In a joint statement on Wednesday, August 23, leaders of four major Jewish groups announced that they will not convene a 2017 High Holiday conference call with the U.S. President (currently the office is held by Donald J. Trump)
The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative movement rabbis), the CCAR: Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform rabbis), the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and the leaders of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism decided not to convene their annual High Holiday conference call with the U.S. President.
They wrote that, “The High Holy Days are an opportunity for reflection and introspection. As the leaders of major denominations in American Jewish life, we have been deeply engaged in both, considering the events of the Jewish year that is ending and preparing spiritually for the year to come. In so doing, we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered whether to continue the practice in recent years of playing key roles in organizing a conference call for the President of the United States to bring High Holiday greetings to American rabbis. We have concluded that President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year.”
The statement continued, “The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.”
And the rabbinical leaders closed with the theme of repentence and t’shuva, adding, “The High Holy Days are a season of t’shuva for us all, an opportunity for each of us to examine our own words and deeds through the lens of America’s ongoing struggle with racism. Our tradition teaches us that humanity is fallible yet also capable of change. We pray that President Trump will recognize and remedy the grave error he has made in abetting the voices of hatred. We pray that those who traffic in anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia will see that there is no place for such pernicious philosophies in a civilized society. And we pray that 5778 will be a year of peace for all.”
Rabbi Steve Fox, the executive director of CCAR, said that the issue was religious and not political, and they wanted presidents to be moral leaders. Rabbi Fox, a 1980 graduate of HUC-JIR who led spiritual congregations in California and Massachusetts, said that President Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people” amid a crowd of white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting in defense of a Confederate statue put the celebration of the Jewish High Holy Days at risk. He said, “As the leader of the U.S. and the leader of the free world, we believe it is his [President Donald J. Trump] obligation to condemn these white supremacists.”
A Charlottesville, Virginia rabbi took online threats to burn his synagogue down so seriously that he removed the Torahs from the synagogue’s ark and took them to another building. Congregants at that synagogue had to escape from the back door when protesters 0 many of them armed with automatic rifles – stood outside its front doors, chanting anti-Semitic threats.
Most members on President Trump’s Christian evangelical council have not distanced themselves from him or his statements. A.R. Bernard, however, a member of the Evangelical Advisory Board, said last week that he resigned from the Board due to a “deepening conflict in values” between himself and the Trump administration.
Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA: Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox rabbis) wrote that his group “respect[s] the office of the presidency and believe it is more effective to address questions and concerns directly with the White House.” Earlier, the RCA stated that it “condemns any suggestion of moral equivalency between the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and those who stood up to their repugnant messages and actions.” Rabbi Elazar Muskin, the President of the RCA wrote that “There is no moral comparison… failure to unequivocally reject hatred and bias is a failing of moral leadership and fans the flames of intolerance and chauvinism.” Rabbi David Zwiebel, an Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America, said “the Charlottesville carnage is a painful reminder that racial hatred is, unfortunately, alive and well in our great country. All of us must do what we can as individuals to fight and marginalize haters.” Mark (Moishe) Bane of the Orthodox Union (OU) said, “Displays of hate, bigotry and racism by those who proudly associate themselves with white supremacy and Nazism are antithetical to the fundamental American values that have made this nation a home to people of diverse racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier, a rabbi who participated in the inauguration of Trump, said this week that Monday’s solar eclipse provided a metaphor that the president should consider, saying that Earth’s “moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, yet the moon had the capacity to do a complete eclipse on the sun. Now that should teach us about bigots and haters who started out as small groups.” Three Orthodox rabbis from Manhattan’s KJ synagogue (which Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner attended) wrote that they were “deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence [in Charlottesville].”
During a sermon over Shabbat R’ei, Rabbi David Wolpe, a leader of the Jewish community of Los Angeles and Sinai Temple, called on President Trump to repent. He preached, “I never thought I would have to speak these words to a congregation but here they are: These are Nazis! These are the people who rounded up our people all over Europe and put them in gas chambers. And they marched in the streets of an American city. And people defended the silence of the leader of our country for a full day.” Rabbi Wolpe continued that, “President Trump said, ‘Some people on both sides were very fine people.’… Well, there were very fine people marching on the Left along with some people who were not at all fine… But nobody marching on the Right is a very fine person, because a very fine person does not march under a Nazi flag, no matter what they think or what they feel.”