Thursday, August 24, 2017
Light in the Darkness
We are painfully aware that the recent White Supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia included disgusting anti-Jewish slogans. You may not know that the Beth Israel congregation went through a harrowing few hours on the Saturday morning, when worshippers had come together for their regular service. When I read thefirst-hand account written by Alan Zimmerman, the president of the congregation I felt ill. How could this happen in the 21st century in America. Sadly, this hasn't happened only to a Jewish congregation. Muslims walking to their mosque in a community in Texas were intimidated in a similar fashion, again by cowardly thugs with assault weapons. It appears that "open carry" means "open intimidation" in a country that supposedly cherishes freedom of religion. I'll let you read a portion of the account:
At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people injured in the attack who are still recovering.
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.
On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).
Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.
For half an hour, 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.
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.
A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.
When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.
This is 2017 in the United States of America.
One of the rabbis pictured above offered hope and a call for courage in a sermon at the synagogue on August 18th:
Like our ancestors before us, we must be able to see the stark contrast between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, between blessing and curse, between love and hate, between pluralism and racism. May we continue to be inspired by Congregation Beth Israel to turn darkness into light, to turn fear into resolve, to turn xenophobia into acceptance, and to turn hatred into hope.