Wednesday’s events in the nation’s capital have sent shockwaves throughout the country. Like me, you have likely been consuming the news, watching the networks, reading op-eds, and generally agonizing over the situation. Among the responses that I have read coming out of the Jewish community, there have been calls to remain calm, calls for prayers for our incoming leaders, calls to recite Psalms, reassurances that things will be okay once President-Elect Biden is sworn in.
There has also been outrage. Wednesday’s insurrection was the perfect capstone to four years of the Trump administration’s assault on American democracy and norms – the very norms that have held the fragile experiment together for 244 years. While this ignoble end to an ignoble presidency has finally cleared up any lingering questions anyone may have had about this administration, it should be particularly jarring to the Jewish community. The sight of the United States Capitol overrun with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, self-styled “male chauvinists,” and a rogue’s gallery of every kind of hate-monger should send a chill down the spine of every Jew, and indeed every American. And, one might have hoped, it should have been a final wake-up call to a vast number of Americans and their elected leaders, who for 4 years (or more) have been drunk on the preposterous myth of Donald Trump. But alas, as the smoke clears, it seems that it is not to be so. Many elected leaders have dug in their heels. The president was applauded Thursday morning when he called in to the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting. The right-wing media, egged on by some senators and members of congress, put forward the preposterous and unsupportable idea that the terrorists who stormed the Capitol were in fact left-wing agitators and Antifa radicals, a position fully in keeping with the dangerous fictions they have been spinning for months and years. In too many quarters, silence prevails where angry condemnation and decisive action should be shouted from the rooftops.
As Jews, we know this story. We’ve been its victims time and again through history. Anti-Semitic mobs fueled by dangerous lies propelled many Jews to this country in the first place. My own grandparents and great-grandparents left Eastern Europe as part of the massive wave of immigrants seeking to escape persecution and systematic exclusion in their “host-countries” at roughly the same time that the Dreyfus affair was festering in France. Many in the seditionist horde that breached the doors of Congress, like the toxic QAnon “believers,” subscribe to anti-Semitic tropes right out of late 19th century Paris or St. Petersburg: George Soros, the Rothschilds, “globalists,” child molesters – you name it. That is what defiled the halls of the Capitol Building on Wednesday.
I have a deep well of revulsion for the terrorists who attacked Congress this week. But my real outrage is reserved for the leaders who enabled this sickening spectacle and who have been nurturing this mob for the past four years through complicit silence or, in many cases, outright support. Few of them subscribe to the beliefs of the mob – they are far too educated and “cultured” for that. They are instead opportunists and cowards whose ambitions and thirst for power eclipse any sense of moral decency or obligation to the country and the Constitution. Too many times in the history of our people have we seen the results of the disintegration of pluralistic values – time and again, we have ended up the victims. We are all aware of the current rise of anti-Semitism in France, Germany, Hungary, and so many other countries. The wave that swept Washington is the same wave. It is set in motion by politicians and provocateurs who take advantage of the easily-suggestible and shape and manipulate the zeit-geist. We must ensure that the wave grows no larger. We must insist on responsible leadership and governance, and we must hold the agents of instigation accountable.
This Shabbat, we will read the Biblical story of how a great culture, that at one time welcomed and celebrated its minority population – a population that was instrumental in its success – descends into the abyss, born of irrational distrust and paranoia and, according to the sages, a nationalist fever. And we will also read about the birth and emergence of a figure who possesses all the qualities of leadership that are so lacking in our moment: a passion for universal justice and fairness, profound integrity, deep empathy, and true strength born of modesty and humility. Let us pray that principled leaders will once again emerge in our nation to prevent its further descent.
So yes – remain calm, pray for our incoming leaders, recite Psalms, and hope that things will be okay. But be outraged, and act on it. We can turn this tide, but we must understand that each of us plays a role. Why does God need Moses to redeem the people? The question never even arises! God will orchestrate the redemption, but humans must redeem themselves.
Shabbat shalom u’mvorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,
Rabbi Sam Levine
A few upcoming things I’d like to emphasize:
- Tonight: Shabbat-a-BimBom, 6:30 pm
- Shabbat morning: join us for services as Ariel Yaron becomes bar mitzvah. Mazal tov to parents Eldad and Adrienne, and to Ariel!
- Tuesday night: Israel Now with Tomer Gekler – lots going on in the Holy Land right now – check in with our fantastic shaliach about politics, Coronavirus vaccinations, and so much more. 8:00 pm
- Wednesday night: Art as Torah. My sister-in-law, Israeli neuroscientist and artist Sharon Gershoni, will lead a discussion about artistic renderings of Biblical stories and how art can be used to interpret the text. This week: the binding of Isaac. See the weekly newsletter for details! Don’t miss this opportunity. 8:00 pm
- Keep an eye out for two “Synagogue Skills” classes coming up: Haftarah Chanting, taught by me, and Leading the Shabbat Morning Preliminary Service with Cantor Robert Kieval. More details next week. Please contact me if you think you might be interested in either one though, so I can gauge interest.