Jews “know the danger of the mob.”
That’s what Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco wrote in a message to congregants on Wednesday evening, following a day of violent demonstrations in Washington, D.C., that saw four deaths and a day of terror after a throng of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building.
“Those who participated in and stood by this violence have soiled the fabric of our democracy,” the statement from synagogue clergy read. “This democracy is precious and must be protected and respected.”
Across the Bay Area, Jewish spiritual leaders rushed to share messages with their congregants following the day’s events, seeking to impart some nugget of insight or provide a modicum of comfort. Many had spent the better part of the afternoon glued to their televisions or computer screens, watching as the doors of Congress were breached, its windows smashed and offices looted.
There was a sense among Bay Area rabbis that the episode — the temporary triumph of lawlessness in the seat of American democracy — represented the desecration of something holy.
Rabbis convened impromptu Zoom services to make sense of the chaos.
Leaders from Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco called the day’s events “unprecedented”; the synagogue hosted a virtual minyan and discussion early Thursday morning as a counterbalance “to the anger, frustration and disappointment” many were experiencing.
In Santa Rosa, Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Congregation Beth Ami shared a video on YouTube of himself reading Psalm 16, a prayer for refuge, “in the hopes that it will bring you some comfort and strength at a time such as this.”
“Protect me God, because I come to you for safety,” he read.
Rabbi Gershon Albert of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland emailed his community late at night, after 11 p.m. He shared an interpretation of the day’s events, in which members of Congress were forced to huddle for safety instead of affirming the results of the November presidential election as they had planned.
Inspired by a message from Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier, a Jewish history scholar and colleague, Albert explained why the moment may have felt “so different from other violent moments in our recent history.”
It’s “based on the Jewish national tragedy — the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash,” Albert wrote. “One of the most painful aspects of the destruction of the Temple was the forced entry by barbaric forces into its holy courtyards.”
The annual fast day on Tisha B’Av does not commemorate the actual destruction of the Temple, which occurred on the 10th, Albert pointed out. “We mourn for the Temple on the Ninth of Av, when the breach occurred.”
“The space of the Beit Hamikdash wasn’t just a place; it represented an ideal of Jewish sovereignty and spirituality,” Albert explained. “And it is the breach of that ideal that is at the center of our collective pain.”
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, rabbis shared messages recognizing the shock of the day’s events and sending out words of comfort and hope for healing.
In an email to his congregation, Rabbi Yonatan Cohen of Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel wrote, “I know for certain that no matter what comes our way, we will continue to hold each other up through love and friendship, through chessed and community.”
Calling it a “horrific day,” Rabbi Bridget Wynne of the outreach organization Jewish Gateways told her community in an email, “Hope is not found; it is created. Creating hope is far more possible when we do it with one another.”
Rabbi Daniel Stein of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek wrote of his wish to “see the words of our prayer book fulfilled, that ‘citizens of races and creeds will forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country.’”
Cantor Linda Hirschhorn of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro asked for God’s help to be “ever conscious of the extraordinary blessing of freedom.”
Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland convened a Zoom service Wednesday night for his congregation, a service “for peace and healing.”
“What a day,” Bloom began, speaking into the camera.
Feeling angry, sad and afraid watching the day’s events unfold, Bloom said, he turned to Psalms, specifically Psalm 109, a prayer about finding one’s way from “righteous anger” toward “righteous compassion.”
Bloom read excerpts interspersed with his own interpretations. “The mouth of a wicked man and the mouth of a deceitful man have opened upon me,” he quoted. “And with words of hatred they have surrounded me and have fought with me.”
“Words matter,” Bloom explained. “Words our leaders use matter. Great battles have been fought over words. People have been slaughtered over words. Our people have been slaughtered over words.”
“Help us, oh God, to save our nation. Restore the good name of our United States. Do it for your sake, and for ours,” Bloom said.
Looking for community, Lafayette resident Rebecca Calahan Klein joined Bloom’s service. Watching the riots in D.C. was deeply shocking to her and her husband, made all the more visceral because both worked in the Capitol and strode through the very halls and offices that were ransacked.
She said she turned to Bloom for words of comfort.
“When your heart breaks open, it’s good to be with people to share the moment,” she said. Calahan Klein was almost in tears as she thought about the violation of a space she feels is sacred to democracy.
“We say a prayer for our country every week in services, and this was a time we really needed a prayer for our country,” she said.
She drew a connection to the celebration of Hanukkah and its potent story of the restoration of the Temple after destruction and desecration. Klein hopes that there will be a way for the Capitol to symbolically return to its place as a secular sanctuary representing the values of American democracy.
“You have to scrub the Temple, clean it back up and get it open again,” she said.