members, Beth El Synagogue announced today that it is excited about the appearance of David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) at an August 8, 2012, “important fundraiser for…[the] synagogue.” The letter continues, “His appearance coincides with the 35th anniversary of Mr. Berkowitz’s arrest for the murder of six people and wounding of several others, a time when New Yorkers came together with a singular purpose.”
Because Mr. Berkowitz will be appearing on furlough from Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, security precautions will limit the attendance to 250 people. Tickets are priced from $1,250 to $3,600. Choice seats and pictures with Mr. Berkowitz in his prison garb will be afforded to the higher-priced ticket holders.
Beth El’s head rabbi, Rabbi Alexander Davis, said this event isn’t about ethics or about politics; it’s about fundraising. “We have had such speakers in the past,” he noted. “Just last September, Beth El featured a speaker with a very similar background. Former President George W. Bush, also a born-again Christian, was responsible for multiple deaths — in fact, hundreds of thousands more than Mr. Berkowitz. And few people saw anything wrong with that appearance.”
Rabbi Davis pointed to other similarities. President Bush believed God told him to invade Iraq; Berkowitz believed his neighbor’s dog wanted him to kill pretty young women. Both were in federal government positions at the time of their crimes– Bush as President, Berkowitz with the post office. Both are born-again Christians and read the Bible daily. Bush’s conversion preceded his crimes; Berkowitz’s came afterwards. Berkowitz terrorized a city; Bush terrorized several countries. Berkowitz is imprisoned, but he considers himself a “free man” because Jesus has pardoned him. Bush has in effect been pardoned due to his successor’s political cowardice, but his freedom to travel is limited, and he has avoided or even canceled appearances in countries where he might be arrested. Bush wrote a book; Berkowitz writes regularly on his website (ariseandshine.org).
The major difference, Rabbi Davis noted, is that Berkowitz has expressed “deep regret and sorrow over…[his] past criminal actions.” Unlike Bush, who has said he would do it again, Berkowitz has said, “I would do anything if I could go back and change things [to] have prevented the tragedy from happening. Of course, this is not possible.” The Rabbi also pointed out that no one has alleged that Berkowitz, unlike Bush, ever had anyone tortured.
Rabbi Davis concluded that “I don’t see what all the fuss is about. People are making a mountain out of a molehill. In these difficult financial times, synagogues must be free to invite whomever they want as speakers.” This is what enables Beth El to do the good work that it does and to be an example to the wider community of God’s righteousness and justice, he said.
Former President George W. Bush will be speaking at a Beth El Synagogue fundraiser Wednesday, September 21. A candlelight vigil against torture and war crimes will be held outside the synagogue at 5224 W. 26th St. (26th St. and Hwy. 100) in St. Louis Park, 4:00-7:00 p.m. Come any time during the vigil. Security screenings for people attending the $1,250-$3,600 per ticket event will begin at 4:30, and President Bush will speak at 6:00.
[Written on Sept. 16, 2011, but datelined June 11, 2012, these are not actual quotes from Rabbi Davis. For what he did say about the George W. Bush appearance, see the St. Louis Park High School student newspaper, the Echo.]