Conversations with the rabbi: the Jewish voice in America

Rabbi Weiss of Congregation Shma Koleinu uses his podcast as well as his synogogue to be critical of politicians when it comes to issues rooted in Judaism | Courtesy of Congregation Shma Koleinu

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s relationship with President Donald Trump and evolving roles within the administration have resulted in them becoming two of the most influential people in American politics.

Their prominence in the White House should stand as representation for Jewish people across the country, but incidents like the couple flying during the Shabbat and their relationships with controversial members of the president’s cabinet have caused many to question the depths of their faith.

“It’s definitely a new world,” said Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss of Congregation Shma Koleinu. “Here you have the President who is anything but Jewish culturally or ethnically, yet his daughter not only is Jewish, but she converted to Judaism.”

Hausman-Weiss is the head rabbi at the congregation in Houston and hosts the podcast “Conversations With the Rabbi.” Hausman-Weiss said the while he wants to give the Kushners the benefit of the doubt, he isn’t able to ignore their relationship with some of Trump’s advisers.

“It’s a paradox,” Weiss said. “I think it’s incredibly odd that on a regular basis people like the Kushners can sit in the same room with someone like Steve Bannon.”

During the campaign, Breitbart, a conservative news outlet owned by Bannon, published articles containing what Hausman-Weiss said he considers over anti-Semitic imagery.

The spike in anti-Semitic incidents is concerning, Hausman-Weiss said, but not the biggest struggle for the Jewish community.

“The real division that’s been happening is in the Jewish community has been the growing divide between the left and right—liberal and conservative,” Hausman-Weiss said.

The rabbi said Southern synagogues members tend to be far closer to a 50-50 split politically, in contrast to Northern congregations which tend to be more Democratic overall.

“It may not be fair but there are a lot of Jews in the community who describe themselves as an AIPAC Jew or a J-Street Jew,” Weiss said.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is Jewish political organization whose main mission is to support Israel and foster a positive relationship between it’s government and the United States.

Hausman-Weiss said AIPAC’s increasingly conservative and right leaning affiliation led to the Creation of J-Street, another Jewish political committee leaning more towards the center and left.

“I know that many rabbis in the South have either explicitly or implicitly decided that they’re just not going to talk about politics because it is such a divisive issue,” Hausman-Weiss said.

A report from the Anti Defamation League showed an 86 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States so far in 2017. Though his congregation has not directly been a target, Hausman-Weiss said statistics like this are a reminder that society has not progressed as far as he would like.

“I would like to believe our society has radically changed since suffrage and since Brown V. Board of Education,” Hausman-Weiss said. “But it was strikingly depressing to me to realize if not for legislation these things come back so fast. We can’t just sit back. We don’t live in a world where we’ve achieved some level of tolerance that everyone has bought into.”

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