Letter from Rabbi Egolf 8/17/2017

Heather was such a sweet soul, and she did not deserve to die,” Ms. Blair said on Sunday. — New York Times

I am at somewhat of a loss regarding the death Heather Heyer. She was the young woman who died when a man from Ohio decided to hurt, injure and kill as many as he could with a car. The alleged murderer was from our state and his terrorism is against the very values of our democratic system and are an anathema to Jewish values. Now it is time to reflect on those Jewish values as a reminder of what our tradition stands for…and against.

If we remember (after the Seder) we were those discriminated against in Egypt. There was a racist agenda against the Israelites to ’embitter their lives through hard labor’ enacted by the Pharaoh. The conditions were supposed to create a social system wherein we would never have a chance to be anything but slaves. One of the greatest successes and challenges of the Jewish experience in America is our success. Here we suffered discrimination as Jews. The quota systems in colleges, the exclusion of Jews from certain businesses, the inclusion of Jews in film (which was considered a risky venture that would never amount to anything); all of these were decisions to either put us in our place as Jews, or keep us out of places…discrimination. We could not belong to certain country clubs and even at the height of the Holocaust, the Jewish delegation of leaders was led to the back door of the White House. We couldn’t be allowed though the front door.

Fast forward to the events in Virginia, those who marched carrying messages of hate want to have a world where their discrimination rules. And in this Heather died in the act of defending the rights we hold true, that all (hu)mens are created equal. She is a martyr whose life (sadly) was claimed by a man who was determined to not meet her in a conversation or debate about his position, rather whose communication was only with deadly violence. And…as we can speculate, he is not the only one who sees things this way. 

Ms. Heyer’s death is tragedy, may her name be remembered for blessing. Part of that blessing falls to us and any people who are victims of discrimination, today and tomorrow. We need some of Heather’s vision in our lives to wake up and become conscious to the point of making a difference. For while her death was tragic, her life should inspire us to aspire to her consciousness and activism so that we can make the difference she sought to make in this world.

May her memory be for a blessing, when it moves us to action.


Rabbi Jim