Charlottesville violence prompts area response

Hundreds of people turned out in front of the White House Sunday night for a candlelight vigil to acknowledge those affected by the violence in Charlottesville, Va., arising from a white supremacist rally. Photo by Hannah Monicken

Hundreds of people in the Washington region gathered Sunday night to remember the victims of violence and to condemn the white supremacist rally that took place during the previous two days in Charlottesville, Va.

The vigils in the Washington area, including in Annapolis, Arlington, Baltimore, Columbia and Frederick, were among those held across the country.

At the same time, the violence, which claimed one life on Saturday, and rally have been universally denounced by both the local and national Jewish world.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington did so “in the strongest terms” in its statement Sunday.

“There should be no doubt that these acts of domestic terrorism were the work of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites whose views and actions are anathema to American values. There were not many sides to the hatred and bigotry on display in Charlottesville, as some have claimed, only from those of the racist and the alt-right, who must clearly be called out for who they are” — a clear reference to President Donald Trump’s initial remarks in which he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides,” and did not specifically call out the white supremacist groups.

In Washington, a diverse crowd of a few hundred people gathered in front of the White House holding signs that read “Nazis bad — This shouldn’t be hard,” “White silence is white violence” and “Black Lives Matter.”

A similar protest and rally-turned-vigil took place at Judiciary Square in front of the statue of Albert Pike, the only outdoor statue of a Confederate military officer in the nation’s capital.

The vigil outside the White House was not led by one person, but the gathered crowd did start singing together, covering familiar songs, with “Amazing Grace,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Let It Be” among them.

A woman called for a moment of silence for Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed Saturday when, according to police, white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors. At least 19 others were injured; two Virginia State troopers monitoring the rally died when their helicopter crashed.

The moment of silence observed, the crowd continued to sing and hold up their candles.

Unlike the White House vigil, the one in Bethesda was held at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation and was led by the Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, the senior minister, and the Rev. Louise Green, minister for congregational life.

After some nonreligious prayers, McDonald requested a moment of silence and then for attendees to say a word that came to mind regarding the tragedy. “Love,” “black lives matter,” “resist,” “trust,” “patience” and “hope” were some of the thoughts participants called out.

About 200 people attended a vigil on Sunday at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda to condemn the weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. The vigil included a moment of silence for the counter-protester who was killed and at least 19 who were injured, allegedly by a neo-Nazi supporter who drove a car into the crowd. Photo by Dan Schere

Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, said in an interview at the Bethesda vigil, “Anti-Semitism isn’t new. I think people stopped expressing it because there was so much public resistance against those kind of statements.” He explained, “The only thing different is you’ve got a president and a bunch of Congress people that actually encourage this and it fuels their base and it gets some votes. They’ve unleashed the same kind of monsters that have always been here.”

Julie Rosen, of Bethesda, who attended the vigil, said she hoped people would see that this is about everyone, not only the groups targeted.

“I am of an age where I’ve seen this come in cycles a lot,” she said. “My first inclination was anger, but now I’m tired. I’m tired. How can this come and go, and come and go?”

A group of area Jewish leaders — a contingent from the Beltway Vaad along with Rabbi Etan Mintz from Baltimore who formerly lived in Charlottesville — headed to that city Tuesday to visit with and aid the community and colleagues there, Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Joshua and chair of the Beltway Vaad, said in an email.

The Jewish community of Charlottesville hired security guards for the first time in its history ahead of the far-right event.

Rabbi Tom Gutherz, of Congregation Beth Israel, said Sunday that the move was deemed necessary ahead of the “alt-right” — a term used by the members of the coalition that frequently espouses a white supremacist ideology — rally planned for Charlottesville the day before.

“We had to hire the service of security guards because of the events,” Gutherz told Haaretz. “We’re sad but we had no choice.”

Every major Jewish organization has been quick to call out the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

Jewish leaders noted widespread displays of anti-Semitism by the protestors at the Charlottesville rally, who carried Nazi flags, engaged in anti-Jewish chants and held signs with anti-Semitic canards.

“The Anti-Defamation League strongly condemns the violence yesterday surrounding the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the hatred on display from a range of white supremacist groups,” read the ADL statement, which went on to call on Trump to “clearly denounce white supremacy in all forms.”

On Monday, two days after the violence and Heyer’s death, Trump, amid the intense criticism his initial statement had drawn for not naming the groups, said: “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and other hate groups who are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

The condemnation of the violence stretches across the spectrum of observance, with the Union for Reform
Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly and the Orthodox Union all putting out strongly-worded statements denouncing the violence and views of the white supremacist organizations and members.

The disgust has gone international with statements from Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett.

Sharansky, whom many Jews in Israel and beyond consider an iconic champion of human rights and liberties, in a statement Monday wrote that he was “horrified by the death of a protester at the hands of one of the marchers.”

He continued, “There is no place for such hate speech or violence in any democratic society, and I am confident that American authorities will do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Bennett, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home party, published a statement on Sunday that criticized the expressions of hatred at the white nationalists’ gathering.

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the U.S. is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities,” he said in the statement, “it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the U.S. and the entire world from the Nazis.”

The writers are members of WJW’s reporting staff. JTA News and Features contributed to this report.

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