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Following shocking sermon, Atlanta JVP calls on area rabbis to challenge racism in Jewish community

As members of the Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, we were extremely disturbed by the racist and dehumanizing Rosh HaShanah sermon delivered by Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Georgia. We were also dismayed by the lack of response from the rest of the Jewish community after the sermon became public.

Because we believe strongly that people of conscience must speak out to challenge bigotry in all its forms, we decided to send letters to Atlanta area Rabbis, to the Atlanta Jewish Federation, and to the board of trustees of Congregation Etz Chaim calling on them to repudiate Rabbi Lewis’s sentiments and to take a stand against anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism in their synagogues and organizations. Our hope is to raise awareness of racism in our community, to hold our leaders accountable, and to work together to find solutions.

We received only a brief reply from the President of Etz Chaim’s Board of Trustees, stating “we appreciate your concern” and wishing us “a peaceful New Year.”

The letter addressed to Atlanta area Rabbis is reproduced below.

Dear Rabbi:

We are writing to you as members of the Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. We are well aware that there are many issues that may divide us, but today we are writing to you regarding an issue about which we believe there should be no disagreement between us.

As you may be aware, a Rabbi in our greater Atlanta community, Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, recently delivered a Rosh HaShanah sermon (originally posted at www.etzchaim.net/ehr_daw_2014; the full sermon is also posted at http://mondoweiss.net/2014/10/genocidal-atlanta-hashanah). In it, he spoke of Muslims in what can only be viewed as a racist and dehumanizing manner. He asserts (without evidence) that there are “50 million Koran-waving, Allah Akbar-howling Muslim murderers out there planning to slit our throats, blow us up or forcibly convert us.” Rhetorically, he paints all Muslims as enemies of freedom – he describes the Muslim population of Europe as “violent Islamists, extremists who reject every value we treasure.” He states: “The enemy has eyes and ears. Fingers and toes. Speaks with lips. Runs with legs. Eats. Drinks. Has the face of a human being – but, has a much different heart and a much different soul.” He ends with a call to “exterminate […] utterly and absolutely.”

This language, which explicitly denies the humanity of others, and calls for their extermination, should be unacceptable to anyone, but it should be doubly so to us as Jews. We know from our own all too recent history that dehumanization, if left unchallenged, can take root in a society with breathtaking speed, leading to genocidal consequences. Perhaps history might have been different had the plans of the Nazi leadership met with greater opposition from people of conscience in the German religious and intellectual communities before meaningful opposition became impossible.

We believe it is our responsibility as Jews, and in particular we feel strongly that it is your responsibility as a leader in the Atlanta Jewish community, to call out this dehumanization, to challenge it publicly and to make it clear that it has no place in our houses of worship, our homes, or anywhere else in our community.

While we believe all American Jewish leaders should decry Rabbi Lewis’s sermon, we feel that as Jewish Atlantans we have a particular responsibility to do so, both because its words were spoken in our “backyard,” and also because of our responsibility to uphold Atlanta’s historical role as a leader in the civil rights movement by fighting racism in all of its forms. Let us continue to live up to our reputation as the “city too busy to hate.”

We call on you not to be silent when forms of racism and dehumanization appear in our midst, but instead to publicly call it out, to denounce it, and to ensure it has no place in your worship services, your religious instruction, or anywhere else in the life of your congregation. We ask that you repudiate Rabbi Lewis’s hateful speech in your own sermons, and in your communications with your congregation. Let us make it abundantly clear that these words are not the teachings of our religion or the sentiments of our community.

We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter and hope to be in conversation with you now and in the future.

Respectfully,

The membership of Jewish Voice for Peace – Atlanta

Jewish Voice for Peace - Atlanta

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33 Responses

  1. American on October 9, 2014, 9:53 am

    I commend JVP’s constant efforts–and call me a cynic or a realist — but I think they are chipping away at a concrete wall with cotton swabs.
    Here we have a Rabbi (with his BOD’s approval obviously) who are inciting people to literally ‘annihilate’ a group of others.

