Charlottesville synagogue says police declined to provide guard ahead of neo-Nazi protests

Charlottesville police declined to provide protection for a local synagogue this past Saturday as violent clashes broke out between white supremacists and anti-fascists over the planned removal of a Confederate monument in one of the city’s parks, the president of the congregation said.

Writing on the website of the Reform Movement, Alan Zimmerman, president of the local Beth Israel synagogue, described the fear his congregants felt as armed members of the far right stood watch across the street during Shabbat prayers, screaming anti-Semitic slogans.

Describing how he had stood outside the synagogue with a privately hired armed guard because the police had declined to provide an officer to protect the house of worship during morning services, Zimmerman recalled how for around half an hour "three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple.”

Unfortunately, he explained, “even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept.”

As the congregation prayed, several groups of men passed the building carrying flags and “other Nazi symbols,” shouting “there's the synagogue!” and chanting “Seig Heil.”

"A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion,” Zimmerman wrote. 

"Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.”

"Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we 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.”

Despite the hate however, several locals also approached the congregation, whose Rabbis were among those protesting against the white supremacist demonstration, to offer words of encouragement. One, a Navy veteran, even went so far as to stand alongside the synagogue’s hired guard to protect the Jewish community.

“This is 2017 in the United States of America,” Zimmerman wrote.

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