Pittsburgh clergy deliver open letter to Rep. Summer Lee, denounce politician’s response to antisemitism
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Pittsburgh clergy deliver open letter to Rep. Summer Lee, denounce politician’s response to antisemitism

Congresswoman's 'divisive' words and actions prompt local Jewish spiritual leaders to unite

Rep. Summer Lee (Photo courtesy of summerlee.house.gov/)
Rep. Summer Lee (Photo courtesy of summerlee.house.gov/)

More than 40 area rabbis and cantors signed a letter denouncing Rep. Summer Lee for failing to meet “commitments” she made with local clergy last fall.

The letter, which includes signatures from spiritual leaders of diverse denominational streams, builds on a letter issued by the group months ago and states that in a meeting with Lee, the rabbis and cantors voiced their concerns about the politician’s “rhetoric and votes in relation to the events of Oct. 7 in Israel, the subsequent war, and the rise in antisemitism in America.”

During that fall meeting, “you promised us that you would call out antisemitism and temper your own language,” the letter continues. “Sadly, three months later, you have not followed through on those commitments.”

The clergy claim, that, since that meeting, Lee has continued using “divisive rhetoric, which, at times, we have perceived as openly antisemitic. You have continued to oppose measures before the House of Representatives that condemned antisemitism, and you have continued to call for an unconditional cease-fire from one side of the conflict, a position that devalues the lives and beliefs of one group.”

Signers note that the representative has “accepted campaign contributions from people who have voiced virulently antisemitic sentiments, and while you eventually withdrew from speaking at the CAIR conference, you have, unlike President Biden and other elected officials, so far been unwilling to denounce the hatred and ugly language coming from the keynote speakers of that conference and the leadership of CAIR.”

Members of Pittsburgh’s clergy maintain that although Lee has criticized other candidates for contributions received, “The time is now to hold yourself to the very same standard you seek from others.”

Along with sharing their desire to continue the conversation, the clergy write, “We call on you to denounce antisemitism fully and frequently, including returning contributions and declining support from those who have voiced hateful views.”

The signers close by maintaining, “We, like you, want a just and fair end to the hostilities. We believe that the best result will come from open commitments to new behavior, to an end to division, and to a commitment to care for and protect all people.”

“This is a painful letter to be a part of. It was painful the first time last fall; it was painful this time. We really had high hopes,” Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Daniel Fellman told the Chronicle.

“In many ways, I agree with Summer Lee on many issues. Clearly, on the question of Israel and the war in Gaza we disagree, and while she is entitled to her view, she is not entitled to stoke the flames of antisemitism,” he said. “Her continued language and actions have created a real problem.”

Like Fellman, Shaare Torah Congregation’s Rabbi Yitzi Genack was among the clergy who wrote to Lee in October and met with her in November.

“During that meeting, we asked her to be more morally clear in calling out antisemitism,” Genack said. “Since then, she has continued to not be an ally in opposing antisemitism, and she has associated with people who have used clearly antisemitic rhetoric that she has not called out.”

It is imperative to recognize the “long history” of harmful language precipitating dreadful acts against Jews, Fellman told the Chronicle.

“We have seen this movie before: We know the ending. We know that if you don’t speak up when language turns to antisemitism then terrible things happen,” he said.

Congregation Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Seth Adelson told the Chronicle he signed the recent letter due to his disappointment with the elected official: “In her actions and her words, Rep. Lee continues to fail her Jewish constituents in acknowledging their pain and distress following Oct. 7.”

Congregation B’nai Abraham’s Cantor Michal Gray said her decision to join fellow clergy was driven by a sense of camaraderie.

“It’s important as leaders of the Jewish community, leaders of the Jewish spiritual community, for us to stand together and to stand up for Israel,” she said.

The Chronicle requested a comment from Lee. No reply was received before publication. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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