    If any kind of humane appeal would work on these people then they wouldnt do what they do to begin with.

    You cant keep ‘respectfully appealing’–according any respect at all– to people who have nothing inside them to appeal to…it just doesn’t work.

    ”civility is for dancing classes”

    • Mooser on October 10, 2014, 10:37 am

      It seems to be a necessary part of the process, all this begging for a conversation and a response.
      When the schismatics leave, they are to be able to say “We didn’t leave, you kicked us out.”

  2. Talkback on October 9, 2014, 10:07 am

    “We were also dismayed by the lack of response from the rest of the Jewish community after the sermon became public.”

    Silence is complicity.

    • Mooser on October 10, 2014, 10:39 am

      “from the rest of the Jewish community”

      What’s that?

  3. alfa on October 9, 2014, 12:53 pm

    JVP is a Activist organization and are taking the lead on the opportunity Rabbi Lewis provided, I believe this is an excellent start, if there is a more successful group I would like to know about them. They do the ground work, Indians as well as chiefs and lead with action, while others provide criticism.

  4. ckg on October 9, 2014, 1:17 pm

    The JD Forward reports Lewis was speaking to nearly 2,000 congregants and he received a standing ovation and lengthy applause. The paper says the sermon became an issue only after it was reported by MW.

    • Elisabeth on October 9, 2014, 3:23 pm

      Too bad that wasn’t videotaped. I hated the comment about the tasty bowl of hummus too. Would anyone say there are many African Americans who are not violent, and just want to eat their tasty slice of watermelon in the evening?

  5. RobertB on October 9, 2014, 2:00 pm

    Archbishop Hanna: “Attack On Al-Aqsa Targets Palestinian History And Identity”

    October 09, 2014 by Saed Bannoura – IMEMC

    Archbishop Attallah Hanna, of the Greek Orthodox Church in occupied Palestine and Jerusalem, strongly denounced the Israeli military and fanatic Israeli groups who attacked and invaded the al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem.

    http://www.imemc.org/article/69335

  6. amigo on October 9, 2014, 2:32 pm

    He is not much different from the so called “Rev” Ian Paisley (rip) who called for the murder of Catholics in his early days and opposed any equality for Catholics in Northern Ireland.

    These people should be ostracised and shunned.They serve mankind no useful purpose.

    • American on October 10, 2014, 9:13 pm

      ” These people should be ostracized and shunned. They serve mankind no useful purpose.””…amigo

      I totally agree. I said here long ago that the zionist ( and that goes for any like them) should be ‘shunned’—ostracized from civil society.

      A person or two jumped me for this, saying shunning was bad, it was ‘alienating’ people…..
      I think they need to be alienated, rejected socially, politically and business wise..
      Stamped ‘unacceptable to civil societies’.

  7. just on October 9, 2014, 4:26 pm

    Is it really ok to preach hate speech and incite from the pulpit? From ANY tax- exempt pulpit in the United States?

    Mosques are monitored– shouldn’t other houses of worship be subject to the same scrutiny? Just saying…….

    (not that I want invasion of houses of worship– but this should not be tolerated! what is wrong with his congregation???????)

  8. Xpat on October 9, 2014, 4:49 pm

    Rabbi Lewis preaches genocide against non-Jews. The outcome: a standing ovation and lifetime tenure.
    Rabbi Rosen preached equal human rights for non-Jews. The outcome: he’s out of a job.

    Thank you JVP for saying what needed to be said. Jewish Voice for Peace is practically the only reason you can say all Jews are not racists.

    • bilal a on October 9, 2014, 7:20 pm

      recall, this is a liberal rabbi in a liberal community.

      andrew sullivan , sam harris, and bill maher are one with this community.

      as are the humanitarian interventionists

      some one besides Gilad Atzmon must speak on the idea of Judaism-Christianity without Torah, the identity politics of reform at churches and synagogues, , and why this has resulted in modern violent neo colonialism, at home and abroad.

