Charlottesville, VA community members gathered for a screening of Repairing the World: Stories From the Tree of Life at First AME church sponsored by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, Temple Beth Israel, and Not In Our Town in February 2023.
This is a community that has had to face the violence of hate, and a deep legacy of racism. The Clergy Collective had been working together to build relationships and address racism before the assault on Charlottesville, but the assault, violence and murder by hate groups in August 2017 forged their commitment to engage in dialogue and action.
NIOT Board Chair Frank Dukes reached out to Rabbi Tom Guthertz of Temple Beth El in Charlottesville to see if the congregation would help convene a discussion around antisemitism, racism and hate by viewing the film.
I asked Rabbi Tom if there had been discussions about antisemitism in the community, and he said, not so much. Although the Clergy Collective had issued statements and agreed it was an urgent issue, he hoped the film would spark deeper conversations.
Many in the community have been committed to addressing the systemic racism in Charlottesville that was drawn to the foreground in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally in 2017, the killing of Heather Heyer and injuries to many others from the attack by a white supremacist , and the trauma that followed.
|Discussion occuring between community members in Charlottesville, VA
Jonathan Spivey, a lay leader at the AME church spoke about the relationships that have been developing between his church and the Jewish community.
“August 12, 2017 changed our town, “he said.
“The year after on August 12, I wanted to pull together a chorus to sing together. There were so many people who signed up, we had to move it outside… We had over 600 people—the next year, we had to move it to one of the largest theaters in the city.
“I built a strong connection to Temple Beth Israel over the years, mostly through the choir. A group from the Temple joined the chorus and were singing gospel songs in Yiddish.
The break out groups spoke about how rare it was to be able to be together to talk about the issues raised in the film
“One of the biggest lessons from the film for me was the power of connections, “ a woman said.
The overwhelming and recurring comments from the audience affirmed the need to be together and address the problem of hate and bias across differences. Many of the people in the audience had seen each other, but their work to engage the community was done separately. They wanted the opportunity to come together – at least some kind of forum to do that – to plan joint strategies. There was a strong interest in engaging with the not In our town movement and learning from other cities.
NIOT leaders Pardeep Kaleka and Daphne Felten Green will be in Charlottesville for a convening at University of Virginia on addressing hate crimes.
We look forward to continued engagement and learning from the Charlottesville community.
In the film, Tony Norman says the Tree of Life killings and the murder of George Floyd in an odd way allowed people to be vulnerable with each other.
Maybe that’s the next step for Charlottesville.
|Community members gather in Charlottesville, VA