At Chesapeake’s City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28, Mayor Rick West read a statement unequivocally condemning the recent rise in antisemitism and standing in solidarity with those affected by antisemitism.
Before his remarks, Mayor West noted that this statement is “by me, in my capacity as mayor of the city of Chesapeake.”
During citizen comments, Betty Ann Levin, executive vice president and CEO of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, thanked Mayor West and added that she hoped members of Chesapeake’s city council would “join the mayor in his moral clarity.”
Art Sandler followed with comments, saying that he’s not sure people understand what is going on in the world as it relates to Jews. He noted that there have been centuries of hatred toward Jews, where “the Jew is the Other.”
Sandler quoted the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, where participants chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” He shared that synagogues and Hebrew day schools hire armed guards, whereas non-Jewish institutions do not require this level of security.
Resolutions in Virginia have been created in support of Israel and condemning Hamas, but Mayor West’s statement is the first to address antisemitism. “We’ve asked the political and business leadership of Hampton Roads to speak up, to speak out, to combat this hate,” Sandler added.
With this statement, “You will be a model for other councils and city management and mayoral leadership, hopefully throughout the whole Commonwealth,” Sandler said in thanking Mayor West. “We can’t control personal prejudice, but our political leadership can establish what is right in civil society. And your leadership is doing that tonight.”
Mayor West had initially considered a resolution condemning all forms of hatred and racism, but, not until conversations with Sandler, did he understand the importance of highlighting antisemitism. West says he had recently read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, a story of a German, Christian theologian in the 1930’s who fought in the resistance and was jailed and killed for his plot to kill Hitler. This biography, and Sandler’s stories, helped West better understand the role of condemning antisemitism.
When asked about encouraging other mayors to follow his example, Mayor West says, “I don’t understand reluctance from anyone for doing it.”