The Jew and the African American Who Saved America

by Michael Zank, Director EWCJS

Next year, at this time, when the pandemic of 2020-21 will be a distant memory and the vivid impressions of the violent assault on the nation’s Capitol we are still processing now will have receded, we should remember this: on January 5, 2021, Georgia turned blue. Georgia, formerly a solid red state, now resembles the rest of America: a state with an increasingly diverse population concerned with the major issues threatening our common future: healthcare, the environment, and economic justice.

I am writing to celebrate the election of the first African American senator from Georgia, the Reverend Raphael Warnock, and the election of the first Jewish senator from Georgia, Jon Ossoff.

I am also writing to celebrate the durability of the rule of law and its institutions that make the United States of America the beacon of liberty that it is and remains. Every attempt to subvert the results of a fair election has been foiled by the judges and officials, no matter their party affiliation, who determined the groundlessness of the many legal and illegal challenges launched by the president and his enablers. Men and women stood their ground, calmly and with determination. The institutions held because the people did.

One of those who literally stood his ground, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, paid with his life. Our heart goes out to his family. May his memory be for a blessing!

While some elected representatives opportunistically exploited the chaos that followed the November elections and culminated in the January 6 storming of the Capitol building that many have called an insurrection, most have condemned it. Many have found clear and heartening words to strengthen the nation’s resolve to resist the attempts of a few to destroy this democracy.

The election of two democratic senators from Georgia flipped the Senate and, with any luck, much good will come from it. But not everything will be well by January 2022. All of us need to be vigilant and remain engaged. We cannot go back to sleep. Liberty, the right to vote, civil and human rights, including reproductive rights, the functioning of democratic institutions, and the rule of law are precious goods to be defended and further developed, not just at home but also abroad.

The rule of law is fragile. It can be easily undermined, hollowed out, overturned by would-be autocrats who stoke the emotions of a violent minority and exploit the lethargy of an indifferent majority. Indifference, as the late Elie Wiesel has warned, inevitably allies itself with hate. It enables the fear-mongers and conspiratists. We must not be indifferent. History, including Jewish history, offers us countless lessons. Ignoring them will only force us to repeat them.

For now, let us thank the good people of Georgia for renewing our confidence that change is possible. I am particularly heartened by  Republican voters who turned their backs on the extremist rhetoric and over-the-top populism of one of their party’s candidates. They made the right choice, the choice for what is right.

I want to end with a note about the people who broke into the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. Many of them believed they were patriots defending the republic. They clearly did not know that they had placed their trust in a con-man and a liar. Do they understand it now? They are the one’s who are losing their jobs and going to jail. The rioters committed criminal acts and should be prosecuted. But they should not be dismissed as “deplorables.” They were a small group but they represent a significant minority. Only because they don’t look like us or think or speak or act like us, they are no less part of America; a part, some of us may not like or wish to exist, but they are still fellow citizens. We are all obliged to engage, to listen, to hear out one another’s grievances and, if possible, find common ground on which to move forward, together. Those who represent a danger to the rule of law must be contained. But those who have been misled by a cunning demagogue and trapped in a web of disinformation  need our compassion. And, of course, our republic needs to strengthen its institutions and brace itself for future onslaughts. But perhaps, by January 2022, you and I will have met and spoken with one or two of those we don’t usually want to hear or speak to, and perhaps we may have learned something new about ourselves and about our own “bubbles,” the safe spaces of privilege we live in and cherish, but that also prevent us from seeing others as fully human.