Earlier this week a mezuzah was placed on the front door of the Vice President’s Residence at the Naval Observatory. This is the first time a mezuzah has been placed on the door of an official US executive residence. Douglas Emhoff, the Second Gentleman of the United States, is Jewish. In fact, he grew up at the same synagogue in New Jersey where I did, and he was my younger brother’s classmate in Hebrew school.
Four years ago this past summer, hundreds of White supremacists rampaged through Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” With a mezuzah on the Vice President’s residence, with a Jewish Secretary of State who is the stepson of a Holocaust survivor who has published his memoirs, and a Jewish Secretary of Homeland Security who is an immigrant and the son of a Holocaust survivor, we have replaced them.
Yesterday in Charlottesville, a jury found the organizers of the Charlottesville rally , a dozen of America’s most prominent White supremacists, civilly liable for conspiring to intimidate, harass, and commit acts of violence. The jury awarded $25 million in damages to the plaintiffs.
Charlottesville was where I had my first rabbinic job. I served as Hillel director at the University of Virginia from 1988 to 1991. When the violence broke out on August 11, 2017, Keleigh and I were in Nassau, Bahamas, where I had gone to officiate at a Bar Mitzvah in the congregation where I had been the High Holiday rabbi from 2001 to 2004. We were actually hanging out with a number of NBA basketball players including former Washington Wizards player Shelvin Mack, who had come to Nassau to conduct a clinic for underprivileged youth. I was astonished and a little bit terrified to hear what had happened, including the fact that worshippers had taken the Torah scrolls for safekeeping from Congregation Beth Israel, the shul where I went every Shabbat morning.
Yesterday’s civil verdict may serve to bankrupt these White supremacists and the organizations they lead, and bring a measure of justice to the victims of this violence, but it will never bring back Heather Heyer, who was killed when one of yesterday’s defendants drove his car into a crowd of counter protestors. As Charlottesville’s most famous son Thomas Jefferson said, “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian