In advance of the inauguration, Jewish parents and schools are on edge
Nicole Goldstein’s children grew up on Capitol Hill; the grand monuments of the National Mall are their backyard. “It’s their Capitol,” she said. Her children, a daughter in middle school and a son in high school, felt personally attacked as they watched rioters break the windows and storm the Capitol. “We have spent a lot of time at the Capitol and my kids are very familiar with it and they were sobbing,” Goldstein said.
The family was not in the city on the day of the attack, and they’re leaving again for the inauguration. Though they attended BLM protests all summer, Goldstein says she doesn’t know anyone who is protesting near the Capitol right now.
Her son, she says, is “at that age where he wants to go downtown and demonstrate.” But she feels it’s too dangerous. “He’s a target. He’s brown and Jewish and wears a kippah.” Still, though he’s never sneaked out before, Goldstein worries that his passions may get the better of him, which is part of the reason why they’re leaving the city.
Jewish day schools in the area are also on alert.
Rabbi Mitchell Malkus, the head of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb far from the Capitol or the city center, told me his school was carefully monitoring threats. He is concerned that, due to the raised security measures and National Guard presence on Capitol Hill, violent groups might move their targets into the less-well-defended suburbs.
Security is not the only concern in the wake of the Capitol attack, however. The disparate narratives around the protests have made for a delicate situation inside schools with communities from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. Though the Jewish History Department is one of Charles E. Smith’s signature programs, Malkus is wary of framing the riots politically, despite comparisons to Kristallnacht in the media.
“In a polarized world, the school works really hard to take the educational approach and allow students to share their own opinions, but not for the teachers to weigh in because we think that the power dynamics are not appropriate there,” Malkus said.
Still, students often begin their discussions or disputes outside of school, on social media, and then bring it through the doors when they arrive the next day. “They’re very passionate when they’re teenagers,” Malkus said. “Which we love.”
Yet, these kinds of disputes may have actually lessened recently. Goldstein, whose daughter currently attends the Berman Hebrew Academy — where the Kushner children now go — reports that the current election cycle has been less vitriolic than it was in 2016.
“People were saying really disgusting things to kids like mine who supported Clinton,” she recalled. “This election has been a lot more tame and a lot more mixed” because no one supported the violence that began rising during the recent campaign cycle.
Malkus reported a similar effect at Charles E. Smith. The Holocaust T-shirts worn by rioters were distressing to all of the students. “They were so vitriolic. I think there was shock around that,” he said.
Though several Jewish day schools in the District will be closing, Charles E. Smith will remain open on Inauguration Day. They will turn to their tried and true questions to help students process history in the making. First, what happened? Then, how did it make you feel? And finally, what are you going to do?
“The students don’t always have an action that they want to take. But we want them to begin to think ethically about issues in the world,” Rabbi Malkus said.