Last week, in shock and horror, the world watched the attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Immediately, on every news station and social media platform, questions were asked, and sides were taken. Were those involved protestors or domestic terrorists? Why was the response so different than it was for the Black Lives Matter protests, and what will the consequences be? Is this just another moment in our nation’s history or does it represent a turning point?
The rabbis and cantors of our community struggled with an additional question: what is the Jewish response to this moment? Each of us has a personal reaction to these events, and we each have and will continue to share with our own congregations and organizations the messages that we believe they need to hear. Yet there is an overarching message for the entire community that I believe needs to be said.
Jewish teachings condemn fanning the flames of zealousness and disregarding the sanctity of communal institutions. The spreading of falsehoods is fiercely opposed throughout Jewish law, and any sort of extremism is a danger to us and to our country.
And we cannot pretend that perpetrators of these acts didn’t have a specific message for the Jewish people. The disturbing images of rioters wearing clothing with images reading “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE” (meaning 6 million wasn’t enough) chill us to the very bone. It should not take these blatant displays of anti-Semitism to open our eyes, yet the presence of these individuals was a stark reminder of the legacy of support for white supremacists that has been growing steadily in our country these past years.
Still, neither fear nor condemnation are ends in and of themselves, or at least not productive ones. Fear paralyzes us at a time when courageous action is imperative. Condemnation enables us to point our fingers at others without turning towards ourselves and asking what we could and should do to make things better.
Dear members of our community, hold on to hope. These pasts months, we have all become experts in finding silver linings; so too, with these events, we are encouraged and reassured by those leaders who have acted to uphold the constitution and maintain peace. May this moment in history be one that galvanizes our nation and reminds us of the good that is within us.
We cannot forget that this country is still deeply torn, and the only way to heal those fissures is to listen and seek to understand those on the other side of the divide. Let us remember that the greatness of our country is based in the belief that everyone has a voice and the freedom to share that voice in a respectful and lawful manner. We have a gift in the freedom of living an American life, and we are bound by our love and respect for that liberty.
May the words on the Liberty Bell, taken from Leviticus 25, ring true once again: Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Let democracy prevail and freedom ring.
Amy Feder is senior rabbi at Congregation Temple Israel as well as the President of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association.