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In Wake Of Pittsburgh Massacre, San Diego Rabbis Speak Out Against Hunter's Campaign Rhetoric

Rabbi Devorah Marcus in an undated photo.
courtesy photo
Rabbi Devorah Marcus in an undated photo.
Pittsburgh Hate Crime Moves San Diego Rabbis To Speak Out Against Rep. Hunter’s Campaign Rhetoric
Pittsburgh Hate Crime Moves San Diego Rabbis To Speak Out Against Rep. Hunter's Campaign Rhetoric GUEST: Rabbi Devorah Marcus, senior rabbi, Temple Emanu-El of San Diego

In light of the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue leaders of the Jewish community in San Diego are calling on Duncan Hunter and his campaign to end personal attacks against his challenger Amaar campaign ajar attacks. They say that appeal to racism bigotry and fear. Rabbi Devora Marcus from Temple Emanuel of San Diego is among the group of 17 rabbis who signed their names to a statement which reads in part These false fear mongering claims undermine important Jewish values including the commitment to tolerance honesty and respect unquote. She sat down with PBS Jade Heineman to talk about the wait words. CARY Rabbi Devora thank you so much for joining us. Seventeen rabbis signed this statement condemning Duncan Hunter for his personal attacks on a mosque camp in Ahar. What is it that Congressman Hunter said that moved you all to put this statement together now. The nature of the ads is really insidious. It creates a narrative that's not true. It's peddling in lies and it's really deceitful in its content. It's saying that because Mark Kampen Ahar had a grandfather who was connected to the terrorist organization Black September and involved with the PLO and because he was connected to the massacre of the Israeli Olympiads in the Munich Olympics they are saying that his father is also a terrorist because of that and that he is a terrorist because of that. There's no evidence at all that Omar has ever been connected to any radical organizations. They're saying that because he spent time living in Gaza between the ages of 8 and 12 that he was radicalized during his time there that he was somehow indoctrinated or inculcated into the very worst expressions of terrorists ideology and it's simply not true. We're living in a world right now where there is so much hyperbolic speech and a lot of it winds up having really deadly outcomes. So for us as rabbis especially in light of what happened in Pittsburgh we felt compelled to speak out especially because these ads are playing on racism against Muslims fear of the Muslim people and fear of all Arabs. In this case Palestinians and for us as rabbis we feel like it's our obligation to speak up on behalf of anyone who's being libeled but especially when a lot of this libels being targeted towards these themes that really connect in such a personal way to so much of our own Jewish history because of the connection between Jews and Palestinians over everything in Israel. You said the group of Jewish leaders you represent is not endorsing one candidate or another. Why speak out right now before the election. We had a lot of debate about this as we talked about it. We were concerned that by releasing the statement it would appear as if we were endorsing one of the candidates and there was a great deal of concern that we not appear to be endorsing someone we take our responsibility to stay neutral on these kinds of things very seriously. At the same time Pittsburgh happened. So in my own synagogue we had Torah study and services knowing that there had been Jews murdered by a white supremacist and in the days that followed as we put together the vigil we all were forced to confront the very sad reality of the outcomes of hate speech in a really real and immediate way. There are 11 people who are dead because of hate speech and because of the actions of this man. So we felt especially after the vigil. Having stood side by side with so many friends from different faiths that if we don't have the courage to speak out against hate speech when we see it especially in such an important situation is this that we lose our right to be upset with that hate speech directed at us in this case that hate speech. The linkage between terrorism and Islam is being directed at at this candidate. It doesn't impact the Jewish community in an immediate and direct way except that it's one more example of creating a world in which we are comfortable hearing libel about other people in which we become desensitized to other people having their integrity questioned simply for their ethnic affiliation or their religious affiliation. So we felt compelled to speak. We couldn't stay silent. What do Jewish teachings say about the importance of words. This is a great question. I actually just spoke about this on Monday evening at our vigil. Jewish tradition teaches that every single word that we speak is binding that it has weight that it has meaning Jewish tradition teaches that God weighs measures and counts Mark's records every single word that we say. The whole purpose of Kol ni drae our service that we open our holy day of Yom Kippur War with asks God to forgive us from all of the things that we said that we left unfulfilled and to release us from these vows which were empty because we believe that we're held accountable for every word that passes through our lips including the things that we never should have said. This was a big reason why many of the rabbis who were on this list felt compelled to sign this list. Our world today are America right now is being told that what people say what the the things that they speak that it doesn't matter that it's okay if someone said something offensive yesterday because today they're smiling and so we should just pretend that what was spoken yesterday that it has no meaning that it has no weight that it has no relevance. It's just not true from Jewish tradition. We learn that our words actually build reality. Torah teaches us that when God created existence God speaks the world into being. We know this quote right. Everyone knows this quote God said Let there be light and there was light. So from this we take the idea that our words build our worlds. They build our reality and that they matter. We have to be held accountable for them and more importantly we as Americans have to hold all of our leaders all of our community leaders accountable for the words that they speak because truth matters. Talk to me a bit more about that because most people most won't be moved to violence by words. What is your concern about the impact they have on spreading racist and bigoted ideology. In Judaism we have this incredible prophetic tradition and it's actually the prophetic tradition that gives rise to some of the best theologies that have grown out of Jewish tradition including the Christian tradition the prophetic tradition teaches that even a small transgression needs to be treated with tantamount importance. It needs to be recognized that the smallest of transgressions is a crisis because if we don't address the small transgressions when they happen then the small transgressions become normalized. So if you just shoplift a stick of gum OK it's bad but it's a stick of gum. It maybe costs whatever 5 cents. But then once you become comfortable with that then that doesn't seem so bad. So then maybe you start stealing something that costs more or doing something more dangerous. And then once you become used to that once you become desensitized to that everything keeps escalating. So the prophets teach us that even the smallest transgression the smallest lie the smallest wrongdoing has to be addressed. It has to be addressed immediately and with a great deal of attention and focus and intensity because we don't want to live in a world or create a world where we become desensitized to the small injustices. Because that and that means that large injustices become our new normal. Rabbi Devora Marcus thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. We reached out to the Duncan Hunter campaign for a response but did not hear back from his campaign by air time.

