You’ve got to respect those who find small moments to stand up for the Jewish people. It makes you figure they’re probably doing it all the time, with a little moment here, a little moment there.
Rabbi Dena Feingold found one such moment on Aug. 21, when she asked a question at a live CNN Town Hall meeting in Racine that had U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan furrowing his brow. His mouth agape, he seemed ready to shoot a comment back quickly, before applause for the rabbi’s question cut him off. Ryan looked down, waited and smiled.
CNN had contacted Feingold several days earlier to ask if she’d like to attend and pose a question about Charlottesville. She’d be questioning the powerful Republican Speaker of the House who represents much of Southeastern Wisconsin, an area that includes Feingold’s synagogue, Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha.
Feingold (yes, the former U.S. senator’s sister) sometimes attends Ryan’s town hall meetings, but he hasn’t been holding any recently, she said. So she jumped at the chance to attend, knowing that she wanted to ask a “concrete” question.
So she asked this: “I’m sure that you are as shocked as I am at the brazen expressions, public expressions of white supremacy and anti-Semitism that our country has seen since the November election,” she said. “ … I’d like to ask you what concrete steps that you will take to hold the president accountable when his words and executive actions either implicitly or explicitly condone, if not champion, racism and xenophobia. For example, will you support the resolution for censure?”
Censure is a Congressional measure to condemn a president (or other top official) without removing him. It’s a step lower than impeachment proceedings and a step higher than, well, doing nothing. Censures are rare. Democratic Congressmen proposed censuring the president on Aug. 16 for blaming “both sides” after Charlottesville.
Ryan waited through the applause and delivered his response: “I will not support that. I think that would be – that would be so counterproductive. If we descend this issue into some partisan hack-fest, into some bickering against each other, and demean it down to some political food fight, what good does that do to unify this country?”
Feingold did not have an opportunity to ask a follow-up question, but she now says she was not surprised that Ryan, to her, appeared to stick by the president.
She feels that Ryan was saying she’s making the issue political. She disagrees. The rabbi feels President Donald Trump has “made statements that are so irresponsible.” He’s giving white supremacists and neo-Nazis a chance to feel emboldened, she said, with a free pass from the president.
“That is not OK,” she said.
So I asked her, if she’d had a chance to rebut Ryan on CNN, what would she have said? She’d give the Speaker her own personal rabbinic censure, if not a legislative one.
“I think I would have said I’m disappointed,” she said. “I hope he would rethink it in the coming days.”
He won’t, but thanks, rabbi, for gifting us this moment.