Jews were on both sides of Jan. 6. Where are they a year later?
By RON KAMPEAS
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Chuck Schumer is ready to change the law to make voting more secure. Aaron Mostofsky is about to face the law for trying to upend the vote.
One year later, and it’s evident the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, spurred by former President Donald Trump to overturn his election loss, has changed lives: of those who were trapped by the rioters, of those who joined the rioters and of sundry others.
Jews featured prominently in all camps. Here’s a review of how the events of Jan. 6 changed them.
Chuck Schumer: Making history on a historical day
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, was as usual multitasking on Jan. 6, participating in Congress’ affirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win of the presidency.
He was also closely watching results from two special elections a day earlier in Georgia, both for the U.S. Senate: Democrats were on track for wins that would secure the party a bare majority. He was about to make history, as the first Jewish Senate majority leader — the highest ever Jewish elected official in United States history.
In a video interview this week with USA Today, Schumer described the moment.
“I’m on the floor of the Senate at 1 p.m., to count the ballots, my first time as putative Majority Leader, I haven’t even given a speech,” he said. “About an hour later, a police officer in a bulletproof vest, submachine gun strapped across this vest grabs me by the collar like this. I’ll never forget it. ‘Senator, you’re in danger. We got to get out of here.’”
He feared for his life not just as a senator, but as a Jewish American of prominence.
“Had one of them had a gun, had two of them blocked off the door, who knows what would have happened — one of them was reported to see me and say ‘There’s the big Jew,’” he said.
Schumer depicted his rise as an American story: the son of an exterminator without a college education (who died in November). But Jan. 6 made him question the dream.
“For the first time ever, and I’m a natural optimist, I’m worried about the future of our democracy,” he said. “Something is out of whack in a way it has never been before.”
Schumer, unlike his predecessor as Democratic leader, Harry Reid, is cautious, some Democrats say to a fault, and loath to upend Senate traditions.
But his concerns have led him to reconsider his hesitancy: He is ready to suspend the filibuster, the Senate device that requires a minimum of 60 votes to advance legislation, to pass voting rights protections. The bill would counter what Democrats say are efforts by state-level Republicans urged on by Trump to put into place mechanisms that would have helped Trump overturn the election a year ago — and could help him subvert the next presidential election.
“If Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster to prevent this body from acting, then the Senate must adapt,” Schumer said Tuesday in his daily remarks on the Senate floor. He has promised a vote by Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Day.
Jamie Raskin: A son lost, a daughter’s heartbreak
Unspeakable tragedy did not bring Jamie Raskin to tears, not publicly. And the constitutional scholar remained cool even in the face of an effort to destroy his cherished republic.
It took his daughter’s reaction to the events of Jan. 6 to make him break.
Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, had lost his son, Tommy 25, to depression and suicide on New Year’s Eve. On Jan. 5, he buried Tommy. On Jan. 6, he was in place to object to the stated plans by a number of Republicans to challenge some of the state electoral votes favoring Biden.
When some Republicans challenged Arizona’s results, Raskin was ready to speak. He thanked his colleagues for their support during his recent crisis, and then launched into an explanation of Congress’ duty to affirm the electoral college outcome.
“We assemble in a joint session for a solemn purpose we have all sworn a sacred oath to faithfully discharge,” Raskin said. “The 12th Amendment obligates each and every one of us to count the electoral votes, to recognize the will of the people in the 2020 presidential election. We are not here, madam speaker, to vote for the candidate we want. We are here to recognize the candidate the people actually voted for in the states.”
Within 30 minutes of Raskin’s address, the chamber was in chaos. “Lock the doors!” Members were shouting. “This is because of you!” one shouted.
Raskin, in a book published this week, “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy,” and in recent interviews, said he remained composed, concerned mainly for his daughter, Tabitha, and his older daughter Hannah’s husband, Hank, who had accompanied him to the Hill to look after him.
“I personally felt no fear, because the very worst thing that ever could have happened to me had already happened to me,” Raskin told NPR’s Terry Gross this week.
Tabitha and Hank were terrified, barricaded in the office of Raskin’s fellow Maryland Democrat, Steny Hoyer, the majority leader. But Raskin was hyperfocused: He started talking with his colleagues the same day about impeaching Trump.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, named Raskin the lead House impeachment manager in Trump’s impeachment, and on Feb. 9, making the case in Trump’s Senate trial, he finally broke, describing his reunion with Tabitha after they were both safe.
“I told her how sorry I was. And I promised her that it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me, and you know what she said? She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol,’” Raskin said, choking up. “Of all the terrible brutal things I saw and I heard on that day and since then, that one hit me the hardest.”
Raskin has now become Congress’ most tragic figure, and it weighs on him.
“I have a colleague, Abigail Spanberger from Virginia, who was once asked on C-SPAN, ‘Who’s the funniest member of Congress?’ And it was my greatest achievement that she said, ‘Oh, no question: Jamie Raskin,’” he told NPR. “And that’s who I was. And suddenly I was just thrust into a world of complete tragedy and pain.”
