Home Religion From the Synagogue Window — a Perspective from Charlottesville

From the Synagogue Window — a Perspective from Charlottesville


The (neo)Nazi/white supremacist “some good people” atrocities and threats to the public order in Charlottesville have a wide range of victims. A memorial service occurred today for Heather Heyer, the two dead Virginia police officers, the wounded in hospitals, … The victims are not just those with physical wounds–those concerned about a strong civis and democracy in America were wounded by the vile and menacing events in Charlottesville and the President’s abject moral, ethical, and leadership failure related to them (and their implications for American society).

To fight for American society, to have a reality of “Never Again”, part of the challenge and opportunity is to seek a rich understanding of what went on, including an understanding of the true crimes and range of victims. Bearing witness amid and after such events thus matters. Alan Zimmerman of Charlottesville Congregation Beth Israel has provided an eloquent witness ‘statement‘ from the synagogue window.

On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard ..

Truly, is this the United States that ‘we’ envisioned — that people require armed guards to practice their religion?

Wonder whether that armed guard was a sensible investment?

three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Those from the NRA and otherwise advocating “open carry” merit responsibility for this: would you be intimidated, made uncomfortable, feel threatened if people stood across the street from you holding semi-automatic rifles?  In a democracy, what legitimate basis exists for enabling such behavior?

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

To be clear, as Alan states, such intimidation doesn’t measure up in importance to the loss of life and physical injuries due to the Nazi/KKK (accompanied by “some good people”) violence.

The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger.

“Effects of both will each linger” … including a question, a legitimate question, of just how far the synagogue’s worshipers were from suffering an attack — after all, “Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue”.

Alan’s important witness statement isn’t all pain, he also highlights the power of civic society.

  • John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, took it upon himself to stand watch over the synagogue through services Friday evening and Saturday, along with our armed guard. He just felt he should.
  • A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us.
  • At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

When it comes to the Holocaust and making truth of “Never Again”, one of the most powerful statements is “they came for the Jews and I was silent …” When it came to it, the Jews in Charlottesville did not stand alone.

And, when we look to those who (sadly, literally) risked their lives and limbs on the streets in Charlottesville facing the (neo-)Nazi/KKK/white-supremacist (and the MAGA-hat wearing ‘good people’ marching with them), it wasn’t only the Jews who did not stand alone: other ‘minorities’, those who care about a functioning democracy, those who stand for morality and justice, … they stood together in face of fascist thugs.

In Charlottesville, the victims aren’t only those with physical injuries.

In Charlottesville, there were many heroes.




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