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  • Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy

The Destruction of America’s Temple of Democracy: A Global Citizen's Perspective

The images of an unruly mob occupying the hallowed halls of the Capitol building in Washington, DC have left a painful mark on the watching world.


I am not an American citizen, but as for millions of westerners, America has long been a beacon of democracy and leader of the free world. The anarchic desecration of one of the country's citadels of democracy appeared to be the ultimate assault on our shared, sacred values.


However, the deeper currents running beneath the surface of these events suggest a far more complex picture. This attack didn’t come from a foreign enemy. It came from within its borders and, led by members of its society. The exposure of crippling social decay is the greatest cause of alarm and it began a long time before 2021.


As a citizen of Jerusalem, I live in close vicinity of the ruins of the Second Temple. The destruction of what Jewish tradition calls a House of Holiness ‘for all nations’ in the year 70 of the Common Era was an event that characterised our national psyche and collective memory for the following 2,000 years.


While there is a stark difference between these two events, some similarities can be drawn and lessons learned. It was amidst a society rife with infighting and a deterioration of ethical behaviour that the nation of Israel fell, and the Temple was destroyed. When the Talmud describes the Assyrians’ pride in their physical destruction, it explains that they were “only grinding ground flour.” Indeed, the Temple had been "pre-destroyed." The outer destruction was but a symptom; the inner destruction the cause.


Today, our societies are experiencing unprecedented turmoil. Choked by misinformation, worn down by identity struggles and struck by a deadly global pandemic, we have seen racism, rioting and the absence of empathy for our fellow human beings run rampant. We have seen many leaders abdicate responsibility, spawn the rule of law and incite violence and hatred. Like the Temple of Jerusalem, our society and democracy were already in ruins before being physically overrun. So what we saw this week was merely the expression of something much deeper and perhaps it was this symbol that struck the chord.


Too many times, as an educator, I have seen individuals who have been raised in a toxic environment without role models or worse, with negative role models. Such an upbringing manifests itself in many ways, but often it leads to one of two extremes. One type of child can absorb this through osmosis and replicate this negativity in their own life. The other, however, so burned from the experience, goes in the direct opposite direction in their own life and tries to create something better.


A generation of young people is growing up today in a society with so much beauty but also plagued by decadence and decay. This is not just a US but global phenomenon. Living amidst the change, the insurrection at Capitol Hill highlighted something that many didn’t realise was happening before their eyes. We can only hope that the hatred and violence we witnessed will inspire them to go in the opposite direction: healing divisions, building bridges and protecting America’s founding values as a beacon beyond.


Strong moral leadership is more important now than ever. If we waste time in picking up the pieces, it is the world that will be laid waste as the damage becomes undoable. Rather, now amidst the ruins, we need to ask ourselves, how can we bridge the gap between what clearly is and what should be, guiding society out of this abyss. There is no time to waste.



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