      • on October 10, 2014, 10:08 am

        I don’t believe you can lump Andrew Sullivan in with those other two Muslim haters.

      • french_jew on October 10, 2014, 11:41 am

        So? From the Haskalah onward, “liberal” judaism has often been ever more influenced by European (and white) racism, being that it has accepted “modernity” (which is only the name to contemporary western thought and actions, even if horribly oppressive). “Liberal” judaism has accepted class domination, colonialism and so on just as much as other branches of judaism, if not more, which is not a surprise, since the jewish populations which tended to adopt “jewish liberalism” were those closest to privileged populations in the west in social class, taste, customs etc.

        I don’t see how this supposedly confirms Atzmon’s vision of the world which is essentialist by nature, simplistic (he doesn’t make a big difference between, say the Talmudic, the medieval and the contemporary eras in jewish thought) and assimilationist (judaism is evil by nature and jews should just become ordinary white westerners, loyal to their respective Nation States). The birth of colonialism (and it’s historical follow-up, neocolonialism) is not the product of jewish social organization and jewish traditions (which is basically what Atzmon, who has never done research in his life, keeps talking about). Colonialism was born when the spanish conquered parts of the Americas. This was the first historical form of colonialism, very distinct from other forms of conquest. It’s historical genesis has to be found, among other things, in the “reconquista” of Al Andalus and the expulsion of the jewish and muslim populations. It first used a modified version of catholicism to justify itself (the Valladolid controversy) and later, as colonialism was adopted by other European powers, started to use the language of “modernity” and “science” for justification.

        This is unrelated to Talmudic or Medieval Jewish thought. But of course Atzmon needs to find something to cater to his antisemitic and white-supremacist friends (such as Alain Soral, from France), who generally do not give a fuck about Palestinians nor about the dignity of third world populations.

      • Mooser on October 11, 2014, 1:38 pm

        “french.jew” that was a good comment. I’ve always felt Zionism was the ultimate assimilation.

  9. Kay24 on October 9, 2014, 5:58 pm

    Looks like AIPAC or some other Israeli lobby are now recruiting the Rabbis, to preach about loving Israel and ignoring it’s crimes against humanity. No Rabbi should justify the killing of civilians, especially little babies. This certainly isn’t the work of any God.

    • Laurent Weppe on October 9, 2014, 6:41 pm

      Political potentates trying to coerce the clergy to become their propagandists, clerics either embracing their new role with enthusiasm or meekly remaining silent for fear they’ll become the bullies’ next target. Nothing new under the sun.

    • bilal a on October 9, 2014, 7:27 pm

      Not according to the Jewish encyclopedia :

      The name “Molech,” later corrupted into “Moloch,” is an intentional mispointing of “Melek,” after the analogy of “bosheth” (comp. Hoffmann in Stade’s “Zeitschrift,” iii. 124). As to the rites which the worshipers of Molech performed, it has sometimes been inferred, from the phrase “pass through the fire to Molech,” that children were made to pass between two lines of fire as a kind of consecration or februation; but it is clear from Isa. lvii. 5 and Jer. xix. 5 that the children were killed and burned. The whole point of the offering consisted, therefore, in the fact that it was a human sacrifice. From Jer. vii. 31 and Ezek. xx. 25, 26, it is evident that both prophets regarded these human sacrifices as extraordinary offerings to Yhwh. Jeremiah declares that Yhwh had not commanded them, while Ezekiel says Yhwh polluted the Israelites in their offerings by permitting them to sacrifice their first-born, so that through chastisement they might know that Yhwh was Yhwh. The fact, therefore, now generally accepted by critical scholars, is that in the last days of the kingdom human sacrifices were offered to Yhwh as King or Counselor of the nation and that the Prophets disapproved of it and denounced it because it was introduced from outside as an imitation of a heathen cult and because of its barbarity. In course of time the pointing of “Melek” was changed to “Molech” to still further stigmatize the rites.

      http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10937-moloch-molech

  10. talknic on October 9, 2014, 7:29 pm

    “The JD Forward reports Lewis was speaking to nearly 2,000 congregants and he received a standing ovation and lengthy applause.” = Zionism’s well honed and practiced racist, bigoted indoctrination works

  11. palijustice on October 9, 2014, 9:00 pm

    As usual, JVP is the conscience of the Jewish people. This letter needs to be sent around to as many Jewish congregations and organizations as possible all over our country. What Lewis said, and the reaction of the congregation is truly shocking and unacceptable from a religious leader, or from anyone for that matter.

  12. traintosiberia on October 9, 2014, 11:05 pm

    This is not an isolated event. The rabbi ,Harris, Maher,and Bil O Reily, or Hannity are the essential features of the agitprop that have been part of the zeitgeist of post 911 . Prior to the911, there were other who broke the grounds after 1991 focussing on atrocities by Saddam,on Chechneya,and on Afghanistan. Bodansky was one of them . So was Emerson.
    It s no hazard risk free endeavor . It did not require much skill ,literacy,or knowledge base other than the shameful impulses to push self interest ,engage in polemics , ability to mix disparate contexts ,and fine tune the presentation for appeal to masses which was the minimum necessity for the media baron.

    Islamophobia of recent years hide a much dangerous reality . American elite is creating a scapegoat for the dismal future that is staring at its face now. Economy is in ruins. Education has lost its potential. Few opportunities that are out there are being siphoned off by the elite .youths are facing morbid future of poverty anger hopelessness,and disintegration of the communities . Detroit or Ohio or Buffalo are more
    Ike.y the fate of US awaiting the next generation. There will be upheaval. It is highly likely that the Zionist will try to escape the blame that should be squarely placed at them. Their role in the wars will be analyzed,scrutinized,and be exposed more and more . Their participation in the general weakening of the social values,structure,corruption,weakening of economy ,and Finances will be studied more openly and earnestly . Zionist knows it . The future doesn’t look good for them. This is why Rabbi and Harris/ Maher team up to create hatred and perpetuate medieval attitude to Muslim ,and manufacture a ground for future war against Wrstern Muslim .
    Real purpose is to deflect the attention from the destructive result of the Zionism on the west.

    • french_jew on October 10, 2014, 11:45 am

      It’s not just a US thing, islamophobia thrives on transnational ties constructed by different medias, intellectuals, political activists, journalists and so on, between the US, western Europe, Israel and to a lesser extend places like India, Nigeria or Russia.

      These people all influence and reinforce each other for mutual benefits in their respective societies.

      • french_jew on October 10, 2014, 11:57 am

        As for zionism having a destructive role on the west, how so? And which parts of, or people in, the West are you talking about? It provided the western arms industries with plenty of orders and a live experimental ground (for example the ineffective Israeli Iron Dome system, was paid for with US public money, but the House required that the money be mostly spent on US hardware, and Massachusetts based armed manufacturer Raytheon took the deal), it allowed the former genocidal societies in Europe to instantly get rid of their jewish question (now replaced with a muslim question), it gave them a key ally in the middle east and the Mediterranean …

      • Mooser on October 11, 2014, 1:42 pm

        “As for zionism having a destructive role on the west, how so? And which parts of, or people in, the West are you talking about?”

        These are questions we go back and forth about quite a lot here.

