Temple Sinai, one of the nation’s most influential Reform congregations, held a hastily arranged religious service Wednesday night just hours after a violent mob broke into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to thwart the certification of the recent presidential election.
The mood of the online service, which was led by the clergy of the Sandy Springs temple, was quiet and reflective.
Still the senior leader of the synagogue, Rabbi Ron Segal, expressed his personal concern about the unprecedented attack that left five people dead and forced senators to take cover and barricade themselves in the capitol’s Senate chamber. He quoted to the congregation that assembled online the words of Rabbi Benjamin Ross of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles.
“I have something to say to you. I am furious; I am terrified; I am fragile and struggling. And I know I am not alone. We, the people, are struggling. I am optimistic by nature, but I feel like I am being tested, stretched to the edge of my soul’s spiritual boundary.”
But while he expressed his own concerns, Segal offered support for those who were dealing with their own emotions. Segal also serves as president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, leading the 2,000 rabbis who make up the largest single rabbinic association in America. He spoke to those who were shaken by the graphic images and televised reports of the afternoon of violence.
“I know I am not alone. We, the people, are on edge. I yearn to meet this moment with love, with kindness and humility. But I have watched the violence of words and deeds, the degradation of your holiest creations. I watch our fellow citizens amplifying fear. I seek your strength to counter hate with love.”
In sorting out their feelings about the day’s events, Segal urged his congregants not to despair. He invoked the image from this week’s Torah reading of Moses, who confronts G-d speaking from the burning bush. The holiness of that encounter, Segal maintained, comes not from the ground on which it takes place, but from the response it creates within the Hebrew leader and by extension, within each individual.
“It is the person and what each of us does in any given moment which transforms something into an act of holiness. And therefore, we echo the words of Moses on this evening, who in that encounter responds to G-d when called “hineni,” I am here. Friends, this is a time when each of us needs to be responding I am indeed here.”
Segal’s word were more measured and reassuring than those that came in a statement from the Religious Action Center in Washington, which represents Reform Judaism in the nation’s capital.
A strongly worded statement released by Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, the center’s executive director, decried the “unprecedented assault on the building and members of Congress” and called what it described as “scenes of insurrection breaching the capitol” as “heartbreaking.”
The statement read, “The fact that today’s events were encouraged by the President of the United States who has refused to accept his electoral loss is equally terrifying and heartbreaking.”
The attacks were also widely condemned by leaders of such organizations as the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents 15 national member agencies and 76 local community relations councils and federations.
In a harsh statement released by the Anti-Defamation League, CEO Jonathan Greenblatt recalled that the organization had repeated warned against the actions that extremists might take. But Greenblatt went on to say that the president “has promoted sedition and incited violence.
“More than anything, what is happening right now at the Capitol is a direct result of the fear and disinformation that has been spewed consistently from the Oval Office.”
Despite the violence and resulting arrest of at least 80 people in connection with the attack, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, after the building was secured, completed its certification of the presidential election in the early hours Thursday.
- Bob Bahr
- Capitol Hill
- Temple Sinai
- Rabbi Ron Segal
- Sandy Springs
- Rabbi Brad Levenberg
- Beth Shaeffer
- Central Conference of American Rabbis
- Religious Action Center
- Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner
- American Jewish Committee
- Jewish Council for Public Affairs
- Anti-Defamation League
- Jonathan Greenblatt