By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) — It was a day of dancing, libations, congressmen over 70 and controversial House Rep. Madison Cawthorn — who got so excited he called Jews “the chosen people of God,” despite being a fervent Christian who has admitted to trying to convert Jews to Christianity.
Cawthorn, the North Carolina Republican most recently in trouble for claiming to have been invited to drug-fueled orgies of elderly lawmakers, sought redemption at one of the few remaining venues in Washington where a right-wing firebrand can speak at the same podium as Democratic progressives: A commemoration event organized by the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
“I believe that when we look at what’s going on in our world today we should all aspire to be so bold as Queen Esther was, that we will all step out and remember that we were born for such a time as this, that in the Torah when it says when a righteous man falls, he still will rise again seven times, but that when a wicked man falls one time is enough to snuff him out,” Cawthorn said at the event, which took place last Wednesday in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate office building.
After getting the Book of Esther and Proverbs into a single sentence, Cawthorn — who also previously angered the Jewish community for posing happily at one of Hitler’s favorite retreats — praised the resilience of the Jewish people and swore to protect Israel.
“I am inspired by your tenacity and spirit,” Cawthorn said. “I realize that it is the duty of America to help provide assistance and protect the nation of Israel because I truly believe you are the chosen people of God.”
The Living Legacy event, this year marking 120 years since the birth of the famous Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is always open to all sitting lawmakers. American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) did not slot time for Cawthorn to speak, but he asked for a minute and got it, during breakfast.
Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the group’s executive vice president, said the event’s importance, in providing a space for bipartisan camaraderie and spiritual uplift was more critical than ever since the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, when a violent mob sought to stop Congress’ certification of Joe Biden as president.
“I think one of the good things to take from this conference in the light of the rebbe’s teachings and exhortations is to always try and find a way to work with others who may not agree with you, and to bring people who don’t agree with each other together,” he said. “We certainly had a degree of that in this event. And I feel that the more togetherness we can create in these trying times, which are unprecedented in my lifetime, we will be illuminating the world with the rebbe’s legacy.”
Among those remembering Schneerson and honoring his legacy were strange bedfellows such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish New York Democrat who is majority leader, and Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who, like Cawthorn, would not certify Biden’s election. Schumer and other Democrats barely speak to the 147 Republicans who refused to certify Biden’s win even after the deadly riot.
Schumer, wearing a kippah, recalled his role in 1994 in conferring upon Schneerson “of blessed memory” the Congressional Gold Medal.
The event took place as the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Biden’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson. Senators who had engaged in brutal debate during the hearings, including Cruz and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, were all smiles attending the Schneerson event.
The event also attracted progressives, including Jan Schakowsky, the Jewish Democrat from Chicago who is one of the leaders of the party’s progressive caucus. Schakowsky spoke of the Ukrainian community in her hometown and an event it held for Ukraine, under siege from Russia.
“I told that crowd that I have Ukrainian blood running through me and that like [Volodymyr] Zelensky, I am of Jewish heritage,” she said. “And yes, the brave president is a Jewish man.” (Among Cawthorn’s more recent scandals is when he called Zelensky a “woke thug”.) Schakowsky also spoke of her connection to the Chabad community in her hometown.
Cory Booker, the Democratic senator from New Jersey who has been close to the Chabad community, said Schneerson’s message especially resonated at a time of deep polarization. Booker recalled hearing that during the deadly Crown Heights race riots in 1991, when Black rioters targeted haredi Orthodox Jews, then-Mayor David Dinkins sought Schneerson’s counsel.
“Dinkins runs to the Rebbe and he says, ‘We’ve got to find a way to bring our two communities together.’ And the Rebbe says ‘No!’” Booker paused for dramatic effect. “‘We have to find a way to bring our one community together.’”
Cawthorn missed the festive segment. Politicians spoke at breakfast and did not attend the evening banquet, which was capped with the joyous dancing typical of Chabad events.
Main Photo: Madison Cawthorn speaks at an American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) event on Capitol Hill, March 30, 2022. (Eliau Piha/American Friends of Lubavitch Chabad)