He is now on the committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. He told NPR that the committee is as focused as he has been.
“We’re going to get to the answers and I’m going to report them this year to the American people, because the people deserve it. It’s all about the future of our country,” he said.
Kathy Manning: An idealistic freshman lost her optimism
Kathy Manning, a former chairwoman of the Jewish Federations of North America, was elected in 2020 on her second try to represent a Greensboro, North Carolina-area district.
As a new representative, she was not required to attend the opening debate of the Jan. 6 affirmation of the election — voting would come later in the day — but she secured a seat in the gallery because she heard that Raskin would be making opening remarks.
“Madam Speaker, I want to thank you first and all my dear beloved colleagues for your love and tenderness which my family and I will never forget,” Raskin said.
“And everybody on the House floor leaped up on their feet and applauded,” Manning recalled Wednesday in an interview. “And I thought to myself, this is unbelievable. This is what Congress is going to be like, everybody’s going to come together and have a shared sense of humanity.”
Manning began tapping notes to herself on her phone to preserve the memory.
“I’m busy typing on my phone, and I hear somebody in the gallery shout, ’This is all because of you!’ and I looked up because I hadn’t been there that long, but I knew you weren’t supposed to yell from the gallery,” she said. “And I saw down on the House floor, people were rushing Steny Hoyer and [Whip] Jim Clyburn out of the room. And then a Capitol police officer shouted to everybody in the room and up to the gallery, ‘The Capitol has been breached, tear gas has been released in the rotunda. Take out your gas masks and prepare to take cover.’”
Soon they were in a room, lying on the floor, and the police were instructing them to remove the pins that identified them as Congress members. “That was the first time I realized that they were after us. I didn’t realize before that they were looking for members of Congress,” she said.
Manning was not afraid, she said — she had been through worse, when she was in Sderot on a JFNA trip to Israel, terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched rockets at the border town.
“I thought, ‘I don’t hear sirens. I don’t hear rockets. We’re going to be fine,’” she said.
A year later, Manning said, she is not as optimistic as she was when she started.
Just weeks before the insurrection, she was chatting with the two most vocal Trump supporters in Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and she remembered finishing the conversation, “I don’t think we’re going to agree on very much, but, you know, perhaps we can work on something together in the future.”
Now, she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this week, she can’t imagine speaking with Greene and Boebert and a number of others, much less writing legislation with them, although she emphasizes there are plenty of Republicans she is happy to work with, particularly on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“You always want to work with people who you think are trustworthy, reliable, have some modicum of morality, and are sane,” she said. “And there are certainly some of the Republicans who I would never want to work with, and frankly, wouldn’t want to have a conversation with because they’ve shown themselves to be so extreme.”
Her worries extend even to the people she trusted with her life on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police.
“I look at the Capitol Police, and I think, are they with us? I mean, that’s a terrible thing to think, because so many of them suffered so terribly,” she said. “But you probably remember, there was one guard station, where a police officer had left, and there was a copy of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ [a notorious antisemitic forgery], sitting in his desk, and it was very dog-eared. And I wonder well, how many other people have been reading that? So you know, you worry about it, and you worry about what will it take for people to stop believing crazy things?”
Andy Levin: The slow realization of horror
On Jan. 6, Andy Levin was in his office in the Cannon congressional office building going over his notes: He and his fellow six Michigan Democrats in the House were prepared to rebuff an anticipated Republican challenge to Biden’s electoral college win in the state. There was a banging on his office door.
“This Capitol policeman burst in and he said, ‘Let’s go right now. We are evacuating this building.’ I didn’t even get my laptop. We left immediately,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
The policeman said they could not go outside, so they took the tunnel connecting the congressional office buildings to the Longworth building. Police had herded staffers into the cafeteria, and Levin realized he was famished. “I realized I hadn’t eaten anything … I made myself a salad at the salad bar, which I like to do there.”
The seriousness had yet to sink in; Levin remembers telling his chief of staff that he was worried that the crowd in the cafeteria posed a COVID spreader threat, so he would search out buddies in Longworth.
“I was still not really aware of how serious the situation was. And then I said, ‘Well who else do I know in Longworth and Elissa Slotkin, my good colleague from Michigan is there, so she said ‘Come on over here!’” and I went to her office.”
He started watching TV with Slotkin, a Democratic representative from a nearby district. “I saw what was going on, you know people climbing the walls of the Capitol people with weapons, people with bear spray and shields and using hockey sticks or other you know flagpoles or other things, and it was just horrifying,” he said, “And I went and looked out the window and I saw streams of people with Trump regalia, Trump flags, MAGA hats walking around, and we realized people were worried.”
