Urgency and Timelessness at the Capitol

July 12, 2021Emily Kane Miller

My great-grandparents, like so many, had to brave - and survive - the unimaginable to continue our family line. Between them, they escaped the Czar’s forced conscription, banded with Partisans in the freezing woods narrowly escaping the Nazi’s deadly grasp, and kept the embers of hope glowing in the dark barracks of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

They each found their way to America as refugees, and started anew.

I - on the other hand - was born in California into a golden age of Jewish acceptance, the likes of which the world had never before seen. No housing covenants existed to exclude me from neighborhoods. Universities, clubs and professions, once intended to keep me out, were now open. No government actors wished to inhibit my Jewish practice or, God forbid, harm me. The law protected me. Even in junior high, when a nasty boy drew a swastika on my notebook, I told the teacher and he got in trouble. It wasn’t ok, but I wasn’t afraid. It didn’t occur to me to be so.

In 2004, a fresh college grad, I booked a one-way ticket to Washington DC for my first job as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant (LA) at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. It was the best first job I could have ever had. 

We were guided by an incredible leadership team and the masterful Rabbi David Saperstein who lifted his voice for justice and equality, and empowered us to do the same. Every LA had various portfolios to which we were accountable - immigration, reproductive justice, education, economic equality, civil rights. There was a portfolio on antisemitism, too. We wrote statements on Yom HaShoah and monitored fringe activity, but truth be told, it was not a busy part of our work. 

We got the privilege to stand with others in their time of need, and to work in coalition for a myriad of policies that bent our country’s arc toward justice. Naively, I believed this was our people’s new station. Never forget, and channel the power of our communal history into an inspiring voice for good.  

Just 17 years later, we’ve seen the highest levels of antisemitism in the U.S. since before my parents were born.  Where I live -- the liberal haven of Los Angeles, with the second largest Jewish population in the diaspora -- synagogues have been vandalized at alarming rates, diners in Jewish areas have been harassed and attacked, and young boys wearing kippotKippahכִּפָּהA head-covering often worn during worship and while in a sanctuary, although some people choose to wear a kippah all the time; plural: kippot. In Orthodox communities, only men and boys wear kippot, while in liberal Jewish communities some women and girls choose to wear kippot.  Also called a yarmulke (Yiddish) or skullcap.   have been yelled at, chased and beaten in broad daylight. To the relief and anguish of every parent, the number of armed guards at our children’s Jewish schools have visibly increased. 

My Bubbe - a Holocaust survivor - tells me this is the first time since the Shoah(the) ShoahHebrew word meaning "catastrophe", referring to the Holocaust. she’s worried for the world her great-grandchildren are inheriting. 

So, I flew out to DC again -- this time for a 36-hour roundtrip mad dash with my husband who helped organize the No Fear Rally. We joined thousands of other Jews and allies to say collectively, “We are watching. We will not let this happen on our watch.”

Rabbi Saperstein joined the stage, once again calling for safety and equality, this time for our own community.

Standing there, I felt a moment of timelessness. I was my great grandparents, seeing Jews at the United States Capitol calling for the protection of our people. It was a modern miracle. I was my 22-year-old self, hearing my mentor. I was inspired. I was a mother of two beautiful Jewish children entering a frightening world. I was heartbroken. I was my great-grandchildren, peering back at old photos, curious what their forebearers had done in this moment. I was hopeful that we could get it right.

A huge mosaic gathered together, and we prayed with our feet. Powerfully, people left politics, religious differences, and interpersonal grievances at the door. May our congregation grow. It will take all of us, working together to write the history we all so deeply desire -- the one our great-grandchildren are counting on.

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