STL Jewish Light: St. Louis Jewish organizations, clergy pen open letter to Rep. Cori Bush
November 1, 2023

by Ellen Futterman in the St. Louis Jewish Light

More than 30 St. Louis Jewish community organizations, including rabbis and presidents of synagogues from every stream of Judaism, signed an open letter Wednesday to Rep. Cori Bush in response to her remarks about the war in Israel. On Sunday, Oct. 29, Bush tweeted the following on her congressional account on X (formerly Twitter):

“We can’t be silent about Israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign. Babies, dead. Pregnant women, dead. Elderly, dead. Generations of families, dead. Millions of people in Gaza with nowhere to go being slaughtered. The U.S. must stop funding these atrocities against Palestinians.”

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Brian Herstig, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, said what prompted the letter was a “growing frustration” with Bush about her position on Israel and the fact that she hasn’t been willing to sit down with most Jewish organizations since she first took office in 2020. He noted that while she has met individually with a few Jewish leaders, she has been unavailable to most, despite receiving multiple invitations to meet.

“She represents the largest concentration of Jews in the state, and she is not doing the work of representing them in a way they feel safe, heard or supported,” said Herstig, pointing to her latest post on Sunday. “The dichotomy of her lack of speaking out about a terrorist organization that invaded a sovereign country and murdered 1,400 people, and took over 200 people, including 29 Americans, captive and then coming out and calling Israel’s appropriate and measured response to that attack ‘ethnic cleansing’ really was the last straw for a lot of organizations and individuals in the community.

“We felt it was time to make clear to the entire community that this is not an individual who represents her constituency appropriately or accurately.”

A spokesperson from Bush’s office said she was aware of the open letter, and that the congresswoman was in “direct communication” with the organizations that spearheaded the letter.

“The congresswoman continues to mourn the immense loss of life as a result of the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine. She has repeatedly denounced the horrific attacks and hostage-taking by Hamas and continues to condemn any and all forms of bigotry and hate, including antisemitism and Islamophobia,” said the spokesperson in a statement. “The congresswoman’s advocacy continues her long track record as a champion of universal human rights for all people, regardless of faith, nationality, or ethnicity. While there are characterizations within this letter that are unfair and simply untrue, we recognize that our Jewish neighbors are justifiably feeling frightened amid the horrific global rise of antisemitism. The congresswoman is and will always be committed to continuing to work with all members of our beloved St. Louis Jewish community to ensure their safety, and well-being, and the dignity, safety and well-being of all people in St. Louis and around the world.”

What follows is the open letter sent to Bush in its entirety:

We are writing to express our anger and concern with Rep. Cori Bush’s communication about the recent events in Israel and Gaza. Numerous times over the last 23 days, we have felt her words to be insensitive, incorrect, and fanning the flames of antisemitism.

On Oct. 29th, Rep. Bush issued a statement on social media referring to the military campaign Israel is conducting against Hamas as “ethnic cleansing.” To accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing as it seeks to defend itself and locate hundreds of hostages still held captive in Gaza—taken only because they were assumed to be Jews—is sickening.

The 60,000 Jewish members of the St. Louis community deserve an apology for her lack of decency, disregard for history, and for intentionally fueling antisemitism and hatred, especially at a time when law enforcement in America is recording an all-time high in violent attacks against Jews. In the last century, the Jewish people were the victims of the worst ethnic cleansing campaign in history, and the scars from the Holocaust are still fresh in our collective memory.

Her statement not only fails to advance peace, but it incites anger and the potential of further violence toward the Jewish community. Her silence on Hamas’s terrorism makes the Jewish community feel she doesn’t understand that a violent massacre of people took place in Israel just three weeks ago—when Hamas terrorists brutally murdered at least 1,400 Israelis, kidnapped more than 230 (29 of whom have American citizenship), and injured and traumatized thousands more.

