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Rabbi Haskel Lookstein Will No Longer Speak at RNC; Emails Planned Invocation to ‘Ramaz Family’

The prominent Modern Orthodox leader and school principal cited not waiting to get involved in ‘divisive’ politics

Jonathan Zalman
July 15, 2016
Rabbi Haskel LooksteinYouTube
Rabbi Haskel LooksteinYouTube

Haskel Lookstein—the longtime rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, and former principal of the Ramaz School, a Modern Orthodox Day school on the Upper East Side—has cancelled his scheduled appearance at the RNC in Cleveland next week.

Yesterday, Tablet reported about a petition circulating online written by a Ramaz alumnus that expressed “outrage” at Lookstein’s decision to “lend his blessing” to Trump. A separate petition expressed “trust” in the rabbi’s decision.

On Friday, Lookstein sent the following email, addressed to “The Ramaz Family”:

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.

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. Like my father before me, I have never been involved in politics. Politics divides people. My life has been devoted to uniting a community – Ahavat Yisrael and ahavat ha-adam.

In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation. My request has been honored with the same love and respect in which it was first offered and intended.

May God bless us with a Sabbath of rest, harmony and peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Very cordially yours,
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein ’47
Principal Emeritus

Then, Lookstein included a draft of the invocation he had planned to give:

Republican National Convention

רבי חנינה סגן הכהנים אומר:
Rabbi Chanina, the Deputy High Priest said:
“הוי מתפלל בשלומה של מלכות”
“Pray for the welfare of the government,
“שאלמלא מוראה איש את רעהו חיים בלעו”
For were it not for respect for it, people would swallow one another alive.”

Eternal God:
We thank you for this blessed nation that for 240 years has translated into reality the Biblical command to “proclaim liberty throughout the land for all the inhabitants thereof.”

We thank you for our constitutional government that has created and fostered the American ideals of democracy, freedom, justice and equality for all, regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Almighty God: We know that we are living in very dangerous times, when all of these blessings are threatened from without, by forces of terror and unimaginable brutality, and from within, by those who sow the seeds of bigotry, hatred and violence, putting our lives and our way of life at risk.

And so we pray, Dear God:

Help us to form a government which will protect us with sound strategy and steady strength; which will unite us with words of wisdom and acts of compassion; and which will thereby bring peace and harmony, safety and well-being to our beloved America and to all of humankind, and let us all say, Amen.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.