A unity service will be held at a synagogue in Macon, Georgia in the wake of antisemitic demonstrations that took place outside of two local synagogues last weekend while they were holding Shabbat services. NGO StopAntisemitism shared videos of the demonstrations with their audience.
“A Service of Love and Unity” will be held on Sunday at Temple Beth Israel. The event is tagged as “a stand against antisemitism and racism.”
Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple Beth Israel told Ynetnews that her synagogue has received a tremendous outpouring of support from the Jewish community and the local non-Jewish community.
“To that end, we’re having a unity service to recognize the need that we all have to come together so that we don’t feel isolated, but rather understand that we’re not in this world alone,” Bahar said.
Neo-Nazis from the Goyim Defense League (GDL), an antisemitic hate group and conspiracy theory network, gathered outside two synagogues in the Atlanta area over the weekend and protested with Nazi flags while shouting antisemitic epithets. The first incident took place outside Temple Beth Israel in Macon, Georgia after the neo-Nazis distributed antisemitic flyers in the neighborhoods surrounding the synagogue.
The Friday demonstration was orchestrated intentionally to coincide with Kabbalat Shabbat services. Witnesses said that the protesters screamed antisemitic obscenities through a bullhorn, displayed a blow-up character with a kippa draped in a rainbow flag, and had another with an Israeli flag tied around the ankle which the protesters were desecrating.
Synagogue staff and concerned neighbors in Georgia immediately reached out to local police who were reportedly very helpful and arrested the protest organizer, Jon Minadeo II, for disorderly conduct.
In response, hundreds of members of the local Macon community showed up to support the Jewish community in a spontaneous outpouring of love and solidarity the following day, only to have the GDL show up again to heckle the demonstration against antisemitism. Police were again dispatched to the synagogue to disperse the gathering.
Also on Saturday, the GDL, again led by Minadeo, targeted yet another Georgia synagogue, the Chabad Lubavitch in Cobb, gathering outside with Nazi flags and shouting antisemitic insults.
Bahar told Ynetnews:“I was looking out through the sanctuary window and they were doing ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes and were screaming horrific things when they realized that I was watching them.” The rabbi called the police.
The incidents are being investigated by the Macon District Attorney’s office as hate crimes.
“The only way to address what happened is through love and understanding that we’re all created in the image of God. And when we face and confront issues of antisemitism, which we must whenever it rears its ugly head, we have to do so recognizing that we need to do so through acts of love and kindness…not engaging in the political game of defensiveness and otherness,” Bahar said.
U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, will attend Sunday’s unity service and deliver the keynote address.
Temple Beth Israel was founded 163 years ago, and has never been the target of an antisemitic demonstration. Members of the community and synagogue staff in Macon emphasized that this has never been an issue for the city’s Jewish community, which has been present and active since 1859.
In response to the antisemitic incidents, numerous community leaders, organizations and elected officials spoke out against the events, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who said: “There is absolutely no place for this hate and antisemitism in our state. I share in the outrage over this shameful act and stand with Georgians everywhere in condemning it.”
Liora Rez, executive director of the antisemitism watchdog group Stop Antisemitism, said that the organization “applauds the arrest of career antisemite Jon Minadeo on public disturbance charges in Georgia. Shockingly, Minadeo’s dedication to his vile cause is such that as soon as he bonded out of jail, he led another Nazi rally in front of a separate synagogue.”
Stop Antisemitism has called on the Georgia legislature to pass anti-hate legislation in response, as well as state legislatures around the country, urging them “to pass bills that give law enforcement the tools to prosecute people like Minadeo for their harassment and intimidation of Jews and other minorities.”
It is unclear why these specific communities were targeted by the GDL, but one possible contributing factor is that Florida recently cracked down on Minadeo and his group following multiple incidents of blatant antisemitic harassment. Minadeo has been arrested multiple times for his antisemitic conduct.