The images he saw from this past weekend were in stark contrast to the “quiet, tranquil and peaceful city” B’nai Israel Rabbi Etan Mintz knows as Charlottesville, Va. He worked as a chaplain in the University of Virginia Health System between 2008 and 2010.
“It’s a college town [with the University of Virginia]. It’s got amazing energy down there, and the Jewish community is such a wonderful community there,” he said. “It’s not what Charlottesville is about. It’s really one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Mintz traveled to Charlottesville, where a white supremacist rally turned violent this past weekend, with a contingent from the Beltway Vaad Tuesday to meet with people who were hurt, show support for local Jewish organizations and pay respects at the site where counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when she and many others were hit by a car allegedly driven by a 20-year-old white supremacist.
Sunday evening, hundreds gathered at the double-equestrian monument of Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the Wyman Park Dell in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood for a Charlottesville-dedicated vigil, protest and march. Similar gatherings happened in Washington, D.C., Annapolis, Columbia, Bel Air, Frederick and Arlington, Va.
The statue, along with Baltimore’s three other Confederate monuments, was removed early Wednesday morning after the City Council voted unanimously Monday to remove them.
Among the crowd were members and staff from Jews United for Justice and other activist groups, District 41 Democratic Dels. Sandy Rosenberg and Bilal Ali, Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Howard Libit, NAACP officials, Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-District 1) and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-District 14), who represents Remington.
“I think what happened [Saturday] in Charlottesville is horrendous,” Rosenberg said. “It’s counter to all our values as Americans and as Jews. For people to be mimicking Nazi marches while people are praying on Friday is both reminiscent of what took place in Nazi Germany and what took place in the South.”
Busch said he had a deep concern for what happened and “the mood that led up to it.”
“It’s disturbing all by itself in terms of white supremacy against people of color and then disturbing all by itself in terms of the anti-Semitism that came out of the people participating in that; and then you put the two together, and it’s all the more scary,” he said.
Molly Amster, JUFJ’s Baltimore director, said Jews need to be seriously concerned about white supremacy, as anti-Semitism is a core part of the ideology.
“Charlottesville is an example of the rising acceptance of the kind of overt hatred, racism and anti-Semitism that has been happening in our country for a while now,” she said. “We need to make sure that people … don’t get to a place where they feel like this is normal. We can’t let that be acceptable here. And it’s really unfortunate that we don’t have leadership that is condemning it for what it is — white supremacist terrorism.”
On Monday, after much pressure to denounce the white supremacists, President Donald Trump called out “criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups,” which, he said, are “repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” But on Tuesday, the president defended comments he made over the weekend that blamed the violence on “many sides.”
Some felt the Trump administration was partly responsible for what happened in Charlottesville.
“I feel like this administration has been completely complicit in the outbreak of anti-Semitic behavior in this country. It’s unleashed this fury, and it scares me to death,” said Ellen Spokes, a member of Beth Am Synagogue.
Others at the rally drew the connection between Jewish and American values.
“I’m here because this country, which everybody here loves, I love very much, but it has to make a choice between inequality and equality and between hate and acceptance of all people who are here,” said Rabbi Phil Miller, former vice president of the JCC of Greater Baltimore and a member of JUFJ’s leadership team. “And that is a core American value, it’s also a core Jewish value that all people are created in the image of God, and that was a founding value of this country. It took a long time for us to actually to realize that, but we’re not going back.”
Libit was uplifted by the diverse crowd that came out to denounce what happened in Charlottesville.
“Our community really stands together,” he said. “It makes me feel good to see so many people out from all different walks of life standing together.”
Cohen said more can be done to properly teach about “that dark chapter” of history.
“As the great-grandson of a Holocaust survivor and a former social studies teacher, I fully recognize the importance of preserving our history. At the same time, we should not glamorize bigots, racists, anti-Semites or those who fought to keep other people in chains,” he said, referring to his support of removing the monuments.
Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-District 5), said that “statues glorifying the dark period in American history of the Civil War should not be in places of prominence in our city. They belong in museums where they can be used as educational tools demonstrating the progress we have made as a country and society.”
At Sunday’s rally, Clarke was looking towards a brighter future.
“This is just the beginning of the end of such things in this country — such as terrorism on our streets by white supremacists,” she said. “We won’t tolerate it, and there’s a lot more of us than them.”