The pulpit from which Rabbi Jacob Izakson preaches against intolerance and hate is being wheeled out of the sanctuary this weekend.
The altar at Temple Beth Shalom on Spokane’s South Hill will become a stage for the temple’s annual kosher dinner Sunday. Strains of Eastern European klezmer music and choruses of “Sunrise, Sunset” will replace the rabbi’s sermons.
As American Jews have become increasingly uneasy at the political climate surrounding Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign, Spokane’s outspoken rabbi has fought back with tough words from the pulpit.
But Sunday’s event may be his most potent argument against the intolerance he fears: a gentle, rhetoric-free dinner, a 56-year temple tradition.
An estimated 3,000 people are expected at this year’s dinner, which over the years has conveyed Jewish culture and generated warmth and affection within the larger Spokane community.
“There are thousands of people in this city who have that feeling because of the dinner,” said Izakson. “They will not be susceptible to the fear-mongering of Pat Buchanan.”
On a campaign trip through south Florida this week Buchanan maintained he’s not anti-Semitic. He said he has many Jewish friends and neighbors. “They find out when they come to know me that all of this talk is nonsense,” he said.
But Jewish leaders across the country are speaking out against him.
As Inland Northwest temple members sold tickets and prepared food, they worried that Buchanan’s campaign could embolden white supremacist groups.
They also expressed sorrow over the increased violence in Israel, and took steps to increase temple security after four suicide bombings in the Middle Eastern nation since Feb. 25.
Earlier this week, as the aroma of marinated beef brisket wafted through the temple, the rabbi explained the fear he feels as he watches Buchanan campaign. Buchanan’s language, and his penchant for being photographed holding guns, appeals to neo-Nazi and militia groups, Izakson said.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s nominated at this point anymore,” Izakson said. “His ideas are now legitimate. That’s the problem. All these fringe people who have been hiding under a rock now have the right to come out into the light of day.”
Copies of a fax from a national Jewish activist group lay on the rabbi’s desk. The fax contained quotes from Buchanan. Izakson planned to distribute it to his teenage class that night.
The quotes include these:
Buchanan has called Hitler a man “of great courage” and “extraordinary gifts.”
In the New York Post in 1990, Buchanan referred to a “so-called Holocaust survivors syndrome” which he described as involving “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”
In another 1990 column Buchanan wrote that it was impossible for 850,000 Jews to be killed by diesel exhaust fed into the gas chamber at Treblinka. “Diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody,” he wrote.
Elle Weiser, a Spokane graphic artist and a member of the temple, fears the political climate symbolized by Buchanan’s campaign. “It makes my blood run cold,” she said. “It’s very frightening.”
Another temple member asked not to have his name printed in the newspaper. He said he keeps silent when his Republican friends support Buchanan. “If I really said what I had on my mind,” he said, “I would lose my friends.”
Eugene Huppin, a Spokane attorney and a temple member, believes Buchanan appeals to people reeling from economic change.
“People who are struggling to get jobs can easily overlook his true intentions which I consider to be very bad, not unlike Hitler in Germany in the ‘30s who was appealing to people because they were facing very difficult economic times,” Huppin said.
Bruce Hawkins, Buchanan’s campaign coordinator in Seattle, called these charges “unfair and unfounded.”
“Pat Buchanan does not tolerate anti-Semitism and racism,” Hawkins said.
The Jewish group’s fax on Buchanan’s record includes statements from his column which were taken out of context, Hawkins said.
“If you look at it closely, it’s just honest political discourse,” said Hawkins. “Pat Buchanan is a friend of Israel. He always has been. He always will.”
At the temple, where newspaper clippings about Buchanan are tacked to the bulletin board in the hallways, the pace has been frantic this week.
Crews of brisket-roasters and coleslaw-mixers work all hours in the kitchen.
On Sunday, temple members will welcome non-Jews with 1,300 pounds of beef brisket, 350 pounds of carrots, and 260 pounds of apples. They’ll share their rich culture along with the recipes for knishes and kuchen their ancestors brought to this country from Germany, Poland and Russia.
The rabbi will be at the front door, shaking hands for eight solid hours.
“A gentle dinner,” he said, “can afford people the opportunity to see Jews as we really are and not as someone would portray us.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Kosher dinner Temple Beth Shalom’s annual kosher dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. The temple is located at 1322 E. 30th. Tickets are $8.50 for adults and $5 for children ages 11 and under. Call 747-3304 for more information.