Before a packed synagogue — with armed guard out front — Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland warned his congregation that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
Just minutes earlier, Zaslow, the armed guard and members of a Community De-escalation Team formed a half-circle inside the entrance as they refused entry to two men who have been outspoken in anti-Semitic sentiments in the past.
“This is a difficult time in the world, what with the growth of nationalism in many places, and the local fallout is unavoidable,” Zaslow said. “It’s an intersection of all kinds of bigotry. This is the first time I’ve ever had to hire an armed guard and lock the doors during services.”
Zaslow called the Wednesday meeting to inform congregants of the burgeoning threat and needed security measures in the wake of the murders of 11 Jews on Oct. 27 at a Pittsburgh synagogue, as well as last year’s deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The rabbi showed statistics that anti-Semitism is worse across the Mideast and North Africa. He cited polls that indicate only 19 percent of North Americans agreed with stereotypical slurs such as that Jews control world finance and media, exaggerate the Holocaust, are “different from us,” and are “Christ-killers.”
Showing a slide of a vandalized utility box outside the Havurah with “Anne Frank Oven” spray-painted on it last year, Zaslow said, “This really spooked us.”
Other examples of “micro-aggression” on the internet or at rallies include “Zionism = Racism” and “Palestine is a Holocaust,” he said. He showed historic anti-Semitic quotes from John Chrysostom, Origen, Justin Martyr and Martin Luther, adding that modern progressive pastors are “unpacking” such bigotry and “every religion has to deal with their own terror texts.”
Showing a 1920 photo of hooded KKK marchers on Ashland’s Main Street, Zaslow said, “I hate to see it (return), but it shouldn’t be that shocking. ... I grew up in Brooklyn with white privilege, only got called a Christ-killer a few times, and thought I was immune. But my parents’ generation were dealing with the Holocaust, got called Christ-killers all the time, and my grandparents in the Ukraine were dealing with pogroms.”
Zaslow showed inflammatory internet posts of Biome Michael, who ran for the Ashland City Council on a platform heavily dosed with anti-Zionist issues, and Gregg Marchese, an activist with the anti-GMO campaign. These two were barred from the Wednesday meeting. Zaslow said Biome was expelled from a recent Shabbat service when congregants became anxious about his presence. He was told that if he returned, police would charge him with trespassing.
Zaslow displayed a Facebook post from Biome, stating, “I will be barred entry to the Havurahtrespassed after attending Shabbat servicesin a spirit of peace, reconciliation and openness for dialog. From the sidewalk, I will be beckoning ‘encounter and respond to me, for I am the objective of your disdain’The Jewish-Masonic reign of terror isover.” Another of his posts denies the Holocaust.
A Marchese post shown by Zaslow said stories of the Zyclon gas used to kill Jews in German concentration camps were a “gross fabrication,” as it was only used to kill lice on Jews. Another Marchese post said the KKK was created to protect Southern workers and peasants from “powerful Jews who had Lincoln killed (and) roaming gangs of recently freed slaves inflicting murder, rape and vandalism on whites.”
In a discussion period, many expressed fear of violence, including reluctance to have their children in a Jewish school. But Ashland Rabbi Emanuel Ben-David said he stepped out of his comfort zone to wear his yarmulke at Home Depot and Bi-Mart and several people approached him to express their sympathy for the anti-Semitism going on in society.
“I was brought up in Israel to defend myself,” he said. “I’m a third-generation Holocaust survivor. Pittsburgh calls for a reaction. I am standing up and showing who I am and announcing ‘we are here’ despite the fact you don’t want us to exist. The response is so positive. You have to show who you are because most people will stand next to you.”
To one attendee who expressed fear of “going to the ovens” for being different, Zaslow replied, “We would protect you. We’ve got your back.”
The task now, said Zaslow, is “to protect people who come in this building” and to intellectually understand and counter the disinformation supporting racism and anti-Semitism.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Dec. 17: Story updated to replace the word "parishioners" with "congregants" and "heretics" with "terror texts.")