Fear, resolve and more security at Charlottesville synagogue

Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — For Diane Gartner Hillman, the new reality of being Jewish in Charlottesville sank in when she had to leave Congregation Beth Israel through the back door.

On any other Saturday, worshippers at the city’s lone synagogue would have left through the front and walked without fear to their cars, parked near the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park.

But now, men wearing white shirts and khaki pants and other white supremacists carrying semi-automatic rifles were streaming past their sanctuary, taunting Beth Israel with phony Brooklyn accents and mocking Yiddish expressions, such as “oy gevalt.”

“We were in a different world than where we had been previously,” Hillman, 69, said Friday (Aug. 18), as a stream of people entered the synagogue, now guarded by three police officers out front and several more in the park. “We just don’t know where things are going to go from here.”

The presence of hundreds of white nationalists and the loss of three lives last weekend have members of the synagogue confronting new levels of anxiety, and summoning their resolve.

Anti-Semitic vitriol and violence has been on the rise in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations that monitor hate groups. But the dynamic in Charlottesville showed an intensity of bigotry rarely seen out in the open.

Writing for the website of the Union of Reform Judaism, Beth Israel President Alan Zimmerman said Nazi websites had called for the temple to be burned.

“Fortunately, it was just talk — but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises,” he wrote.

Beth Israel hired an armed security guard for the first time last Saturday and plans to increase security, according to the congregation’s Facebook page. One Beth Israel member was “injured by the terrorist who used his car as a weapon, but is recovering at a local medical center and is expected to do so fully,” that post said.

As much as the show of hatred increased fears, it also boosted a sense of community in this normally quiet college town.

Cale Jaffe, a University of Virginia law professor, watched as the white nationalists marched past with guns, helmets and body armor, “explicitly with the intent of intimidation and to create violence,” and for the first time, felt anxious about walking into his synagogue, he said.

“But it has crystalized for me why it’s so important to push through that anxiety and step inside the sanctuary,” said Jaffe, 44. “It made it clear that’s a place I need to be.”
And many people in Charlottesville who aren’t Jewish have come to Beth Israel to show their solidarity, Jaffe said.

“What gives me hope going forward is knowing so many people in the larger Charlottesville community feel that way and are there with us.”

(AP National Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York)

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Ben Finley


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  • So, was the removal of a stature of a Confederation Gen., who had been offered to lead the Union Army, but declined, since his feeling for states rights, took precedence, worth all the violence & increased racial turmoil?

    Why not remove the statues of Gen Andrew Jackson, & Gen. Geo. Custer for their atrocities to the Native Americans. How about Geo. Washington & T. Jefferson who were slave owners, of FDR who named Hugo Black to the US Supreme Court, a KKK member?

    It would appear that the under current of this whole sorry scenario, is to play the race card to ferment distrust, & division in the American system, And unfortunately in the long term far to many Americans have taken the bait, hook, line & sinker.

  • Racism pervaded the entire country – Lincoln was a racist. Eliminating monuments on public lands glorifying the Confederacy is enough. In New Orleans BLM wants to eliminate Andrew Jackson statue – ridiculous.

  • Those statues of Confederate leaders were not built after the Civil War ended. They were built during or after Reconstruction. Many were built in the 1920s. They were created as monuments to White Supremacy.

  • Even if true, that does not mean that the subjects of those statues would have endorsed the motives of race hatred. Anyone who thinks Robert E. Lee was a racist hate monger does not know their historical facts. What slaves he held were those belonging to his wife before their marriage and he made provision for their emancipation prior to the Civil War. Nor is there any evidence that those slaves were treated inhumanely while held in involuntary servitude. Slavery in any context is a hateful thing, but we cannot change the past by conveniently expunging the traces of its presence in our history. We need to confront our past by keeping it in remembrance. Those statues represent different things to different people beyond the basic question of slavery, no single perspective should dominate the arena of civic symbolism and certainly not at the cost of what is essentially coercion.

  • Whatever degree of “racism” Lincoln expressed at some point of his life does not negate the efforts he made on behalf of blacks during his administration. Lincoln’s views on race were evolving and in flux when he was struck down by a madman. He may have not been on the leading edge like Theodore Weld, Angelina Grimke, Frederick Douglass, and others, but he trailed not far behind. Your blunt, short, and dismissive comment regarding Lincoln was hardly fair.

  • He still led an army whose goal was to preserve slavery so even if he wasn’t a racist, it doesn’t make much difference. I don’t think that romantic statues of Confederate generals are the best way to confront our past or to remember it.

  • You might want to consider the fate of the George 111 statue.on horseback being toppled by the Sons of Freedom in Bowling Green and immortalized on canvas. And that statue weighed about 2 tons unlike most of the cheaply made, mass produced Confederate monuments. Very few of these have any actual value in terms of even warranting being part of a museum collection.

    As far as I can determine, there has been no federally funded museum nor monument honoring America’s slaves. There is however a Holocaust Museum and a 9/11 museum. Perhaps that is what needed – a balanced memorialized of history.

    And possibly take a page from Europe – no statues of Hitler there in Germany and the statue of Stalin overlooking Prague was also torn down and replaced by what looks like a giant metronome.

  • Robert E Lee in fact wrote in 1869 that ‘it would be wiser “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”’

  • Apparently, you included.

    Washington freed his slaves on his death. By law, he couldn’t do it earlier. Washington built this country.

    Lee was a traitor, and led the armies of brother against brother.

