- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The president of a synagogue in Charlottesville, Virginia described a harrowing scene with armed white supremacists threatening the temple and chanting Nazi slogans during the tumultuous protests that rocked the town on Friday and Saturday.
“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple,” Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel, wrote. “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.”
Zimmerman said he was forced to hire an armed guard because the Charlottesville police refused to provide an officer to watch over the temple’s Saturday morning services.
“Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Sieg Heil’ and other anti-Semitic language,” Zimmerman said. “Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”
“This is 2017 in the United States of America,” he added.
Zimmerman described how he advised congregants to leave the temple through the back door, and that the temple was forced to take the “precautionary step” of removing their Torahs – including a Holocaust-era scroll – from the building.
“The fact that a calamity did not befall the Jewish community of Charlottesville on Saturday was not thanks to our politicians, our police, or even our own efforts, but to the grace of God,” Zimmerman added, leveling criticism at Charlottesville’s mayor who Zimmerman said failed to address the synagogue’s security concerns.
Zimmerman said that the Charlottesville community – Jewish or not – came together in profound ways for the synagogue. A Navy veteran “took it upon himself” to stand watch over the synagogue during Shabbat services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, Zimmerman said, and at least “a dozen” complete strangers stopped by the synagogue to ask if they needed assistance.
Zimmerman also described how an elderly woman, who said she was Roman Catholic, approached him, crying and asked, “Why do they hate you?”
“I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years,” Zimmerman said.