The president of a synagogue in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Monday described the scene — men armed with semi-automatic rifles, Nazi slogans and symbols and an arson threat — as white supremacists held a rally in the city that erupted into violence.
“The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger,” Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel, wrote on ReformJudaism.org.
Zimmerman said the synagogue hired an “armed security guard” after “the police department refused” to provide an officer.
“Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped,” he said.
Zimmerman said he stood outside the synagogue with the synagogue’s armed guard as 40 congregants worshipped inside.
“For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple,” he said. “Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.”
Zimmerman said the men did not try to enter the synagogue, but passing “parades of Nazis” shouted “There’s the synagogue!” when they passed the building, “followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language.”
“When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups,” he said.
Zimmerman said he later “arrived on the scene” after a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.
“It was a horrific and bloody scene,” he said. “Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue.”
Zimmerman said “it was just talk,” but that the synagogue “had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.”
“This is in America in 2017,” he said. “Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of understanding from officials about our concerns – and despite the fact that the mayor himself is Jewish – we were left to our own devices.”