  13. JLewisDickerson on October 10, 2014, 1:03 am

    RE: “As you may be aware, a Rabbi in our greater Atlanta community, Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, recently delivered a Rosh HaShanah sermon . . . In it, he spoke of Muslims in what can only be viewed as a racist and dehumanizing manner.” – Atlanta chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace

    AS WSB RADIO ONCE LIKED TO BROADCAST: “Welcome South Brother”

    ■ ANOTHER FAMOUS MARIETTAN, FROM WIKIPEDIA [J.B. Stoner]:

    (EXCERPTS) Jesse Benjamin “J.B.” Stoner (April 13, 1924 – April 23, 2005) was an American segregationist who was convicted in 1980 of the bombing in 1958 of the Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.[1]
    He was a founder and long-time chairman of the National States’ Rights Party and publisher of its newsletter, “The Thunderbolt”. Stoner unsuccessfully attempted to run as a Democrat for several political offices in order to promote his white supremacist agenda. . .
    . . . Stoner earned a law degree, and served as the attorney for James Earl Ray . . .
    . . . Stoner once said that “being a Jew [should] be a crime punishable by death”.[1] He ran the National States’ Rights Party, which attracted such fringe political figures as A. Roswell Thompson, a perennial Democratic candidate for governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans. . .
    . . . Stoner ran for governor of Georgia in 1970. During this campaign, where he called himself the “candidate of love”, he described Hitler as “too moderate,” black people as an extension of the ape family, and Jews as “vipers of hell.”[1] The primary was won by civil rights supporter and future President Jimmy Carter. Stoner then ran for the United States Senate in 1972, finishing fifth in the Democratic Party primary with just over 40,000 votes. The nomination and election went to Sam Nunn.
    During his Senate campaign, the FCC ruled that television stations had to play his ads due to the fairness doctrine. His ads included the word “ni**er.”
    . . .
    Stoner also ran for lieutenant governor in 1974 . . .
    . . . In his 1974 lieutenant governor campaign, Stoner placed signs on the Macon Transit Company buses, which Mayor Thompson ordered removed. Stoner promptly went to federal court to secure the return of his paid signs under his First Amendment protection. . .

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._B._Stoner

    ■ ALSO SEE: “U.S. publisher who called for Obama assassination proves ‘Israel-firsters’ exist” ~ by Yossi Gurvitz, +972 Magazine, 1/21/12

    [EXCERPTS] Andrew Adler is the publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, and soon he’ll have to spare some time from his busy schedule to answer questions from Secret Service agents. Why? Because, when opining last week on just how Israel should deal with Iran, Adler unleashed a fantasy, and wrote that “[option] three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.” . . .
    . . . Adler has since issued a non-apology: “I very much regret it, I wish I hadn’t made reference to it at all,” he told the JTA. It is worth noting that Adler is a Chabadnik, i.e. a member of a religious faction which has already shown an unhealthy interest in assassinations. Harry Shapiro, a Chabadnik, was convicted of planting a pipe bomb in a synagogue visited by Shimon Peres in Jacksonville back in 1997. A leading Chabad rabbi in Israel, Dov Wolfa, has flirted with the supporters of Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin. I think it is safe to assume that an Islamic movement with this sort of record would find itself under, shall we say, intense scrutiny by the authorities.
    Now, no one would mistake me for a supporter of either the Netanyahu government or Israel’s out-of-control security establishment, but I am certain that had anyone suggested such a covert operation to Netanyahu, that person would be fired on the spot. And that even had Netanyahu entertained such an idea, the leadership of Mossad would submit their resignation rather than going along with the plan. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://972mag.com/u-s-publisher-who-called-for-obama-assassination-proves-israel-firsters-exist/33484/

    ■ AND SEE: : “Peter ‘Powder Keg’ Beinart is disinvited from gig at Atlanta Jewish book festival”, by Annie Robbins, Mondoweiss, 11/05/12

