A few minutes after noon, Rabbi Levi Mentz heard President Donald Trump’s voice over his cellphone. Mentz had been contacted just a few hours earlier about the opportunity to participate in the president’s private conference call Friday with a few dozen Jewish leaders from around the country in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, while he was on the way to a radio station where the executive director of Chabad of Forsyth records a weekly podcast. Mentz was given a website to go to for instructions on how to join the call. He recorded the podcast then rushed to a computer.
“I wanted to see if this was real,” Mentz said. “I learned very quickly that it was very real.”
Back at his office in Forsyth County, Mentz listened in on the 15-minute call with President Trump. Mentz said the president spoke for the majority of the call, during which he lauded the contributions of Jewish Americans and promoted his foreign policy decisions regarding Israel, particularly his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Trump also expressed dismay about the state of anti-Semitism around the world and in the U.S., Mentz said. The president specifically referenced recent shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego that killed 12 and left nine others injured.
Elan Carr, a lawyer who was appointed Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February, also spoke, and two of the Jewish leaders were allowed to ask questions of the president. One implored the president to find a way for school systems to include more material about the Holocaust in their curriculums. Mentz said the president “felt that it was a very good idea.”
At 15 minutes sharp, the phone call ended.
“I very much appreciated to think that the president of the United States wants to take the time before Rosh Hashanah to speak with select Jewish leaders,” Mentz said. “I find that to be impressive, and I appreciate it and I value it.”
Mentz isn’t sure how he was chosen to participate in the event, but the experience prompted him to reflect on the impact that Chabad of Forsyth has made in North Georgia since it opened in 2016.
“The reason I was asked to be a part of this conversation … is because of the amazing work that the Jewish community is doing in this county,” Mentz said. “... Look at how much we’ve accomplished as a community in three years: we established a thriving synagogue, a place for children to study, services for the older and needy and so on.”
After the call with President Trump, Mentz went back to his preparations for Chabad of Forsyth’s Rosh Hashanah services on Monday. There was last-minute work to do on his sermon and a few other technical details to complete before Mentz leads a service at 7 p.m., on Sunday at Sexton Hall to bring in the Jewish New Year.
Hours later, Mentz could still remember the words of Psalm 27 that President Trump recited during the conference call, words spoken regularly in synagogues around the country and world in anticipation of a new year.
“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”