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July 23, 2024

Rally against antisemitism fills Ashland Plaza

antisemitism rally
On Nov. 19 at the Ashland Plaza, Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash addresses a rally against antisemitism. Julia Sommer photo for Ashland.news
November 19, 2023

DuQuenne: ‘Peace is my prayer. Peace for Ashland, peace for the world, peace in the Middle East’

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

As the afternoon sun moved behind the Ashland Plaza, Rabbi Avi Zweibal of Chabad of Southern Oregon took the microphone in front of a crowd of close to 100 people. The third rabbi to speak at Sunday’s rally against antisemitism said he had no notes, but would speak from the heart. 

“Just the other day I was walking down the street and a young girl in her 20s approached me with tears in her eyes,” Zweibal said. “She said, ‘I’m Jewish, and my parents told me I should hide that I’m Jewish.’” 

The rabbi smiled behind his voluminous beard as he joked that somehow, the girl knew without knowing him that he was Jewish too. He gave her a pair of small ceremonial candles that happened to be in his pocket and encouraged her. Directly after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants, Zweibal struggled to plan and celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah, he said. He did it anyway and found himself the night of the celebration singing harder and louder with his loved ones than ever before. 

Ashland City Councilor Gina DuQuenne addresses the crowd at an antisemitism rally on the Ashland Plaza on Sunday. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne

“We cannot allow antisemitism to scare us. Nothing will break us as a people. … In the Torah, in the first persecution — in Egypt when we were enslaved — it says, ‘the more they were afflicted the greater they became, the more they multiplied,’” he said. 

Attendees stood on benches and walls and crowded around as the microphone passed from Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham and City Councilor Gina DuQuenne to Rabbi Julie Benioff of Temple Emek Shalom and Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah Shir Hadash. Emily Simon, an organizer for the event, introduced and thanked speakers. Eric Mitton, city attorney for Medford, read a statement from Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino. 

Jewish people make up 2% of the population in the United States but are the target of 51% of religious based bias violence, he said, citing the Anti-Defamation League. The organization has also tracked a 400% increase in antisemitism nationwide since Oct. 7. He urged the crowd to report any suspected antisemitism to law enforcement. Without reports, law enforcement can’t act, and it is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens, he said, reading from Sparacino’s statement. 

Event organizer Emily Simon (wearing a white cap) addresses the crowd at an antisemitism rally on the Ashland Plaza on Sunday. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne

Graham also encouraged residents to report any potential antisemitism to law enforcement. She stated the city of Ashland would always support the Jewish community and any other marginalized community. 

“Several years ago, Ashland declared itself a city of peace. It is in moments like this that we make that declaration tangible for our neighbors, friends, and family members,” she said. 

Graham referred to hatred as a false power and true cowardice. A stand against antisemitism is a stance of courage, she said. DuQuenne pointed to peace and equality from Ashland to the wider world.

“In this world we live in today, my hope is peace, and that we all stand on the side of peace. We are all cut from the same cloth, I don’t care what your religion is or your color or where you come from. … Peace is my prayer. Peace for Ashland, peace for the world, peace in the Middle East,” DuQuenne said. 

Shortly after Zaslow took the microphone as the final speaker for the event — after he finished describing the way the political left and the political right united in antisemitism in the 1930’s — a couple standing on the edge of the Plaza began to shout.

 “Boo.” 

Within seconds, a handful of rally attendees encircled the couple as they continued to try to heckle Zaslow. 

Medford City Attorney Eric Mitton, at left, addresses the crowd at an antisemitism rally on the Ashland Plaza on Sunday. Ashland.news photo by Morgan Rothborne

“Thank you,” he said, before continuing his speech. 

Three police officers had been waiting across the street. Quietly the officers stepped in behind the couple. In hushed tones about five rally attendees urged them, “not right now.” The pair responded that they were seeking an opportunity to “take exception” to some of what had been said. 

As Zaslow enumerated examples of antisemitism, those who initially silenced the couple fell away. Another couple from within the rally crowd walked over and shook hands with the would-be hecklers, thanking them for attending.

“Equivalency between Israel’s mistakes and terrorism, that is antisemitism, call it out. Justifying Hamas’ tactics, that is antisemitism, call it out,” Zaslow said. 

At the edge of the Plaza, the pair attending the rally in criticism continued in conversation with the pair attending in support. They could be heard talking about “the finer points” of how to define antisemitism or consider the events of Oct. 7. As their conversation continued, Rabbis led the crowd on the plaza in a traditional Jewish song. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Nov. 20 update: Photo captions corrected.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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