Temple Beth-El‘s Friday night Shabbat service took a candlelit stance against the anti-Semitism and hatred that congregants saw broadcasted from the “Unite the Right” demonstrations over the past weekend in Charlottesville.
“Tonight, at the end of services, each of us will light a candle to denounce pictures of white supremacists and neo-Nazis with tiki torches that we have seen from Charlottesville,” Assistant Rabbi Marina Yergin said during the service. “We are lighting candles to let light beat hate.”
A week earlier, white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching through the University of Virginia chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
Anti-Semitic chants, signs, and flags were also present in the next day’s demonstrations. Photographs appeared of men carrying swastikas on flags. By the end of the day, one woman was killed after a car plowed through a street filled with counterprotestors.
“I was actually sitting in front of the TV when I saw the car drive through the crowd,” said a congregant named DeAnne Cuellar. “It’s just been heavy on my heart and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. And so tonight when I found out that they were going to do this event, I felt like this is what I needed to be able to keep going.”
Close to 200 congregants filled the synagogue’s pews for the vigil. Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Mayor Ron Nirenberg attended the service as well.
“I want you to know that I stand, and my colleagues stand, with you in solidarity,” Nirenberg said. “As a son of a Jewish father, I want you to know that what happened in Charlottesville hurt me personally. But it feels amazing to be here with you tonight as we convert the evil of hate into what our city should be founded upon, which is compassion and love.”
The event drew prominent members of the synagogue’s community. Jeff Goldblatt, one of the Temple’s board of trustees members, attended the service to be among fellow Jews taking a stance against the ugliness of the weekend.
“I think its important for Jews to stand up in the face of hate, and let people know that hate is ugly,” Goldblatt said. “It hurt as a Jew to see white nationalists and Nazis call for our elimination, but I’ve been heartened to see a broader tide of tolerance, love, and decency.”
Rabbi Mara Nathan, Rabbi Marina Yergin, and Cantor Julie Berlin all participated in leading the Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath or day of rest. During the service, Yergin decried the hatred, but insisted that the congregation’s actions were helping to create images of justice to share with the world.
“This is what we are doing tonight, as we come together to articulate why we are here, and how we will not stand for injustice and hate as a Jewish community, as San Antonians, and as Americans,” Yergin said.
At the conclusion of the service, each congregant was given a small candle that was lit by fellow participants. The assembly huddled around the front of the synagogue, so that they could share their own images of candlelit defiance.
“We will not let hate win,” Yergin said. “We will fight hate with our heads, we will fight hate with our hearts, we will fight hate with light.”