More than 1,000 people gathered at City Springs in Sandy Springs on Jan. 6 to stand together against anti-Semitism.
The Jewish Atlanta Solidarity event was held by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Atlanta Rabbinical Association and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“How glorious is it when brothers and sisters gather together as one?” said Rabbi Adam Starr of the Congregation Ohr HaTorah, a synagogue in Atlanta. “This is the Atlanta Jewish community at its very best.”
The event was held in the wake of a Dec. 28 stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., during a Hanukkah celebration.
Some of the leaders in the Jewish community also made a call to action by asking attendees to sign a petition to urge elected officials to pass hate crime legislation in Georgia.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul opened the ceremony, welcoming everyone and expressing his support to the Jewish community.
“This is our opportunity to stand together in solidarity during a time of great distress in our country,” Paul said. “Tonight is simply another step as a community in coming together and working together to champion tolerance, respect, kindness and peace from one to another.”
The high-security event packed out both Byers Theatre and the Studio Theatre in the Performing Arts Center. It was an evening full of songs, stories and prayer with one overarching theme: to be proud of Jewish heritage.
“Be proud that you are who you are and don’t permit fear to diminish you or make you feel that you must hide your identity,” said Rabbi Alexandria Shuval Weiner, the vice president of ARA.
The Anti-Defamation League Southeast has formed a coalition, called the Hate Free Georgia Coalition, with 30 other organizations, including the AJC and the JCRC. The coalition is working with lobbyists and political leaders to get hate crime legislation considered in the next session.
At one point during the ceremony, the dark theatre lit up as attendees pulled out their phones to electronically sign a petition for the coalition after being encouraged by local Jewish leaders.
“As Jews, we understand the challenges this climate of anti-Semitism presents,” said Dov Wilker, regional director of the Buckhead-based AJC Atlanta.
“Right now is the time to stand up and speak up against hate,” Leslie Anderson, executive director of the JCRC said.
Dunwoody and Sandy Springs have ordinances to help stop discrimination, but the state does not currently have one in place.
In June 2019, the Dunwoody City Council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against minority groups. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, marital status, familial status or veteran/military status.
In July 2019, the Sandy Springs City Council passed a hate crimes ordinance that increases penalties for crimes proven to be against victims targeted specifically because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or physical or mental disability.
Sandy Springs is also in the pursuit of building a state Holocaust memorial. In 2018, the city unveiled a conceptual plan for a Cultural Center, which included a version of a Holocaust memorial.
Rabbi Yossi New, the regional director of the Chabad of Georgia Regional Headquarters in Sandy Springs, said that the way to fight anti-Semitism is through both legislative effort and inner pride.
“We greatly appreciate the efforts that are being offered, the legislative efforts to fight this crime of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred,” New said. “But we also fight anti-Semitism by being more proudly and strongly Jewish.”
Many local and state representatives attended the event, including state Rep. Betsy Holland; state Rep. Josh McLaurin; state Rep. Deborah Silcox; state Rep. Mike Wilensky; state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick; Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis; Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann; Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch; Atlanta Chief of Staff Carmen Chubb; and Sandy Springs City Council members Andy Bauman, Chris Burnett, Tibby DeJulio, John Paulson, Jody Reichel and Steve Soteres.
“The event really demonstrated the unwavering commitment to inclusion and tolerance in this community,” Bauman said.
“[The event] was very powerful and purposeful,” Ellis said in an email. “The significant presence of our community showed clearly that this community stands boldly together against hate.”
“[The event] really reinforced for me the importance of unifying against all forms of hateful prejudice,” Holland said in an email. “I continue to stand not just with the Jewish community but any group of people facing discrimination and hate.”
“Monday’s event was a wonderful mix of unity and love,” DeJulio said in an email. “It’s so much easier to love than to hate.”
“I was very happy to attend the solidarity event last night and thought it was very well done,” Kirkpatrick said in an email. “The large number of elected officials present speaks to the commitment of people both in and outside of the Jewish faith in supporting our large Georgia Jewish population.”
“Last night was an excellent chance to show that the Jewish community in Sandy Springs is united, proud, and strong,” Reichel said in an email. “I am always proud to be a member of the City Council, but last night, I was particularly proud.”
“It was an incredibly moving event and I am grateful to have been there,” Wilson said in an email. “We’re all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes, and I was vividly reminded of that.”
“Last night was about anti-Semitism, but we all must speak out against all hatred,” Wilensky said in an email. “We must show that we are a better democracy with kindness and gratefulness.”
This story has been updated with additional comments from local and state representatives.