2018-OCT-29: A political campaign event creates conflict in Michigan:
Lena Epstein (R) is a candidate in the NOV-06 election for the U.S. House to represent Michigan's 11th Congressional District, northwest of Detroit. If she is elected, she would be the first Jewish Republican member of Congress. In a poll conducted by Siena College from OCT-01 to 06, she was found to be trailing the Democratic candidate Haley Stevens by seven percentage points: 38% to 45%. 1
She invited Rabbi Loren Jacobs to give a "unity prayer" at her campaign rally. Vice President Mike Pence attended. He referred to Rabbi Jacobs as a "leader in the Jewish community."
Joe Tacopino, writing for the New York Post said that Rabbi Jacobs was allegedly expelled from his congregation for libel more than a decade previously. 2
Some observers criticized her choice of Rabbi Jacobs because he is a follower of Messianic Judaism -- a faith group that regards Jesus Christ as the Messiah. This conflicts with the beliefs of the main Jewish traditions: Conservative, Hasidic, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform. Many Jews consider Messianic Judaism to be a branch of Christianity.
Jacobs opened the rally by praying to the:
"... "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and father too. I pray that you would comfort all those who are mourning because of those who were wounded and killed. Lord, please work so that instead of division in our nation there is unity and peace."
Matt Brooks is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He called the selection of Rabbi Jacobs:
"... an unfortunate and disappointing mistake. ... Any kind of elevation or legitimization or profile for Messianic Jews or Jews for Jesus is unacceptable. There is no circumstance where that is an acceptable speaker to represent the Jewish community. ... his [selection] was an unfortunate decision that was made by one of the campaign staffers, and quite frankly I wish that a different decision had been made."
Halie Soifer is the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. She issued a statement saying that the selection of Rabbi Jacobs was a:
"... failure of leadership. So-called Messianic Jews are not a part of the Jewish community, and espouse views considered deeply offensive. In choosing this individual to give a 'unity prayer' at the Pence campaign rally, Epstein demonstrated that she lacks both the judgment and understanding to lead Michigan's 11th Congressional District."
Candidate Epstein issued a statement that links the criticism of Rabbi Jacobs to religious intolerance:
"My family's history as Jews and my commitment to my Jewish faith are beyond question. ... [The selection of Rabbi Jacobs] was an effort of unity. ... 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. Now is the time for people of all faiths, of all religions, to come together as one and reject hate and religious divisions." 1,2,3
2018-OCT-29: Kellyanne Conway blames synagogue shooting on "anti-religiosity:"
Conway is one of President Trump's counselors. Speaking on the conservative TV program "Fox & Friends," she partly blamed the shooting on:
"The anti-religiosity in this country that is somehow in vogue and funny, to make fun of anybody of faith. To constantly be making fun of people who expresses religion. ..."
"The late night comedians. The un-funny people on TV shows. It's always anti-religious."
Turning to the victims of the synagogue shooter, she said:
"And remember, these people were gunned down in their place of worship, as were the people in South Carolina several years ago. And they were there because they're people of faith and it's that faith that needs to bring us together. ... This is no time to be driving God out of the public square. No time to be making fun of people." 4
Webmaster's view (bias alert):
I disagree that violent anti-semitic actions are significantly caused or influenced by media commentators poking fun at religious beliefs. My feeling is that it is perpetrated by persons with a deeply held and sincere religious faith who hate other persons -- often without knowing them personally -- who happen to follow a different religion faith, or a different denomination, sect, or faith group within the same religions. The roots of anti-semitism go back millennia, and were nurtured by many Christian groups until the middle of the 20th century.
There are tens of thousands of denominations, sects, and faith groups within Christianity alone. Yet most people appear to believe that their particular group has the fullness of truth and that all the other groups are in error. That is very unlikely to be accurate. Even if there is one group who teaches beliefs that are fully true, the chances of an individual belonging to that group is slim.
Courses on comparative religions and religious history in public schools could go a long way to reducing hatred of "the other" if they are carefully written and if the teachers are well prepared.
2018-OCT-30: The President and First Lady visit Pittsburgh:
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, told reporters that the president will:
"... express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community. ... Above all, it was an act of evil. We all have a duty to confront anti-semitism in all its forms. Today, America grieves for the precious lives who are cruelly stolen." 5
Eleven Jewish leaders published a letter on the Bend the Arc website asking President Trump to not come to the city unless he first clearly denounces white nationalism. It accused the President of undermining the safety and security of African Americans, Jews, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and disabled people. It gathered over 22,000 additional online signatures from readers as well. It said, in part:
"For the past three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence. ... Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country. President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities."
On the other hand, Jeffrey Myers, the current rabbi at the Tree of LifeSynagogue, said that he would welcome the president's visit. 6,7
The four main leaders in Congress were invited to join the President. They would be the Majority and Minority Leaders of both the Senate and House. All refused.
The President and First Lady visited Pittsburgh on Tuesday, OCT-30. When Air Force One landed, they were not welcomed by the usual collection of local dignitaries. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (D), Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D), and others would normally be there to welcome the President, but nobody was present.
The President and First Lady paid tribute to the shooting victims. They entered the synagogue vestibule and lit candles for each of the 11 victims. Nearby protestors shouted that the President was not welcome. Some shouted: "words matter," and "Trump, go home." 8
An article on the AL.com web site said:
"Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who had been conducting services when the shots rang out, gestured at the white Star of David posted for each victim. At each, the president placed a stone, a Jewish burial tradition, while the first lady added a flower.
They were trailed by first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.
Near the synagogue, flowers, candles and chalk drawings filled the corner, including a small rock painted with the number "6,000,011," adding the victims this week to the estimated number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The Trumps later spent more than an hour at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where some of the victims are recovering. The couple's motorcade passed several hundred protesters on the street and a sign that said: "It's your fault." Inside, Trump visited with wounded police officers and injured congregants but did not appear to meet with relatives of the deceased."
Pittsburgh resident Paul Carberry, who lives near the synagogue, said that President Trump should have delayed his visit until after the dead were buried. He said:
"He didn't pull the trigger, but his verbiage and actions don't help."
Shayna Marcus, a nurse who was involved in treatment of the wounded, disagreed. She said:
"I don't think focusing on Trump is the answer." 8