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Reality Check: How history repeats for Asheville Jewish Community

During a recent wave of anti-Semitism, members of the Jewish community have felt on guard. This isn't new to Asheville's Jewish community, yet there is also a history of positive outcomes afterward.

In 1916, a just-finished Jewish sanctuary burned down. Asheville residents offered money and building materials. Some ministers even offered space for prayer. And the Jewish community eventually built a new synagogue. This community support is a scenario that's played out several times over the years, including just last week.

Sharon Fahrer makes sure people don't forget these things. She takes people on Jewish history walking tours and also wrote a book about the history of Asheville's Jewish community.

In downtown Asheville, at the corner of Patton and north Lexington, there used to be a building with a store owned by a Jewish man named Coleman Zageir.

"It was called the Man Store. And the Man Store was a men's clothing store, and he would make customers for life," Fahrer said.

Fahrer put up a panel at the corner to inform people about Zageir. The philanthropist helped turn the local college into UNC Asheville. These are some of the things Fahrer doesn't want people to forget.

In the 1930s, an anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer moved to Asheville. William Dudley Pelley set up shop and published a paper. He didn't last.

"The Buncombe County sheriff and some lawyers got together to oust him out of town," Fahrer said.

You might not expect a slave owner to help Jews, but Zebulon Vance tried to help some members of the Jewish community in the late 1800s.

"He wrote a speech called "The Scattered Nation," which was in support of Jews at a time when there was a lot of anti-Semitism," Fahrher said.

Fahrer said, in the 1930s, Asheville's Jewish community felt unsafe meeting in public. The Jewish Community Center was started for that purpose. Recently, more than 100 Jewish places in more than half of the country's states received bomb threats. The threats didn't pass over Asheville.

"We hoped that we were off the radar here, but, unfortunately, we have now been added to the list of JCCs that have received these calls," Asheville JCC executive director Lael Gray said.

It also hit Esther Manheimer, who said she is Asheville's third Jewish mayor.

"You don't want to let down your guard just because they turned out to be false," Manheimer saidd, pointing out many JCCs have preschools filled with kids who need to be kept safe.

Manheimer said the city looks out for one another, and, just like in the past with the Jewish Community, we saw that again.

A few days after the bomb threat, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, from the Campaign for Southern Equality, joined a large group of clergy who greeted people walking in to the JCC. They offered them flowers, doughnuts and coffee.

"We have a gauntlet of clergy who are here this morning as families arrive, saying good morning and welcome, and we're here with you," Beach-Ferrara said.

"I thought it was a beautiful thing," Gray said.


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