Jewish Resources for Coping with the Insurrection in Washington, D.C.

January 6, 2021Chaim Harrison and Kate Bigam Kaput

On Wednesday, the world watched in shock and horror as rioters breached the U.S. Capitol building in protest of Congress certifying the results of the presidential election. This was not just an unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol but on our constitutional democracy and the values we as Reform Jews – and Americans of all faiths and cultural backgrounds – hold so dear.

Jewish Communal Response Events

Before Shabbat on Friday, the Reform Jewish Movement hosted  a live virtual to share a Jewish framing for what we’re experiencing both communally and as a country – including words of comfort, a discussion about what role we have to play in this moment, and how we can move forward in a unified way during these deeply troubling times. If you missed it, watch “Healing, Hope, Action: A Reform Movement Pre-Shabbat Gathering" and find links to all the resources shared during the call.

You're also invited to join us next Wednesday, January 13 at 8 p.m. ET for a second live webinar, "Healing, Hope, Action: The Capitol Insurrection - Where Do We Go From Here?" Speakers will include:

  • U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (WI-4)
  • Ian Solomon, Dean, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia
  • Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Senior Vice President, Union for Reform Judaism
  • Yolanda Savage-Narva, Director for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Union for Reform Judaism
  • Barbara Weinstein, Director, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

Registration is requested, though the event can also be livestreamed online through the Union for Reform Judaism's Facebook page, where it will remain for future viewing.

The Reform Jewish Community’s Response

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), issued a statement on behalf of the Reform Jewish community. He said, in part,

"Our democracy is only as strong as the people willing to abide by its laws and norms. Yet rather than uphold those laws as he swore to do when taking the oath of office, President Trump has repeatedly done the opposite. Tragically, the willingness of some members of Congress to put party loyalty or their own political interests over country has shielded him thus far from being held to account for his actions. Today, the nation is paying the price.”

On Thursday, Rabbi Pesner and Yolanda Savage-Narva, director for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the Union for Reform Judaism, released a statement about the Capitol insurrection and white supremacy. They wrote, in part:

Sadly, one of the most disingenuous responses to yesterday’s events was to create a false moral equivalence with the Black Lives Matters protests over the last year. Let’s be clear: The white nationalists were attempting to undermine our government while Black Lives Matter protesters were demanding to be included in our democracy.

NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement issued a statement, as well, saying, "We stand for justice, for peace, for democracy, for the sanctity of human life – all of which have been violated and threatened by insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol and tried to overturn democracy." Read the full statement from Jewish teen leaders.

Resources to Teach and Comfort Children

Here are a number of resources to guide parents, educators, clergy, and anyone else seeking ways to speak to their children about what’s happening right now, as well as other acts of human violence. The following resources may help both children and adults to process and cope during times of crisis:

  • “Helping Children to Process Acts of Terrorism”: After acts of violence, children may have both practical and theological questions, such as: How can we be protected from terrorism? Where is God? Why would God allow such things to happen? Rabbi Edythe Mencher, also a clinical social worker, wrote this in-depth guide for talking to children of varying ages about the gamut of acts of terrorism and violence.
  • "Responding to Spiritual Questions and Emotional Needs after Tragedies": What do we tell our kids when tragedies like these make them doubt God's presence? This piece from Rabbi Edthye Mencher addresses such questions as they impact both children and adults. 
  • JECC’s Responding to Crisis: This site is dedicated to helping Jewish educators work through times of crisis. It includes: resources to help children respond to tragedy, created by various professionals; sections offering avenues for response (through the Jewish tradition, spoken word, the arts, etc.); Jewish texts for various crises; and more.

Prayers for this Moment

For many Jews, prayer is a vessel of comfort and healing connecting us not only to God, but to one another and ourselves. Below are a few prayers (including transliteration, where necessary) and poems to help spiritually guide us through this time – and for whenever we may face a national crisis.

  • “A Prayer Against Domestic Insurrection”: In response to Wednesday’s attack, Reform liturgist Alden Solovy created a prayer that, much like the sound of the shofar, is intended to collectively wake us up and inspire us to relentlessly pursue justice.
  • “A Prayer for our Country”: Compiled and adapted from American Values Religious Voices letters by numerous religious leaders and thinkers, this prayer beckons us to embrace patriotism by working for justice, mercy, and peace.
  • “Prayer for a Nation in Crisis”: Rabbi Barry Block’s prayer asks God to provide us, among other things, peace, faith, and courage in the face of the unimaginable.
  • “A Prayer for After Elections”: Written by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, this prayer is an inspiration for us to emulate our Jewish forebears as we face new realities, questions, challenges, and opportunities after elections.

Additional Resources for Discussion

  • "Awakening to the Moral Imperatives of this Moment": Read the words that Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, shared on the January 8 webinar. He says, "All is not lost if, as did Moses, we awaken to the moral imperatives of this moment. As Jews: How can we not?"
  • "Democracy Is a Promise We Renew Every Day": Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, writes, "Democracy is, indeed, a promise we renew not just on Election Day, but every day. Democracy does not exist independent of our contributions to it. Citizens and immigrants, voters, and presidents – all of us build democracy."
  • PJ Library Book Review of I Dissent: Parents may find help and solace in this review of the inspirational children’s book about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (z”l), which includes topics for family discussion. 
  • “My Son May Be Sheltered Now, But That Won’t Last Forever”: In this still-all-too-relevant 2016 essay, Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin shares the sobering perspective of a parent who seeks to balance her son’s innocence and joy with the complicated and problematic reality of our world.
  • “Rebelling in the Name of Heaven – or Not”: Dan Danson’s compelling commentary on Parashat Korach provides readers with the ideas of authority, rebellion, as well as their motives and what it means to be a “holy community.”

Follow the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for continued updates from the social justice arm of the Reform Jewish Movement. 

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