The Current

Anti-semitism in Charlottesville exposes an 'assault on empathy,' says Jewish author

"This violent speech has to be put back where it belongs, which is in the shadows,” says author Nathan Englander.
Multiple white nationalist groups marched with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va., chanting, 'Jews will not replace us.' (Mykal McEldowne/The Indianapolis Star/Associated Press)

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Down the street from Emancipation Park, where white nationalists protested in support of the statue of Robert E. Lee to remain, stands one of the oldest synagogues in the American South.

Congregation Beth Israel was established in 1882. Last weekend, the synagogue was targeted with threats to burn the temple down. According to the synagogue's president, on the morning of Aug 12, while congregants gathered inside, three men carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across from the temple.

RelatedCharlottesville cops refused to protect synagogue from armed neo-Nazis

Alan Zimmerman says parades of Nazis — some carrying flags with swastikas — passed by the building chanting "Sieg Heil."

Yes, you should be ashamed to be a Nazi, and I cannot believe I'm on the radio saying this.- Nathan Englander

The many examples of violent anti-semitism that has recently taken place in Charlottesville, Va., hit home for author Nathan Englander. For him, unpleasant memories from his childhood growing up in the 70s and 80s in an orthodox Jewish family on Long Island, NY, came flooding back.

In his New York Times piece called What Jewish Children Learned From Charlottesville, he writes:
Jewish American writer Nathan Englander is the author of the upcoming novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. (Juliana Sohn/

"Saturday in Charlottesville was just one day, but think of that one day multiplied by all of us, across this great country. Think of the size of that setback, the assault on empathy, the divisiveness and tiki-torched terror multiplied by every single citizen of this nation. It may as well be millions of years of dignity, of civility, of progress lost." 

Englander tells The Current's host Megan Williams, his memories are always there, but he recalls a distinct memory walking home from a candy store with his sister and her friend, who were surrounded by boys.

"I just remember my parents racing down to free my sister and then go to this boy's house and face those parents. And that's what came back so sharply. It exposed the violence and the loss of life, the lack of leadership and the lack of ethics and empathy and a moral core coming from the top."

Related: Alberta Holocaust survivor condemns violence in Charlottesville

Englander says that U.S. President Donald Trump is "taking us backwards." 

"This idea of this weird moral equivalency, you know, where he's worried about statues but freeing up our national parks for drilling ... It's bizarre to me. Yes, you should be ashamed to be a Nazi, and I cannot believe I'm on the radio saying this."

People protest against the white supremacist movement and racism outside the U.S. consulate in Toronto, Aug. 14, 2017. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

He defies being defined as Jewish American because "it's all our problems."

"Syria is my problem. How Black people are treated by police in America is my problem. ICE  (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) having people terrified is my problem," Englander says.

"We can not allow our society to come apart. This violent speech has to be put back where it belongs, which is in the shadows."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson, Julian Uzielli and Howard Goldenthal.