It is sick to politicize a tragedy, but this is life, and it is expected, especially days before an election that will be highly watched and contested.
As reported here on Saturday evening, after the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, President Donald J. Trump initially spoke about the need for greater security. Some took it as a sort of “blaming the victim” attitude for the attack. Hours later, speaking to the Future Farmers of America in Indianapolis, VP Pence’s homeland, Trump had a more empathetic tone, and spoke out against the “scourge of anti-Semitism.” President Trump also included a rabbi (Rabbi Sandrew) at the start of his speech, who spoke out against hate and also praised the POTUS for his work fighting hate at home and abroad.
White House insiders have said that the change in tone was the influence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kuschner. The first son-in-law, who placed a mezuza on the door to his West Wing office, and the first daughter advised President Trump to fly to Pittsburgh to pay his condolences. Jared called on Avi Berkowitz, his aide, who flew to Western Pennsylvania with Jason Dov Greenblatt to lay the groundwork for the Presidential visit. Jason is an attorney and former chief legal officer for The Trump Organization. He is a Special Representative for International Negotiations and a senior advisor on Israel policy. He is a graduate of Yeshiva University and his parents are Jewish refugees from Hungary. Avi Berkowitz met Jared at a game of pick-up basketball game at a Pesach retreat in Phoenix, Arizona. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Avi is a Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump and aide to Jared.
Avi and Jason attended an interfaith vigil in Pittsburgh. Jason tweeted, “This evening I was very fortunate to attend an interfaith gathering in #Pittsburgh to mourn the victims of the terrible attack at the #TreeofLifeSynagogue, to pray for the wounded, to thank the incredible law enforcement, & for the community to begin the long healing process….I was so inspired by each speaker – different faiths coming together to bring strength to one another. The evening was a testament to a warm, special, close-knit and very strong community and city. Thank you to those who organized such an important, meaningful evening.” Jason had earlier tweeted, “I am heartbroken over today’s horrific Anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. My thoughts and prayers are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and the brave men and women of law enforcement and first responders.”
Although many in Pittsburgh asked the President not to visit, nor take attention or resources away from the mourners. The FBI reported back to the White House that the family of Daniel Stern, one of the victims of the attack, asked President Trump not to visit. However, Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said “I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.” He added in an interview, “Hate is not blue, hate is not red, hate is not purple… hate is in all. Speak words of love, speak words of decency and of respect. When the message comes loud and clear, Americans will hear that and we can begin to change the tenor of our country.” Myers received some threats over his welcoming comment.
While Avi and Jason worked the ground, Jared rang up Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, to join the trip. Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennett, who arrived in Pittsburgh to offer solace to the community, criticized those who sought to smear Trump with any responsibility for the terror attack, saying that the criticism was “unfair and wrong.”
President Trump and his wife, Melania, along with Ivanka, Jared, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought roses from the White House gardens with which to honor the murdered congregants, visited the wounded, and placed small stones on a memorial.
Vice President Mike Pence’s outreach to a rabbi in Michigan did not work as well.
While campaigning for Micgigan Republicans prior to next week’s voting, his team leveraged Lena Epstein, a Republican candidate for Congress in the Detroit area.
Epstein invited Messianic-Jewish Rabbi Loren Jacobs of Messianic Synagogue Shema Yisrael to speak at the rally and offer prayers. But Jacobs, wrapped in a tallit, read a prayer to Yeshua and Jesus saying, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God and Father of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and Father too.” Jacobs, who received his ordination from a Christian seminary, ended his prayer by saying, “in the name of Jesus.”
He also intoned a partisan prayer for the Republican candidates, including GOP Rep. Mike Bishop who might lose to Elissa Slotkin; Elissa is Jewish and leading in the polls.
Jacobs can believe what he wants, but IMHO he was not the right person to call on, since he has said that Jews who do not accept Jesus/Yeshua are destined to an afterlife in Hell. (Of course, this is also an evangelical Christian belief, but it isn’t the person to invite when seeking to cater to Jewish voters and to pray in the memory of Jews who were gunned down due to hate.)
Sounds a tad insensitive if you asked me. Ms. Epstein probably could have found another rabbi out of the sixty or so that are close to Detroit.
According to The Hill and NBC News, Jacobs was “defrocked” 15 years ago, in 2003, by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations after he lost a case where he was accused of libel. The case was centered on a quarrel over theological teachings and the role converting Christians to Judaism.
Lena Epstein, 37, is Jewish and a member of the GOP. She is running against Democrat Haley Stevens for an open Congressional seat (MI-11). Criticized for her decision by many in the Detroit Jewish community, Epstein was steadfast and listed her Jewish bonafides.
Epstein tweeted: “My family’s history as Jews and my commitment to my Jewish faith are beyond question. I’m a proud lifelong 4th generation member — and former board member — of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Earlier this year, my daughter Emma received her Hebrew name on the bimah at Temple Beth El. I invited the prayer because we must unite as a nation — while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania. Any media or political competitor who is attacking me or the Vice President is guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed. This was an effort of unity, yet some are trying to create needless division to suit their political goals. Now is the time for people of all faiths, of all religions, to come together as one and reject hate and religious divisions. That means Christians, Jews, Muslims and everyone else who will stand together, hold hands in unity against evil and speak from our individual hearts with one voice. I am proud of my faith and look forward to serving as the only Jewish Republican in Congress.”
Epstein co-owns Vesco Oil Corporation, which she writes is one of the largest women-owned businesses in Michigan with over 200 employees and sales exceeding $180 million per year. The company was founded by her grandfather in 1947. Humorously, Epstein’s company was helped by the Obama administration’s bailout of GM and Chrysler in 2008. Haley Stevns, her opponent, worked for Obama and was chief of staff to Steve Rattner, who led Obama’s auto bailout. Of course, Epstein doesn’t agree that it was a federal bailout that was the primary contributor to saving the industry
An interesting timbit: Jeff Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital, led the medical team who tended to the accused terrorist and murderer Robert Bowers after he was shot multiple times by the Pittsburgh police. The initial medical workers at the scene were Jewish, as were many on the medical team at Allegheny General.
Congress ordered / funded a State Department position for monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism. It has remained unfilled during the Trump Administration. In May 2018, Members of Congress asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo why the role remained unfilled. Pompeo replied, “You have my word. We’ll move on [it]. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said this week that the administration had planned to name someone two weeks ago, but that the candidate withdrew due to health reasons. But they have another person in mind and will name her/him in the future. Congressman Chris Smith (Republican, NJ-4) wrote the legislation creating the position, and wants it to be a Senate-confirmed ambassadorship. He has been in Congress since 1981 and his district includes the heavily Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood, NJ. It is doubtful that an envoy in this position would focus on domestic anti-Seimitism, such as the attack in Pittburgh, or the U.S. government’s radio broadcasts to Cuba and Latin America that tried to disparage George Soros as a “Jew.”