Heather Heyer – z’l

Note: I print with permission a commentary by my colleague, Rabbi Joel Schwartzman, on the tragic events of a year ago in Charlottesville, Va. when Heather Heyer, a protester of the white supremacy rally in that city, was mowed down deliberately a Neo-Nazi thug thus murdering her. See Heather’s obituary in the New York Times from a year ago.


Rabbi Schwartzman, a retired chaplain in the United States Armed Forces, comments on a column published in Friday’s Union for Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah by Dahlia Lithwick. She wrote:

“One continues to hope that Charlottesville – with its grieving town, its brave citizens, and its bone-deep efforts to contend with racism and rage – will never happen again, anywhere. But I continue to believe that what Charlottesville revealed, what it refracted and allowed, plays out daily under the surface of American life, and that it no longer shocks us as it ought to.”

Rabbi Schwartzman responds:

“These words that Dahlia has written quantify and characterize what Charlottesville has come to mean for me as well as the nation. I who have a working knowledge of the origins and outcomes of the Holocaust see and hear echoes of that unspeakable, unfathomable epoch in Jewish history. This is not the case for the generations of Americans and American Jews that have followed mine. They aren’t haunted by visions of death camps and crematoria. I who live part of each year in Charlottesville walk its streets, know where and what happened on which avenue and at which park, and know that the spirit of what tormented and murdered European Jewry is alive and well in America. It has the tacit approval of the leader of this country. This anniversary weekend, it will raise its ugly, bigoted and all too potentially violent head once again, although, one hopes, not necessarily in Charlottesville itself.

The name of Charlottesville has taken on an instant and symbolic meaning which is so terribly unfair and tragic because the people who live there were stigmatized and terrorized by an invasion of thugs for whom they didn’t bargain and for which violent chaos they were unprepared. Now they wear a national label, a label that associates this bucolic town with the worst that humanity has to offer.

The populace, which includes students and faculty at the University of Virginia, the townspeople themselves, and the town’s government have all committed to “taking back their town.” If there is anything positive which has arisen from the past year’s experience, it is this unifying commitment, in the face of what the name “Charlottesville” nationally and internationally has come to signify. It is, at least, to purify and sanctify what was besmirched in the city’s streets last year at this time.”

On this first anniversary of Heather’s death, we say zichrona livracha – May she be remembered for a blessing.