Wednesday, August 16, 2017

When fascism comes to America, it comes flying the Nazi and Confederate flags

We were wrong to say that when fascism came to America, it would come wrapped in the American flag. The fascists in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past Friday night and Saturday, came carrying Nazi flags and Confederate flags, chanting antisemitic and racist slogans, including slogans taken from the German Nazi Party. President Trump tries to wrap himself in the American flag, but it keeps slipping, and we see the swastika and the stars and bars.

And about these men (they were mostly men), our president said:
"Not all of those people were neo-Nazis.... Not all of those people were white supremacists." 
"They didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides." 
"You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly." 
"There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones."
In the torchlit procession on Friday night, bands of (mostly) men belonging to racist and antisemitic organizations chanted "Jews will not replace us," "Blood and soil," "White Lives Matter." They attacked the small group of student counter protestors standing at the statue of Thomas Jefferson - they were certainly not "protesting very quietly." And on Saturday afternoon, one of the neo-Nazis rammed his car into people protesting the Nazis and killed a woman, Heather Heyer. Nineteen other people were injured. Our president didn't say anything about her today, and when he mentioned her yesterday, he didn't give her name or saying anything about her.

The Nazis threatened the members of the local Reform synagogue, who were not given any protection by the police (see below for an account by the president of the synagogue).

Neo-Nazis and racists were euphoric with joy at what Trump said:
“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth,” David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after Mr. Trump spoke. 
Richard Spencer, a white nationalist leader who participated in the weekend’s demonstrations and vowed to flood Charlottesville with similar protests in the coming weeks, was equally encouraged. “Trump’s statement was fair and down to earth,” Mr. Spencer tweeted.....
The Reform synagogue in Charlottesville was repeatedly harassed on Saturday morning by bands of Neo-Nazis walking by. Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, wrote:
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. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped). 
Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time. 
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 presence 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. 
A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill. 
When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups. 
This is 2017 in the United States of America. 
Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene. 
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. 
At the end of the day, we felt we had no choice but to cancel a Havdalah service at a congregant’s home. It had been announced on a public Facebook page, and we were fearful that Nazi elements might be aware of the event. Again, we sought police protection – not a battalion of police, just a single officer – but we were told simply to cancel the event. 
Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of understanding from officials about our concerns – and despite the fact that the mayor himself is Jewish – we were left to our own devices. 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.
Fortunately, there were other people who stood up for the Jewish community and against racism and antisemitism:
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 steps 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. 
At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us. 
And our wonderful rabbis stood on the front lines with other Charlottesville clergy, opposing hate.