Did liberal Jewish denominations succeed in making a brave statement against President Trump’s divisive leadership by effectively torpedoing an annual High Holidays conference call with rabbis?
Or did Trump hang up on them before they could hang up on him?
Less than 24 hours after Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis announced they would not organize the annual High Holiday presidential conference call, the White House made clear such a call was never in the cards anyway.
A Trump spokesman suggested that the call was a creation of former President Obama that had no future under Trump — even before the announced boycott.
“The Trump Administration looks forward to creating its own traditions to observe the High Holidays and other important days in the Jewish faith,” a White House official told the Forward.
The statement put an end to speculation about the annual pre-Rosh Hashanah call after groups representing the majority of Jewish rabbis in America announced they would not participate. Several sources in the Jewish community said they were not aware of any alternative plan or “new tradition” planned by the White House to address the community before or during the holidays.
The tradition of holding a rabbinical conference call began with Barack Obama and was initiated by liberal Jewish denominations. In the calls, held annually, Obama would give a presentation reflecting on issues relating to the community and would then take a few questions, one from each rabbinical group. While the calls rarely made big headlines, rabbis said they found the talks informative and helpful as they prepared to address their communities in High Holiday sermons.
On Wednesday, a joint statement by the three denominations said they would not hold the call because of President Trump’s response to the racially-inflamed events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“President Trump’s statements during and after the tragic events in Charlottesville are so lacking in moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred that we cannot organize such a call this year,” the statement said.
Rabbis involved in the initiative told the Forward they had not reached out to the White House prior to making the decision.
Orthodox denominations did not join the move to pull out of the conference call in the first place.
The debate highlighted the rift between liberal Jewish denominations, which represent the majority of the American Jewish community, and the Trump White House. News of the planned boycott of the call was widely reported in national media outlets.
The end leaves all sides with strong talking points: Liberal Jewish denominations have made their opposition to Trump clear, and the White House can hold on to the claim that no damage was done, since there was no call to cancel. And the Orthodox can maintain that they are the one group that did not damage their access to the White House.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.