New York – Rabbi Haskel Lookstein canceled his planned appearance and speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week, after over 600 alumni of Manhattan’s modern-Orthodox yeshiva day school Ramaz signed a petition calling him out for his public support of Donald Trump.
Lookstein’s father founded the school in 1937, and Lookstein is its former principal and rabbi emeritus of its associated synagogue, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.
Lookstein, 84, who has recently caught media attention after Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court refused to recognize a conversion he performed in New York, was scheduled to attend the convention to lead a prayer for Trump.
Lookstein is also the rabbi who converted Trump’s daughter Ivanka to Judaism.
“When Ivanka Trump, a member of our congregation, invited me to deliver the opening prayer at the Republican National convention next Monday, I made a personal decision to honor her request out of respect for her and our relationship,” the rabbi explained in a letter he sent to the school’s current students, graduates and staff on Friday.
“Unfortunately, when my name appeared on a list of speakers at the convention, without the context of the invocation I had been invited to present, the whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended.”
Former students who had signed the petition urged Lookstein to withdraw his participation, stating that his legacy is at stake.
“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. As graduates of Ramaz, and as current or former members of the modern-Orthodox community, this is a shanda [disgrace] beyond the pale.”
“Rabbi Lookstein, all the good work you’ve done in your life – everything you’ve done for your community, for the plight of Soviet Jews – will be flushed down the toilet for 10 minutes on stage in Cleveland,” the graduates wrote. “This is the single action history will remember you by, and history will not be kind.”
They also told their former principal that “Jews are never far behind” on Trump’s list of scapegoats and that supporting the candidate, whom they called a “dangerous man,” is equivalent to “embracing and politicizing hate.”
“Not in our name. Today we are ashamed to be Ramaz graduates,” they wrote.
In his email to “the Ramaz family,” Lookstein said he would comply with the graduates’ demands “in the interest of bringing our community together.”
In his email to “the Ramaz family”, Rabbi Lookstein said he complied with the graduates’ demands “in the interest of bringing our community together.”