The 10 days between the holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, some of the holiest times for Jewish people, are often referred to as the Days of Awe.
The period can represent a moment of reflection and repentance, when Jewish people may confront their mistakes over the last year and vow to do better.
As Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, during this period of the year, he repeatedly referred to his Jewish heritage as a kind-of North Star in his role as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. While Garland’s own religious practices are certainly private, he became emotional several times during his testimony as he referenced his background.
During his opening statement, Garland argued the Department of Justice’s job is to “treat each of us alike,” an American promise that is “why I am here.” Garland explained that his family members were the victims of religious persecution in Europe, and two of his grandmother’s siblings were murdered in the Holocaust.
“There is little doubt that but for America, the same thing would have happened to my grandmother. But this country took her in, and under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution,” Garland said.
“That protection is what distinguishes this country from so many others. The protection of law, the rule of law is the foundation of our system of government. Repaying this country for the debt my family owes, for our very lives has been the focus of my entire professional career,” he added, his voice breaking.
For hours, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee attacked the attorney general over federal investigations they allege are designed to target former President Donald Trump and protect President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, among other accusations.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., took aim at a leaked field office memo that referenced potential Catholic extremists, a document Garland has previously called “appalling.” The New Jersey lawmaker asked Garland whether he believes that “traditional Catholics are violent extremists.”
“The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outrageous, so absurd,” the attorney general said.
Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016 by former President Barack Obama, before Senate Republicans refused to consider the pick.
But Wednesday didn’t mark the first time Garland has reflected on his family before lawmakers. During his confirmation hearing in 2021, he also recounted the persecution of his family, saying “The country took us in; protected us” and “I feel an obligation to pay back.”
“I would like during my time in the Justice Department to turn down the volume,” Garland said at the time. “I know that these are divisive times.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Merrick Garland reflects on Jewish heritage during emotional hearing