NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A prominent Upper East Side rabbi abruptly backed out of speaking at the Republican National Convention following a heated controversy.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is Ivanka Trump’s rabbi, and handled her conversion to Judaism. Thus, it may have been natural for her to ask her spiritual leader to participate in the convention.
But his initial acceptance caused an uproar.
CBS2’s Kramer asked some people what they thought about the controversy as they left Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 E. 85th St. None of them was interested in discussing it.
“I have no comment,” one woman said.
“I’m not quite sure,” a man said.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” a woman said.
More than 800 people at Kehilath Jeshurun – many of them former students – signed a petition saying theiy were “outraged” at Lookstein’s choice to speak at the convention.
“Donald Trump openly spouts racist, misogynistic rhetoric; he advocates torture, the expulsion of millions of families, some long settled in America, and insinuates that some citizens of this great country are somehow less than others,” the petition said. “To embrace Trump and Trumpism goes against all we’ve been taught.”
That prompted a congregant in turn to start a petition in support of the rabbi. But it was too late – the controversy drove Lookstein to bow out.
Lookstein said he initially accepted the invitation to give the opening prayer out of respect for Ivanka Trump. He handled her conversion before her marriage to Jared Kushner.
Lookstein said it was never his intention to get involved in politics.
“Politics divide people,” the rabbi said to an email in his congregation. “My life has been devoted to uniting a community…. In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation.”
Some said they wanted Lookstein to support Trump, because they believe Trump will do a better job of supporting Israel.
“I think Rabbi Lookstein, who is a brilliant man, sees the light that even if Trump may not be the best president, in terms of the real issues today, Trump is going to be the better option for protecting this country; protecting Israel,” said Don Halpern of the Upper East Side.
When asked for Donald Trump’s reaction to the rabbi’s decision, spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Lookstein’s statement speaks for itself.