It was a day to talk about the Torah, form a prayer circle, teach children about the upcoming Purim holiday, learn how to bake challah, play mahjong, join in meditation and celebrate community at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation.

Evanston police patrol the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation from the parking lot. Credit: Richard Cahan

Yet, as Rabbi Rachel Weiss and Cantor Howard Friedland stood at the entrance of the synagogue at 303 Dodge Ave. greeting people on Saturday morning, an Evanston police squad car sat in the parking lot as officers watched everyone who drove by or walked up to the doors.

It seemed to be one of few outward signs that neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups had issued a call to violence organizing what they termed a national “day of hate” on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.

Law enforcement officials around the country, including the Evanston Police Department, deemed the threat credible enough to issue a public warning.

Hebrew school students get an up-close look at the Torah, the Jewish holy scripture, during religious education classes at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation's synagogue on Feb. 25.
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Weiss sent out a note to fellow clergy members this week, telling them, “We know that these threats tend to come from white supremacists and those who are vehemently antisemitic are also vehemently racist and homophobic. We’ve been told to be on alert for vandalism, literature or other hate speech on social media.

“We know antisemitism is on the rise, and one major comfort as we work to combat its insidiousness is our collective commitment to safety and justice and hope.”

Seven of her Evanston clergy-member colleagues sent notes of support. George Davis, director of the Baha’i House of Worship, and Rev. Grace Imathiu of the First United Methodist Church, came to the synagogue to show their congregation’s support. “Any hatred to their congregation is hatred to our congregation,” Imathiu said as she stood in the challah baking class.

Earlier in the week, Imathiu sent a note to her congregation, reading: “The siren has been sounded for us to leave our individual bubbles of denomination wars and religious affiliation and gather. Our Jewish siblings are endangered. … As one aborigine woman put it, ‘if you came only to help me, you can go back home. But if you consider my struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together.’”

Rev. Grace Imathiu (front right) of the First United Methodist Church joins the challah baking class. Credit: Susy Schultz

It was certain everyone at the synagogue took the threat seriously, yet people seemed too determined not to let it stop their celebration of Shabbat. “If anything, we might even have a few more people here than normal,” said Weiss.

It was a day of warmth and love inside the building. The synagogue’s formal weekly Shabbat service was Friday night. On Saturdays, JRC holds a number of activities for adults and religious education classes for children called “kehillah,” or community. “It’s a happening place,” said Micky Baer, JRC executive director.

Assistant Rabbi David Eber asked those in the prayer circle before class began to pray for those with hate in their heart. Afterward, he said, “the children don’t know anything about these threats. They are here to have fun. That was really a nod to the parents. They needed to hear that today.”

Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

Richard Cahan

Richard Cahan takes photos for the Evanston RoundTable. He also is publisher of CityFiles Press, a small but mighty media company that believes in the power of words and pictures. You can reach him at...

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  1. Inspiring article created by the RoundTable’s finest that illustrates the quality of our Evanston community… our connections with one another truly matter. Bravo!