JCFR Public Statement: First They Came for Charlottesville

Public Statement from the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond: August 14, 2017

First They Came for Charlottesville

The Jewish Community Federation of Richmond and its Jewish Community Relations Committee utterly condemn the extremist white supremacist groups and the violence they brought to Charlottesville, a mere 60 miles from here.

The message brought to Charlottesville by the alt-Right, neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates and the Ku Klux Klan is anathema to everything we as a Jewish American community cherish. The bigoted, xenophobic ideology which preaches those unlike oneself are lesser people (if people at all) is repugnant. This weekend that ideology manifest itself in violence and domestic terror with tragic, predictable results. The JCFR and its JCRC respect deeply individuals' and groups' rights to rally lawfully and peacefully. Peaceful rallies (even those with obscene, hate-filled messages) do not require combat gear and weapons. “Unite the Right” turned a quiet university town into the national epicenter of hatred.

The Richmond Jewish community extends our deepest condolences to the families of Heather Heyer, and Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, all of whom died needlessly. We pray for a speedy and full recovery to those wounded. We wish peace to those traumatized by this celebration of boastful hatred.

In advance of the rally, the JCFR and its JCRC (which coordinates security in the Jewish community of Richmond) worked closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Richmond FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and Civil Rights Division, Virginia State Police, local police departments and sheriffs’ offices to ensure the security of our community. Despite Charlottesville being outside Richmond, we worked closely with the Jewish community there. Our tradition teaches us, “Whoever saves a life, is considered as if he saved an entire world.” We also worked very closely with the Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network. SCN is the national homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

During the rally, we coordinated with DHS and VSP, alongside SCN, aiding law enforcement in countering potential threats to the Jewish community in real time.

For years, the JCFR’s JCRC has been actively engaged in building relations in the greater Richmond community and opposing bigotry, hatred and violence. We co-sponsor “Standing Together” initiatives with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. With our community partners we stand in mosques, churches and synagogues condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and bigotry. The JCFR’s Richmond Jewish Coalition for Literacy, an outgrowth of the JCRC, is a volunteers group pairing students with mentors, enabling them to be better readers. The JCFR is the central fundraising, community planning, leadership development, and outreach arm of the Jewish community.

Now is the time for strong leadership. Many, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, noted the similarity between “Unite the Right,” and events of the 1930s during the rise of the Nazi Third Reich. We too see similarities and we do not make that statement lightly.

Pastor Martin Niemöller, wrote in the 1950s:     

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Last week they came for Charlottesville. We will not be silent; our work continues. A permit for another rally – to be held in Richmond – has been requested for September 16. The JCRC is tracking this situation closely and already working with community partners and law enforcement in preparation. We will never bow in the face of hatred. We will build community; we will unify.

America is not the place of darkness and mayhem espoused by some. Our United States has been the beacon of liberal modern democracy for centuries. And it still is. We act based in morals. We lift the weakest among us. We fuel the engine driving the world economy. We do all this while helping our neighbors, the widow and the orphan among us. We will continue to do so.