As 40 congregants attended services at Charlottesville, Virginia’s Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday, for half an hour, three suspicious men dressed in fatigues and armed with semiautomatic rifles stood across the street.
Although synagogue president Alan Zimmerman had requested police protection for the worshipers, it was denied. With a violent protest predicted for that day, no force could be spared.
That decision seemed to be borne out later on Saturday, when 20-year-old white supremacist James Fields killed Heather Heyer, 32, and wounded 20 others by driving a car into a crowd of activists protesting an alt-right rally planned for the city that day. There were also other potential pockets of violence throughout the city.
Zimmerman wrote in a Reform Judaism blog on Monday that “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.
“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,” wrote Zimmerman. “Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.”
Zimmerman is not paranoid.
An August 14 Vice documentary screened on HBO and detailing the events of the violent Charlottesville protest weekend shows that the Jews are a clear target for leading voices in the united far-right movements.
The documentary begins with the now-notorious images of tiki-torch bearing, polo shirt-wearing white men chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” It quickly moves to an interview with Christopher Cantwell, an extremely pumped speaker for Unite the Right, who frankly discusses his disgust with US President Donald Trump, who “gave his daughter to a Jew.”
Cantwell asks Vice News’ reporter Elspeth Reeve, “Do you think you could feel about race like I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl?” (Without mentioning that the beautiful girl Trump adviser Jared Kushner married, Ivanka Trump, is now herself a Jew.)
In interview after interview with random white nationalists and thought leaders, Reeve receives similar comments.
Sporting a hillbilly beard and ball cap, Daily Stormer reporter Robert “Azzmador” Ray, says the cancellation of portions of the Charlottesville protest is “because this city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers.” Another white nationalist, Matthew Heimback, says it’s because of “the radical left, the corporations and the state are all on the same Jewish side.”
In a YouTube video, former Imperial Wizard of the KKK David Duke likewise says that the American media, political system and federal reserve are “dominated by a tiny minority — the Jewish Zionist guard, which supports Israel, which is the Jewish ethno-state.”
In an Atlantic article on the targeting of Jews in Charlottesville, University of Chicago historian David Nirenberg gives some insight into the historical reasons behind it.
“Ever since St. Paul, Christianity and all the religions born from it — Islam, the secular philosophies of Europe, etc. — learned to think about their world in terms of overcoming the dangers of Judaism,” Nirenberg said. “We have these really basic building blocks… for thinking about the world and what’s wrong with it… by thinking about Judaism.”
For the organizers of the Unite the Right weekend protest, however, the time has come to stop thinking, and start acting. “We are stepping off the internet in a big way… and coming out. We’re starting to unveil our power level, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Ray, the Daily Stormer reporter, told Vice.
Likewise, the beefy Cantwell says, “The amount of restraint our people showed was astounding… I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here… hey, we want a homeland.”
The Charlottesville Jewish community hired private security guards and removed their priceless Torah scrolls from the premises ahead of the protest weekend. Those preparations, wrote synagogue president Zimmerman, today feel warranted.
“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,” he wrote.