San Diego rabbis' statement on Duncan Hunter's campaign rhetoric

"As rabbis and leaders of the Jewish community in the San Diego area, we are deeply disturbed by Duncan Hunter and his campaign's personal attacks on Ammar Campa-Najjar. These attacks are not rooted in facts or in serious policy disagreements, but in appeals to racism, bigotry and fear. Campa-Najar is a Christian, not a Muslim, and not affiliated with any radical group. Campa-Najar is not a security risk, he received a security clearance when he worked for the Obama administration.

These false fear mongering claims undermine important Jewish values including the commitment to tolerance, honesty and respect. In light of the recent tragedy of Pittsburgh we feel compelled to speak out against hate speech wherever it occurs. In the Talmud (Yevamot 87b) we read the rabbinic wisdom that silence in the face of accusatory testimony is tantamount to consent.

This statement is not an endorsement of either candidate. We encourage all candidates to continue to debate the issues and discuss their differences of opinion with honesty and civility."

Rabbi Aliza Berk

Rabbi Laurie Coskey

Rabbi Cantor Arlene Bernstein

Rabbi Wayne Dosick

Rabbi David Frank

Rabbi Susan Freeman

Rabbi Benj Fried

Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel

Rabbi Leah Herz

Rabbi Martin Lawson

Rabbi Devorah Marcus

Rabbi Scott Meltzer

Rabbi Yael Ridberg

Rabbi Paula Reimers

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Carole Stein

Rabbi Jonathan Stein

In light of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, leaders of the Jewish community in San Diego are calling on Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and his campaign to end their personal attacks against challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar.

Hunter's campaign mailers have called Campa-Najjar a national security risk without evidence.


A statement signed by 17 San Diego area rabbis reads in part, "These attacks are not rooted in facts or in serious policy disagreements, but in appeals to racism, bigotry and fear."

Rabbi Devorah Marcus, senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of San Diego, said Hunter's remarks about Campa-Najjar are "playing on racism against Muslims, fear of the Muslim people and fear of all Arabs, in this case Palestinians."

Campa-Najjar has described himself as a Christian. When asked about his time in Gaza as a child, he said he attended Catholic school there until he was 11 and moved back to San Diego where he was raised by his mother.

KPBS asked Hunter to respond to the rabbis' statement. He said, "No, we're not going to respond to that, we're not worried about it."

Marcus spoke with KPBS’ Jade Hindmon about the weight words carry.