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August 12, 2022 3:29 pm
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Charlottesville Jewish Community To Participate in Interfaith Vigil Observing Five Year Anniversary of Neo-Nazi Rally

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Charlottesville, Virginia, resident counter protesting local neo-Nazis’ “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr.

Jewish community leaders in Charlottesville, Virginia will participate on Friday in an interfaith vigil called “Unite the Light,” an allusion to the “Unite the Right” rally that took place there five years ago.

The event will be held at Charlottesville’s Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, following a march from the First Baptist Church, which is a just under a mile away.

On Thursday, Rabbi Tom Gutherz of Congregation Beth Israel told a local outlet that it will foster dialogue between local Black and Jewish communities about hate and racial inequality.

“After the Unite the Right rally, the city wanted to say, ‘Hey, hey, hey, this is Charlottesville. We’re a nice quiet university town. These people all came from out of here. This is not us,'” Gutherz told WBUR. “African American colleagues said, ‘Well, hang on a minute, you may never have seen this hatred walking in the street. You may never have heard this violence or encountered it yourself — but we sure have.'”

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The “Unite the Right” rally, in which neo-Nazis stalked the streets of Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” culminated in the murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer when a white supremacist struck her with his car.

Speaking to WBUR, one Beth Israel member said “Unite the Right” represented a form of hatred she had thought was buried in the distant past.

“I thought that Nazism was dead. I thought antisemitism was dead,” Gerald Donowitz said in one interview in the project. “And it wasn’t. It was, like, ‘holy God, I was really wrong.'”

She continued, “If people are going to hate me and want to kill me and want to replace me because I’m Jewish, maybe I should be a little more Jewish.”

Phyllis Leffler told WBUR that in the past Jews in Charlottesville were “perceived as white and did not rock the boat.”

“They were fully incorporated into the life of the city,” she continued. “When Jews did rock the boat or take contrary views to the mainstream, they were less welcomed.”

She added that the rally “became a trigger to look more deeply into the whole notion of white supremacy and what it means for this community.”

Other events commemorating what happened on what community members are calling “August 12” are planned for the upcoming weekend, a local station reported on Wednesday.

The University of Virginia is hosting a new exhibit at the school’s Special Collections Library, “No Unity Without Justice,” which features a collection of photographs and written reflections from that day.

“The struggle isn’t over, and so the point of this exhibit, I think, and I don’t want to kind of speak for the curators, but the point of the exhibit is to have truth telling by having physical objects,” Schmidt told WHSV 3. “Remembering why it is that we’re still faced with challenges, ongoing challenges of white supremacy, and what it takes to go forward together to redress some of that.”

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