Greene Rattles Jewish Communities

Greene Rattles Jewish Communities

Incendiary rhetoric has made the Georgia congresswoman a controversial figure among Jews close to home and nationally.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Comments ranging from space laser plots to naming Jewish figures in conspiracy theories have made Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene a hot topic. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Comments ranging from space laser plots to naming Jewish figures in conspiracy theories have made Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene a hot topic. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In its early years, the Jewish community of northwest Georgia felt the winds of political division. As supporters of the Confederacy, residents of Rome watched Union troops under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman put its downtown to the torch.

A noteworthy piece of rebuilding was the founding in 1875 of Rodeph Shalom, in Hebrew “pursuers of peace.” Descendants of its founders are among the Rome congregation’s 15-member families 145 years later.

The flames swirling today were sparked by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican who represents Rome and Georgia’s 14th District in the U.S. House. Greene, who was elected in November with nearly 75 percent of the vote, offers no apologies for her controversial statements — several of which have been adjudged to be anti-Semitic — and vows not to back down, no matter her critics, not even her fellow Republicans.

In a 2019 article, the Rome congregation with 15 member families was compared by a member to “The Little Engine That Could.” Many Atlanta rabbis have served the synagogue as spiritual leaders.

While her Jewish constituents, who may number no more than a few hundred, express concern, Jewish groups with national platforms have rebuked Greene, some demanding her ouster. The AJT sought comment from Greene, without success at press time.

Shelly Peller’s great-great-grandfather, Rabbi David Esserman, was Rodeph Sholom’s first rabbi. Peller, who lives in Rome, hopes that Greene will be beat in the next election. However, she said, “This was a fair election, and she was elected. I don’t think she’ll get thrown out unless she does something [bad] while she’s in office.”

Nancy Brant, the congregation president, lives in the adjoining, and equally conservative 9th Congressional District. Brant said that she is “extremely angry and worried that plenty of people probably believe it [QAnon conspiracies]. I’m more concerned about the Republicans who won’t stand up and say what Greene says is wrong.”

Rabbi Steve Lebow said he’s heard concerns about Greene from congregants of a congregation at which he works in Rome.

Rabbi Steve Lebow, who retired last summer after 34 years as the full-time rabbi at Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, has for eight years conducted monthly services for Rodeph Sholom. Calling himself the “chief rabbi of north Georgia,” Lebow also works with Shalom b’Harim (“Peace in the Mountains”) in Gainesville and the Jewish Congregation of Blue Ridge.

Lebow said that one of his Rome congregants, identified only as a “health services professional,” told him, “You have to realize what my day is like. People come in. I take care of them. I treat them. As a health professional I pledge to take care of anybody. And I have to simply cancel that thought out, that seven of 10 of my patients voted for this crazy woman.”

Mandi “Malka” Griffin is an Orthodox Jew living in Bremen, Ga., at the southern edge of the sprawling 14th District. “I am very unhappy [being represented by Greene]. I feel like she is absolutely crazy. I watched the video of her walking and trying to speak with David Hogg. He is a survivor of a school shooting [Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida] and she is walking after him and calling him a coward. That and the crazy space laser comments, and the QAnon support, . . . it makes me nervous that the kind of people who live around me support that, and not all of them, but it is very concerning,” Griffin said.

Certainly, the idea of a Jewish space laser is humorous (see the “Jews in Space” segment at the end of Mel Brooks’ 1981 comedy “History of the World, Part 1”). But Greene’s speculation, in a recently discovered 2018 Facebook post, that a spaced-based laser was part of a plot responsible for the most destructive wildfire in California history, has been decried as anti-Semitic. Among the backers of this plot, she suggested, were the  Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family blamed in two centuries worth of conspiracy theories.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, said that members who “indicated support for QAnon should resign or be expelled from Congress.”

Another controversy stemmed from a 2017 YouTube video in which Greene said, “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.” In that QAnon conspiracy world, that cabal includes Jewish financier George Soros and the Rothschilds.

In a Facebook video unearthed by Politico, Greene called Soros “the piece of crap that turned . . . his own people over to the Nazis.” Soros is 90-year-old Holocaust survivor (he was 9 when World War II began and 14 when it ended), an emigre to the United States, and a billionaire backer of liberal causes in his native Hungary, the U.S., and globally.

The accumulated controversies — including numerous having no direct Jewish angle — prompted a Republican Jewish Coalition statement Jan. 29 that said, in part, “The RJC has never supported or endorsed Marjorie Taylor Greene. We are offended and appalled by her comments and her actions. We opposed her as a candidate and we continue to oppose her now. She is far outside the mainstream of the Republican Party, and the RJC is working closely with the House Republican leadership regarding next steps in this matter.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah — which bills itself as “a rabbinic human rights organization that represents over 2,000 rabbis and cantors and their communities” — said Jan. 29 that “members of Congress who have indicated support for QAnon should resign or be expelled from Congress due to their support of this antisemitic and antidemocratic conspiracy theory.”

Rabbi Moshe B. Parnes said “Greene’s remarks are beyond repulsive.”

Rabbi Moshe B. Parnes is Southern regional vice president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, which claims to represent 1,500 “traditional” Orthodox rabbis. He said, “Greene’s remarks are beyond repulsive. We can hardly consider ourselves to be a tolerant country if people who espouse bigotry are permitted to represent our nation. But as someone who lived, taught and served the people of Georgia for many years, I know that she does not represent the free, tolerant and open society that Georgians and all Americans pride ourselves on being. We should all hope for and anticipate bipartisan censure of her remarks.”

Jan Jaben-Eilon and Nathan Posner contributed to this article.

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