He and Slotkin started texting family to say they were okay, but the mood was still relatively light. Slotkin, who is Jewish and who is a veteran of the CIA and top Pentagon positions, took a media interview and told a reporter she and Levin were safe in her office.
“And immediately she got a call, saying, ‘Stop saying where you are, you’re putting yourself in danger,’” Levin said, “I had to rib her a bit, because like, ‘Dude, I’m a nobody, and you’re the CIA and the Pentagon.’”
It was only afterward, once they got the all-clear and made their way back to the Capitol to vote, that the true horror of the day began to set in. Levin ran into Raskin, who was with his daughter and son-in-law, and they told him of their terrifying stay in Hoyer’s office.
Raskin’s chief of staff, Julie Tagen, who barricaded in Hoyer’s office in the Capitol with them, led Levin back to the scene and told Levin how the rioters banged on the doors. She said she had identified a fireplace poker and a horned elk statue head as a means of defense had the rioters broken through.
“She’s a wonderful woman and not a very large person,” Levin said. “She was going to defend them somehow with that, with a statue of an elk.”
On his way to the House chamber, they stepped over broken glass and puddles of blood. “I mean it was horrifying. And one thing I remember is I had to pee. And I was like, oh my gosh, where the bathrooms are is where that woman who was trying to breach the Capitol [Ashli Babbitt] was killed, and you’d figure it’s a crime scene, but no, they made it functional and I was able to go to the bathroom as normal.”
Levin had a moment of truth not long after, when he wanted to pass human rights legislation related to Myanmar. His cosponsor was a Republican, and Levin for a moment considered whether to press ahead; he looked up the Republican’s votes, and he realized his cosponsor was one of 147 Republicans who voted against certification. He decided not to cut his colleague off. “In that case, I just didn’t feel like there was an alternative,” he said. He pressed ahead.
“I haven’t 100% refused to work with them but there certainly are quite a few of them who are still actively spreading the ‘Big Lie,’” that there was major election fraud, “actively working to undermine our democracy. And, you know, let me just speak as a Jewish person here, it doesn’t go well for Jews when authoritarianism rises up and it doesn’t go well for Jews when democracy is undermined.”
Boris Epshteyn and others: Still on Trump’s side
There were Jews on the other side as well, among them Trump’s adviser Boris Epshteyn, who was at the nearby and historic Willard hotel, helping to coordinate the legislative challenge to Biden’s win.
And there were a number of Jewish Trump loyalists in the Capitol, including the editor of an Orthodox Jewish newspaper and Aaron Mostofsky, who entered the Capitol wearing fur pelts and a bulletproof vest and carrying a riot shield he said he found.
Epshteyn is still a close adviser to the former president and is advising congressional candidates who hope to win Trump’s endorsement.
Mostofsky is the son of Steven (Shlomo) Mostofsky, a Kings County Supreme Court Judge and former president of the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue association that has been outspokenly pro-Trump in the past. Mostofsky’s brother, Nachman, serves as executive director of Chovevei Zion, a politically conservative Orthodox Jewish advocacy organization.
The FBI arrested Aaron Mostofsky less than a week after the insurrection. He goes to trial later this month on eight federal charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding and assaulting officers.
Jared and Ivanka: A turning point?
Ivanka Trump, Trump’s Jewish daughter, reportedly tried to persuade her father to tell the rioters to stand down. He didn’t listen.
She and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, led Trump’s 2020 campaign but were noticeably absent in the post-campaign effort to overturn the election. Reports in the aftermath have claimed Kushner and Ivanka Trump think Trump’s post-election politics have become toxic, and that Trump blames Kushner for losing the 2020 election and has stopped taking his political advice. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., has become his closest political adviser.
Kushner’s father, Charles, notably, appears to be backing Nikki Haley as a possible 2024 candidate.
But even if Ivanka Trump and Kushner have distanced themselves politically from Donald Trump, they remain close as a family, summering with him at his New Jersey estate and living in Miami, just an hour’s drive away from his Mar-a-Lago headuarters.
Jared Kushner is focused on sustaining one of the successes of the Trump presidency: The Abraham Accords he brokered as Trump’s top Middle East adviser. Last summer, Kushner marked the anniversary of the accords and was notably conciliatory to the Biden administration for its efforts in maintaining and expanding them.
He also is trying to monetize the relationships he made in the Middle East.
The two Jewish Republicans: Condemning the violence, then voting against Biden
Among the 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s wins was the party’s entire Jewish caucus: David Kustoff of Tennessee and Lee Zeldin of New York.
Both men condemned the rioting before going back to the chamber to vote against Biden.
Kustoff shies away from national politics — although he and Zeldin have led in pro-Israel legislation — and has never been outspoken in his support of Trump.
Zeldin was one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders during his presidency, taking a lead role in defending the former president during his first impeachment. Since launching a campaign for governor of New York, a state where Trump is reviled, Zeldin has been notably quiet about his association with Trump.