A week after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) made a controversial appearance at a Chicago synagogue on Yom Kippur, the congregation’s senior rabbi, and the man who introduced Bachmann during the service, speaks up about her appearance.
Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lake View, Illinois made a customary greeting to the polarizing politician, a standard act to public officials who attend services. However, it wasn’t long before people lashed out, not only at Bachmann, but at Rabbi Siegel, as well.
But according to Siegel, while he knew the politician’s appearance might rustle some feathers, he was hoping Yom Kippur would still be the focus of the night’s gathering.
“I think you have to be living under a rock to not know that Congresswoman Bachmann is in the news rather often, and she is seen by many to be a polarizing figure in the country,” Siegel said. “For those who are concerned about LGBT issues, abortion rights, things of that nature, certainly she is on many peoples’ radar screens.
“So when I heard that she was coming, I knew that it was going to be a topic of discussion on Yom Kippur… (However,) the focus of the day should not have been on Michele Bachmann.”
"...to see some of the comments regarding Congresswoman Bachmann’s visit, it pains me more that others were really marred by her visit.”
Siegel said he’s been reaching out to community members in person as much as possible to have a face-to-face conversation about why the politician was acknowledged. He’s also hoping to send out a correspondence to the Lake View congregation in the future to address the issue.
But that hasn’t stopped some from already voicing their concerns. On the night of Bachmann’s visit to Anshe Emet, some simply walked out of the synagogue, according to the Chicago Tribune, saying the representative’s attendance was enough reason for them to donate to her Minnesotan opponent Jim Graves. Others took to the congregation’s Facebook page to criticize the rabbi for making the introduction.
“We received a call earlier in the day saying that she would like to come to the service that evening. She didn’t give an explanation as to why she wanted to come, but just that she wanted to,” Siegel said. “We have a policy in our congregation that we welcome elected officials to the synagogue if they want to join us. We acknowledge them from the pulpit, and we do not take a political stance… So to see some of the comments regarding Congresswoman Bachmann’s visit, it pains me more that others were really marred by her visit.”
Siegel says the congregation takes a “formulaic stance to the greeting,” with an acknowledgement and a prayer for peace in the world. And while he feels badly about the uproar, Siegel says it’s his job as a rabbi to create communities that feel inclusive.
“The fact is that Congresswoman Bachmann asked to attend the service. She didn’t ask to speak,” said Siegel. “I don’t think it would have been appropriate for me to challenge or chastise her from the pulpit as some have suggested."
Rabbi Michael Siegel celebrates his 30th anniversary with the Lake View synagogue in November.