  • Fair? Lincoln was a man who did great things. Like most Americans of the time he was racist. He didn’t believe in slavery but he thought the black man was inferior to the white man and could not coexist. My point is that racism itself cannot be a factor in determining who gets honored or dishonored in history.

  • They were built on the anniversary of the Civil War to commemorate the dead. You’ve gotten some bad intel there.

  • Yes I fully support that idea of commemorating African Americans and the suffering they have endured, as well as all the contributions they have given. Why has no one spoken of this rather than tearing down monuments, plaques, etc.

    It is precisely because of this and the far removed notion of slavery’s endorsement by having them that I firmly believe this current social manifestation is not about what is on the surface, but is directed towards other objectives. We are all being played and most are so afraid to be called a racist that they lack the character to question.

  • Your daft and you need to do your own research rather than listening to the harpies. This whole racist meme has no validity but your too scared to be called a racist (even though you are not) because right now that is the worst label to be called.

  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC has many exhibits concerning slavery [note to non-American readers: the Smithsonian Institution is the US’s federally funded and administered museum system].

  • But the last of 17 to open (and not even a year ago) and not specific to
    slavery. There actually is a private museum in Louisiana on an old
    plantation that offers visitors a sense of what it was like to live as a
    slave which opened maybe 3 years ago. It was opened because there was
    nothing else.

  • I would still argue that those attributes you ascribe to Lincoln were a factor mostly of his early life, even up to his election as President, but subsequently he recognized his error, and we would have seen ever greater evidence of it had he not been struck down prematurely.

  • I can’t compare the Confederacy to either Stalin or Hitler, you may if you desire. And with respect to George the Third’s statue, the context is somewhat different. That was accomplished by American rebels in conflict with England. Are those tearing down the monuments to the Confederacy at war with a government that was extinguished over a century and a half ago?

  • Perhaps not, but in America divergent perspectives are still enshrined as being necessary to our way of life.

  • Lee violated Jefferson Davis’ direct order to not surrender and instead have his troops become guerilla fighters like they were in Missouri and Arkansas . Even if for nothing else, Lee should be remembered.

    Roger Taney was one of America’s longest serving Chief Justices who wrote a 7 – 2 opinion of the court which was very much in keeping with the Constitution and the precedence at that time. His statue (constructed in 1872, 8 years after his passing) has been removed. He had freed his slaves (a family inheritance) while it was very much legal to own them. This kind of intimidation of the Courts is not acceptable.

    Americas oldest statue to Columbus, 225 years old, has been vandalized here in Baltimore.

    Our history is our patrimony and it is being attacked and millions of people think that this is the cause of our times. North Korea, children who can’t read but can shoot are filling our streets and our cemeteries, ISIS is on the march and we are distracted by marble?

  • Those statues include those of Bedford also infamous for the founding of the KKK followed the loss and still holds some traction today.. Emancipation was followed by Black Codes and then eventually Jim Crow laws. So I wouldn’t say the governments of the time were extinguished -but left a legacy post Reconstruction. Monuments should be a source of inspiration and national pride for all. – or at least a majority. Monuments associated with figureheads upholding slavery and racial oppression are symbolic representations that stand contrary to basic American values. I can’t imagine being taught about the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement of another hundred years later and reconciling that with a Confederate statue in the town square. Let those names be simply footnotes in history.

  • I defer to your point regarding Forrest, a historical fact most Americans should know but probably don’t. I can not agree on the question of the monuments in general. Another basic American value is respecting other people’s right to own their own opinion and values, as long as such does not impinge on others contrary to law. The existence of these monuments and memorials do not meet that case. You are in favor of a tyranny of viewpoint with respect to these symbols. I prefer to think of them as part of our institutional memory, let every person make of them what they like according to their own conscience and values, without the exercise of illegal and hysterical vandalism. What has not been stated in any of these arguments, though many will scoff at the claim, but the issue of states rights was not solely or wholly a cover for slavery.

  • Declarations of secession made by Mississippi and Texas would indicate otherwise. North Carolina’s declaration also addressed the rights of other states to make laws against slavery that interfered with their right to travel with slaves. (I can quote if you like). The Union went to war not originally about slavery but preserving the union.

    While I do not agree with vandalism, I do think in a country where race is a festering issue that there is a moral imperative to recognize that it is those with a personal and familial history and experiences of racism who have the greatest claim as to the disposition of the statues .I don’t consider it tyranny per se when there are other avenues for institutional memory. And certainly I have never had the experience of having had a cross burnt on my lawn at night nor a noose left on my desk nor had to even contemplate the possibility but which are small examples of how the past still contaminates the present. ( But I have gotten to enjoy the experience of gospel music, blues and jazz and I have some understanding of the historical origins of .these genres – without the need of statues.)

    And if people had heeded Robert E. Lee’s words written in 1869, there would have been no statues erected and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  • Valid arguments regarding those southern states, also that regarding the preservation of the union, but I’m not convinced that the state’s rights question was wholly a chimera, or false narrative. History is full of influences and counter influences, threads and strands that are often tangled. Certainly the abolitionists welcomed the war as a means to an end. I largely accept your position, not wholly, with respect to the personal and familial histories of those citizens most marked by racism, and naturally, the marvelous cultural contributions of African Americans to our national fabric. I will search out the specific reference to Lee that you cite and yet ironically, I suspect that I will find that a reason to defend the statuary symbols representing Lee, among other examples from his life. I might add a jocular note to a serious discussion as a wry aside: Were Ifs and Buts candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas.