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Calling the Congregation to Conversation: Our Response to “Disloyalty

Friends, I am truly concerned about the tone of political discourse in our country.

No matter which party you align with or which candidates you vote for, the American people deserve more than hate speech, name-calling, bigotry, and divisive words for political gain from our leaders.

The last months have seen the highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in decades. We have endured too many mass shootings that followed or were attributed to hateful rhetoric from our leaders. Shouldn’t such horrific acts demand that people consider the tragic impact their words can have? Do we need to experience more shootings in synagogues, churches, and mosques? All leaders should be held accountable for what they say.   

 I join the AJC, ADL, Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and AIPAC in condemning the statements made yesterday by the president of the United States. I find such speech shameful and dangerous. Whether one is the president or a presidential candidate, a congressman or senator, a state or local official, there is no room for hate speech or name calling in our political discourse. Every government leader should remember that they were elected to serve the public, not denigrate it. 

We live in difficult times, and I am afraid that this election cycle will be even more divisive for the American Jewish community. We need civility, clarity, and the opportunity to think through our reaction and response to anti-Semitism.

Therefore, I am calling the Congregation to conversation. Even before this most recent chapter of disappointment and efforts to make Israel a partisan issue by both sides of the aisle, WHC’s senior staff, our Amram Scholar Series chairperson Leslie Maitland, and I have been working together to initiate a Congregational Conversation on anti-Semitism.

It will begin on Yom Kippur with my study session, a panel discussion on anti-Semitism with religious and academic experts.

Deborah Lipstadt, renowned scholar and author of Antisemitism: Here and Now, will open the Conversation at Temple on Wednesday, October 23. We will discuss her book in monthly conversations throughout the fall and winter before Professor Lipstadt returns for the concluding lecture on February 12.

David Harris, CEO of the AJC will open this year’s Amram Scholar Series with a discussion entitled, “Facing Challenges: The State of American and World Jewry.”

We are about to enter Elul, the month of reflection that precedes the New Year. As each of us considers our past year and how we want to begin 5780, let us have the resolve of our 167-year history to remain united in our sacred values, remember that all voices count in a civil society, and to stand against any words of hate that denigrate and seek to divide the American Jewish community.

I remain grateful for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s family of families, diverse in our political ideology but united in defending the Jewish people and the right of every American Jew to feel safe and protected by its elected leaders despite party affiliation.

In these difficult times, please know that our doors and hearts are open. My clergy colleagues and I are here to talk, to share, to comfort, or to simply be there for you.

Shalom,

Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig