After Charlottesville and Before Berkeley

August 24, 2017
By Avi Rose

Much has already been written following the terrible events in Charlottesville. We all witnessed the specter of Nazis and other white supremacists marching openly through the streets of an American city, and then the ongoing shameful calamity of the president’s response. We are deeply shaken, and those of us who are Jews and/or people of color are feeling particularly vulnerable.

At JFCS East Bay, some of the people receiving our services are seriously traumatized by what they see going on in our country. This includes Holocaust survivors who have had to witness angry crowds carrying Nazi flags and shouting anti-Semitic slogans; it is horrifying. It also includes refugees, immigrants, and people of color, who are forced to contend with an increasingly racist and xenophobic climate every day. Recent events call us to recommit ourselves to standing up for the safety and well-being of those we serve. And in doing so, we remain committed to our foundational Jewish values: caring for the vulnerable, welcoming the stranger, and upholding the sanctity of every human being.

While I was stunned by the violence and ugliness of what happened in Charlottesville, I was not surprised. White supremacist ideology runs long and deep in our country. It takes many forms, and it will not simply go away. Most of us rail against its most vocal adherents, but in truth, racism is far more pervasive than what we saw last week. Those of us who are white have a tremendous amount of work to do, striving for deeper levels of self-examination and committing ourselves to bold action.

The Charlottesville marchers were very clear that Jews were among their prime targets. Closer to home, Temple Israel of Alameda had windows smashed last week in what local police have characterized as a hate crime. Haters have been emboldened during this past year, and we are experiencing the consequences every day.

As ever, I am grateful for the compassion and justice-pursuing commitment of our East Bay community and of many others standing up to hate speech and hate action. I was heartened this past Friday evening to see hundreds of people show up in solidarity with Temple Israel, insisting that we will not stand idly by while Nazis march and political leaders equivocate. In the face of it all, it’s our responsibility to not grow numb to the daily outrages, to not succumb to feelings of overwhelm or isolation, to be resolute in standing up for what’s right.

This weekend, the white supremacists are coming here to Berkeley. It is deeply disturbing to have this take place in our own community and we feel strongly that their hateful messages cannot go unopposed. In our diverse community, people will of course pursue different paths to express their opinions, to protest loudly or quietly, to confront directly or at a distance, to do their part in moving the world forward through this perilous time. Please be mindful of your safety and well-being as you take action. And for all of us: “Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazek”; “Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.”