Two women who say they have been run out of Boulder's Jewish community after an argument with a rabbi at Congregation Har HaShem want the synagogue to fund a Jewish ethics lecture series, library and scholar-in-residence program -- all in their names -- to restore their damaged reputations.
They also want to be reinstated as members at Har HaShem -- with their dues waived for the next four years -- a public, written apology from the synagogue's rabbis, and for the congregation to pay for therapy, private religious tutoring and a program of Jewish study in Israel.
According to a lawsuit filed this week in Boulder County District Court, Barbara Brown and Karen Hammer are seeking more than $100,000 in damages from Har HaShem, Boulder's Reform synagogue.
In the lawsuit, the couple accuses Rabbi Joshua Rose of false imprisonment and Rose and Rabbi Deborah Bronstein of intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. The rabbis deny any wrongdoing, according to their attorney.
They say Brown and Rose got into an argument over the rabbi's failure to provide audio-visual equipment for a class Brown and Hammer were teaching that ended with Rose blocking the door to his office while holding his infant son on his hip to prevent Brown from leaving.
After several requests to leave were ignored, Brown began screaming, causing Hammer, Brown's wife, to run to her assistance from the nearby classroom, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says Brown and by extension, Hammer, were traumatized by the incident, and that trauma was made worse when the synagogue leadership rebuffed their efforts to resolve the matter and shared a letter from synagogue attorney Darren Nadel about the issue with many synagogue members.
"The Nadel letter was later distributed by Congregation Har HaShem to most of the members of the synagogue as part of a campaign to discredit Dr. Brown, Ms. Hammer and the Brown-Hammer Family," the lawsuit says. "As a result of the Nadel letter and the distribution of similar information, Dr. Brown and Ms. Hammer were publicly heckled at a synagogue membership meeting of over 300 people."
The lawsuit also alleges that Har HaShem cancelled the couple's membership and prevented them from being accepted as members at Congregation Bonai Shalom, a Conservative synagogue.
Nadel said in a written statement that the rabbis had reviewed the allegations in the lawsuit and deny any misconduct.
"They view the action as unfortunate for all involved," he said.
He said the characterization of the letter that was shared with much of the congregation was inaccurate.
"I can confirm that I did send a letter to Ms. Brown and Ms. Hammer in response to a demand letter they had sent to the Congregation," Nadel said. "That letter, along with the allegations made by Ms. Brown and Ms. Hammer, were distributed to the Congregation in advance of a Congregational meeting to determine whether to elect Rabbi Rose as the Congregation's next senior rabbi."
In an interview, Hammer said she and her wife are now unable to worship anywhere in Boulder and have to drive to Denver for services. The long drive detracts from what is supposed to be a day of rest.
Hammer, a corporate attorney with no litigation experience, is representing the couple herself because other lawyers said the case was "too hot" to take, she said.
Hammer said she and Brown tried to resolve the matter privately and filed the lawsuit only as a last resort. She said she hopes people realize the case isn't about Judaism but about clergy misconduct.
"It's not good for any faith to have their clergy acting out, creating victims and then becoming predators," she said.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.