Charlottesville Rabbi Reflects on Past Year Since Aug. 12 Anti-Semitic Violence

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Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin
Congregation Beth Israel Congregation Beth Israel

Members of the only synagogue in Charlottesville are in a much better place now after neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched outside their doors chanting threats on August 12, 2017.

People say they're stronger and determined to advocate for social and racial justice.

This is a very emotional subject for many members of the interfaith community, and it's not easy to talk about.

A rabbi from Congregation Beth Israel says they feel supported by this community and stronger because of the events from last year.

Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin says she didn't think she'd be dealing with neo-Nazis after just one year with Congregation Beth Israel.

“It has been a hard year, this is not what I expected my first two years of my Rabbinate to look like,” Schmelkin said.

Now, one year after the white supremacists descended on the city of Charlottesville, Schmelkin says she and the congregation remain strong.

“I think over the past year, our community has really come together and really bonded in some significant ways,” Schmelkin said.

Last year, the synagogue faced anti-Semitic threats.

“We found out about this online threat of torching the Jews, which we had to assume if we're the only synagogue in town,” Schmelkin said.

After the weekend’s violent events, they were left picking up the pieces.

“For many in our congregation, what happened here last summer was the first time they had ever seen anti-Semitism in the way it was exhibited here and I do think that was a scary thing to see,” Schmelkin said. “That experience really woke us up to injustices in the world."

The synagogue received national interfaith support after that violence.

“It was actually incredible in the weeks after,” Schmelkin said.

Schmelkin says this outpouring of love has helped keep the congregation strong.

“Though we are the only synagogue in town, in the weeks and months leading up to both the KKK rally and the August 12 rally, we really did not feel isolated and alone because of the relationships and connections we have formed,” Schmelkin said.

Now, the congregation is pushing forward into the one-year anniversary.

“We're using this weekend as an opportunity to really be together as a community,” Schmelkin said. “I think what last summer did in our congregation was really accelerate a lot of the work that we felt that we needed to do around issues of racial justice.”

The congregation is holding Friday night Sabbath services on Friday, August 10, and morning services on Saturday.