When antisemitic hate came to Georgia, Georgians responded with unity

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff addresses a crowd at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon after an antisemitic attack targeted a nearby synagogue.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff addresses a crowd at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon after an antisemitic attack targeted a nearby synagogue.

A few days after neo-Nazis menaced worshippers at an east Cobb synagogue, Rabbi Dan Dorsch scanned the faces of hundreds who packed a Methodist sanctuary in Smyrna and marveled at the outpouring of support.

“This is the first time in the seven years,” he said, “that I’ve been here that the Jewish community did not have to organize its own response.”

And on Sunday, nearly 1,000 people piled into a Methodist chapel a few blocks from the downtown Macon synagogue where the same group tried to spread fear and hate.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of a community where when something happens to somebody, we all come together,” said the Rev. Jackson McClendon of the Community Church of God.

Politicians, pastors and plain-old neighbors put on a powerful show of support for the Jewish community after a pair of antisemitic attacks last week.

It started on Friday, June 23, when about a dozen extremists gathered outside Temple Beth Israel in Macon where they hung a life-sized doll of an observant Jew in effigy, waved swastika flags and hurled epithets at members of the historic downtown congregation.

The group then slipped to metro Atlanta where the neo-Nazis spent about three hours on Saturday, June 24, brandishing Nazi flags and spouting antisemitic messages outside the Chabad of Cobb, a congregation in east Cobb. Inside, services were underway for the Jewish Sabbath.

A guard is seen in front of Chabad of Cobb in Marietta on Monday, June 26, 2023. A group of neo-Nazis demonstrated in front of the synagogue over the weekend. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Rather than spark a sense of fear and desperation, the outpouring of support fostered a sense of unity that impressed Jewish leaders.

“What this event has told our community is that we are loved and respected,” said Rabbi Ephraim Silverman of Chabad of Cobb. “These guys, ironically, have made us feel much more loved than we ever have before.”

‘Today, we stand up’

With antisemitic attacks on the rise in Georgia and beyond, the community’s response sent a powerful message.

In Cobb, a bipartisan group of more than a dozen local elected officials demonstrated their allegiance with Jewish neighbors, including Commissioner Jerica Richardson, who authored a resolution condemning the hate-filled attacks.

“In the face of hatred, love stood out,” she said. “Our community came together. And that’s the only way we can continue to push against hatred in all its forms.”

And in Macon, community leaders made clear they wouldn’t let this act of hate go by without a response.

A large crowd gathers at the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon to demonstrate unity after an antisemitic attack against a nearby synagogue.

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“This is Macon,” said Mayor Lester Miller, “where an attack on any one of us, is an attack on all of us.”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, who has long represented parts of middle Georgia, said the hate rallies were naked “attempts to separate us from our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“Today, we stand up,” he added, “and we’re speaking up for justice, for fairness, for tolerance, for love and for peace.”

To a hushed crowd, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff told the story of his cousin Nathan’s escape from the Nazis in the 1940s after Lithuania fell to the Germany Army.

“These aren’t abstractions or ancient stories,” he said. “These are the experiences of beloved family members with whom you were raised and grew up.”

Dov Wilker, the regional director of the American Jewish Committee, surveyed the packed crowd in Macon, which spilled into the balcony and overflow rooms at the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church.

“It’s overwhelming and heartwarming to see the support across Georgia, but especially in Macon,” he said, “by the entire community - including the religious, political and civic leadership here.”

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar acknowledged she couldn’t help but be frightened by the Nazi salutes she saw through the windows of her office at Temple Beth Israel.

”I know what unchecked antisemitism can lead to,” said the rabbi, the descendant of Holocaust survivors. “Hatred doesn’t stop. It snowballs. And yet that’s not what happened here. Not in Macon, Georgia.”

The attacks have also brought new attention to stalled legislation that would make antisemitism part of Georgia’s hate crimes law.

The legislation passed the Georgia House this year but never reached a vote in the state Senate; sponsors have vowed to press the issue again next year.

“You tried to divide us,” said Republican state Rep. John Carson, an author of the proposal. “But you united us.”

State Rep. Esther Panitch D-Sandy Springs, and State Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, race as they celebrate the passing of the HB30 during Crossover Day at the Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, March 6, 2023. HB30 defines antisemitism so that it would be included under Georgia's hate crimes law. (Miguel Martinez/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS