Reflections from Charlottesville
Written By Members of IfNotNow Philly who resisted in Charlottesville
“Mir veln zey iberleben” — “We Shall Outlive Them.” Yiddish Resistance Song
Improvised in a moment in which Nazis demanded Jews to sing as they were executed, Mir veln zey iberleben has become a song deeply embedded in Jewish struggle and resistance.
For many Jews, the events of the past several months, and the outbreak of chaotic, white supremacist, racist, and anti-Semitic violence in Charlottesville, have filled us with fear.
Many of us, especially white Jews, have never in our lifetimes feared for our safety at the hands of those who wish our people dead. While people of color have experienced white supremacist terrorism in the United States for hundreds of years, most young white American Jews have not felt the kind of fear for our safety that many of us do right now.
We want to be clear in our language; what we witnessed in Charlottesville this weekend was white supremacist terrorism targeting Jews, people of color, queer and trans people, Muslims, immigrants, and many others.
Those of us who went to Charlottesville on Saturday saw firsthand what white terrorism looks like. It looks like assault rifles, tasers, and makeshift clubs. It looks like swastikas, Confederate flags, and un-hooded and unashamed white faces, contorted into hateful screams. It sounds like the smack of a cannister against pavement and the hiss of smoke, it smells like pepper spray, and it feels like burning. It sounds like “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil,” shields thudding against weapons and weapons thudding against flesh, and loud, garbled racial slurs that we will not repeat.
In these moments, we must keep each other safe. Anti-Semitism animated much of the violence in Charlottesville; hearing about the “Torch the Jews” march that day targeting a synagogue was viscerally terrifying. But, make no mistake — as in many other moments of white terrorism, people of color, and especially Black people, were absolutely targets of violence. The impetus of the original “Unite the Right” gathering was the removal of the statue of a Confederate icon. And, often, people of color were those who were injured or otherwise targeted, as their skin color made them targets of white supremacist violence in a way that our Jewishness did not.
To assume that white supremacist fury is reserved solely for either Jews or for people of color is to misunderstand the lessons we learned on Saturday, and over the past year.
The question of Jews and race is complicated; when we are afraid for our safety, it can be hard for those of us who are both white and Jewish to look critically at the privilege we continue to exercise in this current political moment. But it is necessary and life-saving work. We need to do more, and do better. We need to move our community towards solidarity with Black and Brown people, with queer communities, with Palestinians, and with all those who will be targets of white terrorism alongside us.
To quote Black feminist revolutionary Assata Shakur, “it is our duty to fight; it is our duty to win.” It is our duty to build, and to organize, and to lift up the voices of people of color. It is our duty to support medical and legal expenses of those injured in Charlottesville, to mourn Heather Heyer, and to work towards abolishing our national reverence of America’s racist history. It is our duty to support local efforts to combat racism; in our community, one example is the call from Black Lives Matter Philadelphia and many others to take down the Frank Rizzo statue in front of our Municipal Services Building. It is our duty to hold ourselves accountable where we need to do better.
It is our duty to outlive them.
- Members of IfNotNow Philly who resisted in Charlottesville