Rep. Bush has shown little outrage against the horrendous attacks by an organization whose very charter calls for the killing of all Jewish people. To the contrary, in private discussions she has stated repeatedly that she supports the Jewish community, is listening to our fears and concerns, and stands against antisemitism. She then issues public statements that directly contradict what she told us in private.

Rep. Bush has established herself as an outspoken leader for Palestinian rights, dignity, and safety. Her language carries weight among her supporters. It is even more important that she speaks with the care and empathy she claims to extend to all people by not sharing falsehoods that foster antisemitic hate.

We call upon Rep. Bush to stop this incendiary language about Israel, apologize to the Jewish community in St. Louis, and engage in honest and accountable dialogue about the issues related to Israel and the Palestinian people.

Signed by:

ADL, Jordan Kadosh, Regional Director

Agudas Israel of St. Louis

AJC St. Louis

Bais Abraham Congregation, Rabbi Garth Silberstein

Central Reform Congregation, Rabbi Susan Talve, Rabbi Randy Fleisher, Rabbi Karen Kriger Bogard, Rabbi Daniel Bogard, Rabbi James Stone Goodman, Paul Wagman

Chesed Shel Emeth Society & Beth Shalom Cemetery, Anita Feigenbaum, Executive Director

Citizens For a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East, Richard Senturia, Director

Coalition for Jewish Values Missouri, Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, Chairman

Congregation B’nai Amoona, Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham

Congregation Shaare Emeth, Rabbi James Bennett, Senior Rabbi, & Rabbi Andrea Goldstein

Congregation Temple Israel, Rabbi Mark Shook, Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Amy Feder, & Rabbi Michael Alper

Esther Miller Bais Yaakov, Byron Cohen, President

H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, Jeffrey Glogower, Board President, & Rabbi Miller, Head of School

IGNITE YP, Rabbi Avi Roberts

J Street St. Louis, Neil Jaffe, Chapter Chair

Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, Joel Iskiwitch, Board Chair, Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Executive Director, & Rabbi Scott Shafrin

Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Bob Newmark, Board Chair, & Brian Herstig, President & CEO

Jewish Student Union of St Louis, Rabbi Mike Rovinsky, Executive Director

Kol Rinah, Rabbi Noah Arnow

Missouri Torah Institute, Rabbi David Fromowitz, Rabbi Avrohom Goldman, & Rabbi Shmuel Wasser

National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis, Nancy Litz, Board President, Ellen Alper, CEO, & Amy Kuo Hammerman, Missouri State Policy Advocate

Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, Dr. Sara Lander, Board Chairperson, & Raquel Scharf-Anderson, Head of School

St. Louis Friends of Israel, Galit Lev-Harir, Co-President, & Traci Goldstein, Co-President

St. Louis Jewish Community Center, Ted Flom, Board Chair, Lynn Wittels, President & CEO, & Rabbi Brad Horwitz, Chief Jewish Engagement Officer

St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association (STLRCA)

Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community, Allen Karlin, Ph.D., Co-president

Temple Emanuel, Senior Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh & Rabbi Janine Schloss

Temple Israel of Springfield, MO, Rabbi Cantor Sam Radwine

Torah Prep School of St. Louis, Rabbi Tzvi Freedman, Executive Director, Rabbi Binyamin Travis, CEO,
Dr. Dov, & Tziona Zeffrin

Traditional Congregation of Creve Coeur, Rabbi Seth D Gordon

United Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, Senior Rabbi, Cori Neidenberg, Executive Director, & Rabbi David Reinhart, Associate Rabbi

United Orthodox Jewish Community, Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis

WashU Hillel, Rabbi Jordan Gerson, Silk Foundation Campus Rabbi, & Jacqueline Ulin Levey, CEO

Young Israel of St. Louis, Rabbi Moshe Shulman

Individual Community Leaders: Rabbi Matt Derrenbacher, Uri Krieger

Originally published by St. Louis Jewish Light

Photo Credit: Michael B. Thomas on Flickr

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