Hundreds gather to oppose hate at NoVa JCC

The interfaith gathering invited community members to take part in an art project demonstrating a common resolve to fight anti-Semitism and hate.
Photo by Jesse Bernstein

Eight days after 19 large swastikas were spray-painted in white on the walls of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia’s auditorium and childhood wing, hundreds gathered in the building’s gymnasium for a rally to oppose hate. At times somber, and at others cheerful, the rally was attended by JCC members, rabbis, local Muslim and Christian clergy and politicians from the local, state and federal level. The Oct. 14 event was emceed by David Yaffe, president of the JCCNV board, and Jeff Dannick, executive director of the JCCNV.

“We realized that as a community center, we needed an opportunity to express our core values and your support, which brings us to this community gathering today,” Yaffe said during his

Surveillance footage from early in the morning on Oct. 6 shows an unidentified man spraying the swastikas on the JCC, his face concealed by his hooded sweatshirt.

It’s the second time in 18 months that the JCC, in Fairfax, Va., has been targeted with such graffiti. Dylan Mahone, 20, was arrested in April 2017 just a few days after being caught by surveillance cameras spray-painting swastikas and other Nazi symbols on the JCC and the neighboring Little River United Church of Christ.

A similar offense took place in June 2018, when the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, just down the road from the JCC, was vandalized with swastikas, broken windows and slashed
pew cushions.

“We really do have to stop meeting like this,” joked Pastor Lindsay of Little River, to laughs from the crowd.

It was one of a few light moments of the evening. Nick May, a Judaic specialist from the Early Childhood Learning Center at the JCC, led the crowd in an abridged version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” which seemed to lift the spirits of the room. And after fits and starts, the audience was able to screen a short video put together for the occasion, featuring news coverage of the event and words of encouragement from the mayor of Fairfax, David Meyer.

The speakers focused on the theme of unity throughout the event, stressing repeatedly the need to resist being divided. “This has been community that has been so open and welcoming to all,” said Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who lives down the road from the JCC and has coached his children’s basketball teams at the center.

“It reflects the best of who we are, not just here in Fairfax County and not just in Virginia, but in this nation.”

Fairfax was joined in such sentiments by representatives from the offices of Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who each delivered statements.

Rabbi Brett Issreow, a JCC board member and the rabbi emeritus of Beth El Hebrew Congregation, delivered thoughts on the affair as a rabbi would: by citing the weekly parshah. Reflecting on the building of the Tower of Babel, Isserow mused that the same sense of “ignorance, fear and insecurity” that followed the fall of the Tower remains present, and urged the crowd to “celebrate and embrace each other in all of our diversity.”

“Let us unite around our common values of integrity, decency and respect for God,” he said.

Hurunnessa Fariad delivered a similar message. Fariad, the interfaith/outreach coordinator at the ADAMS Center mosque, pledged to “stand up to injustice or oppression regardless of race,
religion or ethnicity.”

At the conclusion of the remarks, Dannick directed the crowd to the back of the auditorium for an art project. Participants could get flowery outlines of their hands cut and pasted to a paper tree, meant to reflect the investment of the community into one another.

Hundreds lined up to take part.

Barry Dickman, a past board member of the JCC, said it was important for him to attend the event because of the “sense of unity.” He also praised Dannick for his leadership during the recent hardships.

Jeanne Howard, administrative assistant to Dannick, was overwhelmed by emotion during the event, even more so than in the initial hours following the discovery of the swastikas, she said. “To really see all of these people come together as a community. … This was far more emotionally touching for me.”

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