    [EXCERPTS] The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has dis-invited liberal Zionist Peter Beinart from a speaking engagement at its annual Jewish book festival, presumably because he has called for a boycott of settlement goods, and it’s causing quite a stir. Everyone from J Street to Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is weighing in. The event is expected to attract over 10,000 people this year. Beinart is one of 55 authors, some best selling, listed on MJCCA’s 2012 festival brochure. His talk, named “Zionist Zeal” about his book ‘The Crisis of Zionism’, is listed on page 16, relegated to a spot alongside “Low Cal Gal” Lisa Lillian and right above Marni Davis’s “Jews and Booze”.
    The center’s president and CEO are now defending their decision to cancel Beinart’s invitation, claiming that once that brochure went out with word of Beinart’s appearance, protests came “pouring in.”
    However, just how many of the center’s 18,000 members participated in this screeching avalanche of disapproval is not information Steven Cadranel, the president of the MJCCA, is willing to disclose. Nor is he saying if any arm twisting measures were employed. After all, it’s entirely possible merely a few big donors expressed their disapproval in a way that could impact the economic future of the center and phff… and so, for the first time in the history of the festival, a scheduled writer’s invitation went kaput. . .

    SOURCE – http://mondoweiss.net/2012/11/peter-powder-keg-beinart-is-disinvited-from-gig-at-atlanta-jewish-book-festival.html

  14. RobertB on October 10, 2014, 12:15 pm

    Jews in US slam restaurant featuring Palestinian food

    “Pittsburgh restaurant PA’s Conflict Kitchen has come under fire by some members of the city’s Jewish community”

    “In Pennsylvania Pittsburgh a restaurant, PA’s Conflict Kitchen, has come under fire by some members of the city’s Jewish community on the grounds that they’re upset that the restaurant is serving Palestinian food.

    There’s not only something interesting, for those of not familiar with Conflict Kitchen, about restaurant’s , but also the reason why the food they has chosen in the menu.”

    http://www.worldbulletin.net/middle-east/145944/jews-in-us-slam-restaurant-featuring-palestinian-food

  15. RobertB on October 10, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Conflict Kitchen’s Palestinian focus criticized as one-sided

    Some call its new focus one-sided, anti-Israel

    October 7, 2014 12:00 AM

    By Melissa McCart / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    “Conflict Kitchen in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza debuted its rotation of Palestinian dishes Monday. By noon, more than 30 customers stood in line to order fattoush, falafel, musakhan and other foods.

    Though the lunch hour went smoothly, not everyone was happy with the restaurant’s decision to focus on Palestine as part of its rotation to serve food from nations in conflict with the U.S.

    Some Jewish organizations cited the Palestinian focus and related event programming as one-sided and anti-Israel.”

    http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2014/10/07/Conflict-Kitchen-s-Palestinian-dishes-leave-bitter-taste/stories/201410070088

    • traintosiberia on October 10, 2014, 1:55 pm

      The definition of nantisemtism is expanding exponentially as the air assaults aginst ME countries are unfolding more or less in the same rate .

      Books have been removed from the Canada- US library by the zionist. Now the food from the resturants.

  16. just on October 11, 2014, 3:52 pm

    The other thing that I find “shocking” besides his grotesque, genocidal sermon is that his some 2000 congregants gave him a standing ‘O’ and extended applause.

    He’s not only one…

    Thanks again JVP Atlanta. Good luck.

  17. traintosiberia on October 12, 2014, 9:05 am

    WaPo goes abroad seeking a fanatic radical but misses one at home . At least the fanatic from aboad is not asking or cheer leading the killings of the innocent not endorsing beheadings or targeting of Christian or Jews . But that does not prevent WaPo to elevate a freelancing demagogue to the pantheon of demigods of the extremism apparently enjoying UK’s robust tolerance and massive welfare system.

    WaPo ‘s wonderful lawabiding truly American editor have over the years have covered everything that helps it to malign Muslim ,increase the prejudices enhances the chances of wars against Iran and Syria and reminds Americans how the Zionism is serving US both abroad and at home like a true ally and sacrificing its interests .

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-britain-islamist-extremist-anjem-choudary-proves-elusive/2014/10/11/eb731514-4e43-11e4-8c24-487e92bc997b_story.html

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