2017-08-30 / Home

Lay leader of Charlottesville shul to speak of experiences at Beth Tikvah


Voice staffSUSAN SHERMAN…will recount the harrowing events of Aug. 12
SUSAN SHERMAN…will recount the harrowing events of Aug. 12

On the morning of Aug. 12, Charlottesville resident Susan Sherman was driving her kids home from swim lessons, figuring there were still a few good hours left before white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right protestors would be gathering at Emancipation Park.

“Even though things had gone really badly the night before, a lot of us thought we could get done our morning activities before the rally was supposed to start,” said Sherman, the sister of Cong. Beth Tikvah in Marlton congregant Ellen Krivchenia. “But as I was driving my kids home through town, all I could say is that surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the scene; it looked like the set of a movie.”

Sherman, a lay leader of Charlottesville Cong. Beth Israel and mother of three, pinpoints this car ride as the moment she and her children felt their security bubble burst. She will be sharing her stories and observations about the weekend that the Unite the Right rally brought chaos and deadly violence to Charlottesville 8 p.m. Sept. 16 at CBT.

Unaware that the Virginia governor had already called a state of emergency--stating that public safety could not be safeguarded without additional powers--Sherman took her usual route home. The first auspicious sign was the 40 or so emergency vehicles, including a state helicopter, stationed in the municipal lot. All were parked but revved up and ready for action--sirens on. Police officers--more than she had ever seen assembled before--were dressed in full riot gear and stationed nearby.

Although there were few cars on the road, Sherman was blocked from making her turn by a large number of protesters milling about. Brandishing their own militarized gear, many were carrying Nazi flags. As they passed within feet of the family car, her nervous twelve-year-old asked what they should do.

“All I could think of was to tell them not to look at the protestors,” she said. “Don’t even give them the pleasure.”

It was only a short time before the intersection was clear, but it felt much longer. She and the children made it safely home before the rally, ostensibly formed to protest the removal of a Confederate monument from the University of Virginia campus, turned violent. At least one woman was killed and 19 injured when a man linked to white-supremacist groups rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters near the rally site that day. In addition, two troopers were killed in a helicopter crash en route to the scene.

At Cong. Beth Israel, just a block from Emancipation Park, Shabbat services had started an hour earlier than usual. Also, the rabbi earlier in the week had quietly moved the Torahs, including one that survived the Holocaust, to a different location, noted Sherman. Still, as neo-Nazis paraded past the building shouting anti-Semitic slogans, congregants quietly exited the back of the building for their safety.

Like so many in the community, her youngest daughter was scarred by the experience. Although the synagogue was so woven into the fabric of family life--she even went to camp there--the young girl was now afraid to set foot in the shul.

“It was like being sucker punched in the stomach,” Sherman said. “She now knows people in the world hate Jews. She told me she is afraid to let people know she is Jewish.”

In the aftermath of the weekend’s events, she said both the Jewish and greater community have come together to help people heal and to better prepare for future white supremacist rallies, which most consider inevitable.

“At the time, I was heartbroken and didn’t quite know how to reassure her,” said Sherman, 50, who is an executive president for a non-profit organization and has lived in the South for 22 years. “I think all of us Jewish parents in the community are still trying to balance reality with not being caught up in melodrama and hyperbole. We still do live in a relatively safe community and a country with laws and protections in place. But there is a new reality. The hatred that has been there all along has gotten permission to come to the surface.”

What compels her to talk about the experience, she said, is to make others aware of this reality and ready to deal with it.

“They came to make an example out of Charlottesville, and now Charlottesville needs to be exemplary in helping other communities,” she said.

The event, entitled “Healing & Tshuva--A Firsthand Account From Charlottesville,” will be followed by prayer and reflection during a short Selichot service with Cong. Beth Tikvah and Temple Sinai of Cinnaminson.

For more information, call CBT at (856) 983-8090 or email office@btikvah.org 

Return to top