Charlottesville: from Rabbi Levine
Aug 15 , 2017/Category
23 Av 5777
August 15, 2017

To the Rodeph Sholom family,

When You Come For Our Neighbors, You Come For Us.

So many painful images have permeated our senses from Charlottesville over the past few days. Sadly, white nationalists and neo-Nazis got exactly what they bargained for: attention from the entire world and like-minded, hate-filled people plotting to join them the next time. A courageous young woman and two fine Virginia state police officers were killed. All and all a great win for the lunatic fringe.

A part of me recoils at giving them so much ink and media attention. They are still relatively few in number and will never gain the foothold that the Nazis grabbed in the 1930’s. It is also true that they do not have a monopoly on bigotry in this country. Too many pro-BDS protesters, for example, have crossed the line from political activism to outright anti-Semitism.

HOWEVER, there can be no comparison or moral equivalence between them and those who descended on that beautiful southern city. Those wretched people deserve our attention and outright condemnation because:

  • They cause death and destruction and are capable of so much more.
  • They seem to be counted as cherished members of the political base for the President of the United States and that is simply shocking.
  • Once again, those espousing Nazi ideology stood as a menacing force across from synagogues and churches invoking the memory of Kristallnacht for all of us.
Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, wrote movingly in a blog published by Reform Judaism magazine:
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. …

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 presenc 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. …

Soon we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? 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.

Again, This is in America in 2017.

And yet, in the midst of all that, other moments stand out for me as well.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.

We experienced wonderful turnout for services both Friday night and Saturday morning to observe Shabbat, including several non-Jews who said they came to show solidarity (though a number of congregants, particularly elderly ones, told me they were afraid to come to synagogue). 

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the step 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 one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?”  I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

So, we cannot look away or dismiss them. These people can kill, injure and harm human beings and our sacred institutions. I thanked the police officer and our security team this morning and I vow that we will continue to protect our members, our buildings and all others threatened by hatred.

I close with a moving poem written by Rabbi Michael Latz.

In Response to Martin Neimoller (z”l)

First they came for transpeople and I spoke up—because God does NOT make mistakes!

Then they came for the African Americans and I spoke up—Because I am my sister’s and my brothers’ keeper.   
And then they came for the women and I spoke up—Because women hold up half the sky.

And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up—Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.

And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up—Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.

And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up—Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.

They keep coming.

We keep rising up.

Because we Jews know the cost of silence.

We remember where we came from.

And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors, you come for us—and THAT just won’t stand.

That cannot stand.

Rabbi Robert N. Levine