President Rehfeld: A Call to Rebuild Our Democracy for a New Era of Decency and Hope

Dear HUC Community,

The events of the last 24 hours in Washington, DC have left our HUC community and our nation in profound shock. At this deeply unsettling moment, I share with you my own thoughts on the events that are still unfolding and how important our work remains.

Let’s start with a clear description of what we have just witnessed: the spectacle and danger of a violent mob storming our Capitol; the baseless appeals by elected officials to overturn the presidential election in the absence of any evidence of electoral corruption; and the petulant expressions of a President who lost an election egging on such actions, protest, and violence.

Each of these are bad enough on their own. Together they represent an all-out assault on the Rule of Law and its most powerful expression: the peaceful transfer of power that has preserved our Republic for almost 250 years.

We are grateful that the Vice President yesterday forcefully declared his allegiance to the Constitution over any individual, refusing to dispute the results of the Electoral College.

We express relief that the Senate Majority leader refused to endorse fantastical theories of electoral corruption, urging his followers to accept the will of the people and recognizing that our very Republic was at risk by their attempts to undermine it.

We thus find ourselves in the disorienting position of treating the acceptance of the certified results of the Electoral College as some kind of profile in courage.
And yet, the actions taken by leaders of the President’s own party are praiseworthy because the barriers of civil society that once protected our democracy from harm are now so worn down. Like a fence around the Torah, these norms had protected our institutions from catastrophic harm. Our norms are so badly deteriorated that mundane actions of simply showing up to do one’s basic duty become events of patriotic moment.

We welcome the President-Elect’s clear eyed assessment that yesterday we witnessed an assault on “the citadel of liberty itself” and his recognition that these “scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America, do not reflect who we are…America is so much better than what we have seen today.” We very much hope he is right.
In light of these terrible events, I found some comfort in the inspiring words that our Provost, Rabbi Andrea Weiss, Ph.D., offered to our community immediately after the election in November.

No matter what happens, this we know:
we must recalibrate our national compass
and reconfirm what matters most:
“one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
How do we get from here to there?
The Torah guides our way:
It is not enough to “love your neighbor as yourself”;
you must love the stranger as yourself. (Lev. 19:18, 34)
The prophets tell us what to do:
“Let justice roll like water
and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
The psalms remind us:
The night may be dark,
but morning always comes. (Ps 30:6)
May we each do our part
to bring about the dawning of a new day.
—Rabbi Andrea Weiss, November 4, 2020.

Every day HUC-JIR promotes the flourishing of our Jewish values, forming leaders who hold people in their time of sorrow, celebrate with them in times of joy, and help them live lives with dignity, meaning, and purpose. They shape and lead communities to join together in common spirit to confront the worst injustices of our world, advancing the Good and the Sacred, the Right and the Just.

At this very hard and frightful moment in American history, may we all take comfort in our shared work as members of our HUC community. Together, we commit to doing our part in rebuilding our democracy and ushering in a new era of decency and hope.

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.