by Rabbi Leiken
HOPE AFTER CHAOS
After college, I made the decision to move to Washington D.C. and work in the political world where I stayed for four years. I loved everything about D.C. From the food to the culture to the drama of daily life on the front lines of government. In my very first week in D.C., I had the chance to attend a ceremony in the rose garden where I sat next to the president of the NAACP and Sam Donaldson from ABC News. I worked with Senators and Congressmen and became friends with the staff in their offices – most of whom were my age or younger.
It was an exciting but also frightening time to be in the nation's captiol. The Lewinsky scandal had broken out and there was a deep divide in the country over the ethical failings of President Clinton. Some felt that his economic solutions were worth embracing, while others felt that his moral choices necessitated change. The 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush took place and deep political divisions showed their ugly face as the state of Florida was thrown into a recount. A 5-4 Supreme Court decision codified these divisions and there was little hope of unity.
And then, of course, on September 11, 2001, while I was still living in D.C., the world changed forever. The attacks on this country were so frightening and scary. As the second plane hit, I was in my office building in DuPont Circle and was told by my boss to go home. I walked outside alongside hundreds and hundreds of others leaving work and going northward. When I got home to my apartment in Woodley Park, I saw on the news erroneous reports that there were explosions all over the city. Shara and I sat in our apartment transfixed and completely frightened. And then, the Pentagon was attacked. Helicopters and fighter jets could be heard in the sky above.
When I saw the images yesterday of people violently rushing into the Capitol building, I was reminded of September 11th. I have been inside that Capitol building many times. I have walked down those hallways and been in some of those offices. I’ve seen Capitol police officers performing their duties and keeping us all safe.
To see an angry mob rush into that building, to see an angry mob gain access to the House and Senate floors, to see them sitting in Congressional offices with their feet on desks, stealing Congressional mail, to see some of them with anti-Semitic slogans on their shirts, others with weapons -- to see all of that was terrifying and it reminded me of how I felt on September 11th – how I felt when this nation was attacked nineteen years ago.
But yesterday—what truly reminded me of September 11th was what happened afterwards. On September 11th 2001, those bitter divisions from the aftermath of the 2000 election – those bitter divisions were—for but a brief moment—put aside. In the early evening, members of Congress took to the steps of that Capitol building and they sang together. They sang a song written by an immigrant Jew who was originally named Israel Baline and eventually would be known as Irving Berlin. The song was God Bless America and they sang it with their hands and their arms locked together.
Yesterday, members of the House and Senate were not linking arms to sing a song. They were linking arms to hold each other up as they ran to the tunnels that lie underneath the Capitol Building. They were supporting one another as they fled for their lives. True, not everyone was willing to come together. True, there were members of both the Senate and the House who did little to deal with the horrors of that mob. Some even continued to fan the flames that led to the violence by fist pumping to the crowd or by continuing to oppose the Electoral college vote.
But there were many others who not only supported one another in getting to safety but who also spoke passionately on the floor afterwards. They spoke about how bitter elections must eventually end, how a government must eventually find ways of working together and how ultimately, we are all Americans who collectively believe in what this nation represents. As I listened to these speeches last night, as I heard stories of these members of Congress holding each other to safety, I felt more comforted about our future. I honestly did.
According to our tradition, peace is not the given state of creation. The world was not created with full peace. Peace was left as something for us to seek collectively – to find collectively. And that kind of effort takes work – it takes tremendous effort to recognize our differences and still find ways of collaborating together – it takes tremendous effort to accept our distinct ways of seeing this world and still find ways of building a better world together.
But that was the whole idea of this nation – this home of ours that has been the respite center for the world’s most challenged and vulnerable people. The whole idea of this nation was to somehow allow for the coming together of diverse and vulnerable people who may not see the world in the same way > “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
This experiment we call the United States yearns for the kind of peace and wholeness that our tradition has always emphasized. And I know yesterday seemed as proof that the experiment has somehow failed.
But pay close attention, listen to the voices of those who spoke out – those like Senator Romney and Senator Sasse – and ultimately, please see great hope within their words and in the coming days, the actions of those who share them…
I believe our nation woke up yesterday. I believe we woke up to the reality of what never ending divisiveness do to people
September 11th 2001 was a horrific day in so many ways – but in its aftermath there came a renewed commitment to care more about unity and togetherness – in the aftermath of January 6th, 2021, let that same commitment be made by us all…