By Leenika Belfield-Martin
Six days into 2021, as the nation was wrestling with the effects of an ongoing pandemic and the economic issues that followed, chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol. A mob broke into the building as members of Congress were in the process of certifying the election. The mob attacked police and vandalized the building as members of Congress and their staff hid.
While many sat glued to their screens, members of Congress witnessed the mayhem firsthand.
One member of Congress, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, remembers huddling for safety with his fellow politicians as they listened to the banging and commotion outside of the doors. For Cardin, the problem was bigger than the disturbance.
“We were extremely concerned, not just for our safety, but because we knew that this attack was not on the Capitol or on the members of the Senate,” he said. “It was an attack on our democracy itself.”
On Jan. 6, 2022, the anniversary of the attack, Cardin joined several other Jewish politicians virtually to reflect on the events of that day as part of One Year Later: Reflecting on Trump’s Insurrection & Our State of Democracy, an online event hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
“The lessons of Jan. 6 are clear,” JDCA CEO Halie Soifer said. “Our democracy is not guaranteed. It must be protected and defended. Those that attack it must also be held accountable.”
The event featured eight Democratic Jewish politicians from across the country, including Cardin and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), as well as Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles.
“We had a riot, surrounding an insurrection, surrounding a coup,” Raskin said in his account of the attack.
Raskin was at the Capitol during the riots with his daughter and son-in-law, just a day after he buried his son.
Earlier this month, Raskin published a new memoir, “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy,” where he wrote of the death of his son, the attack at the Capitol and his role in leading former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.
During the Zoom event, Raskin spoke of the inspiration he found in the acts of bravery exhibited by the police officers at the Capitol that day. He urged viewers to not let the opposition of outside forces crumble the integrity of American politics, just as the Capitol police didn’t let those trespassing reach the members of Congress.
“I want us to try to recapture that spirit of resolve and determination that they had on that day; for us going forward to fortify our democratic institutions,” he told listeners of the call.
Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles found herself feeling concerned that the nation was at a crossroads. She was unsure which path America would take following Jan. 6.
“Will this day be remembered as the day that awakened America from our slumber and called us to the better angels of our nature?” she questioned during the call. “Or will it be remembered as the day power, corruption and greed officially won?”
Just like the lawmakers who spoke, the spiritual leader urged those listening to take action before it is too late.
“This chapter of history has yet to be written,” Brous said. “And how it ends is up to us.”