Sunday, March 07, 2021

The storming of the Capitol was distressing to every American and to us as Jews. The smashing of windows, the needless deaths—all rooted in conspiracy theories—and a leader who has fed his followers falsehoods and lies has shaken many of us. We know all too well the power that leaders have when they spread lies and the damage that can come from this.

I have confidence that no members of our community were part of that insurrection. I believe no one in our community stormed the Capitol building, stopped constitutional requirements regarding the electoral vote process or destroyed property. However, many in our community voted for Donald Trump. Many did so holding their nose, but did so nonetheless.

You did not commit this act of sedition. You did not commit any crimes. However, I beseech you to reflect on the role you did play. How might your support of Donald Trump, whether through lawn signs, campaign donations or merely filling in a bubble on the ballot in a blue state have, in some way, contributed to this?

Let us not overstate this. You did not commit any crimes. However, when we affiliate and support those who act in abhorrent ways, the question becomes, what responsibility do we have? We as a Jewish community, even those who have repudiated Trump and never voted for him, have to ask: What is our collective responsibility here? We need to do some cheshbon hanefesh. Have we placed Israel as our only priority, ignoring what the cost is to our beloved America? Have we put an emphasis on our personal needs, like school vouchers (which I would love!) or lower taxes above the destruction that Trump has wreaked on our country? Have we been too single-minded in our personal needs to have not rejected Trump and his enablers?

Parshas Shemos speaks of a demagogue who turned his people against our ancestors. No Egyptian voted for Pharaoh. However, the Egyptians were held responsible and were punished, via the makkos/plagues, even if they weren’t the taskmasters or directly involved in the enslavement and brutalization of our people. Every Egyptian home was held responsible and punished during makat bechorot, the plague of the firstborn.

What happened on Wednesay was not slavery or murder. It is not the same as what happened to our ancestors in Egypt. However, the lesson we must take is similar. What is our personal and communal responsibility? When Jews experience national tragedy, as we have repeatedly through the millenia, our response is to look inwardly. It is time for serious cheshbon hanefesh, personal and communal introspection.

Maurice Appelbaum