September 2021
Chava Shapiro 

This piece was originally published as a part of the anthology “There Is Nothing So Whole as a Broken Heart: Mending the World as Jewish Anarchists”, edited by Cindy Milstein and published by AK Press. We publish here to add to the archive of fragmented revolutionary thought in the Southwest of the not-so-United States.

It was not on my mind in the lead-up to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that I’d be confronted with my own Jewishness. I had a background in antifascist organizing that was informed by my Jewish lineage and family experience on a metalevel, but my deeper motivation for a counterdemonstration or even disruption was tied to my politics. I felt a sense of duty as an anarchist to participate more than I felt an obligation as a Jew. It was anarchism compelling me to resist white supremacist Richard Spencer’s efforts to unite the fascistic Right under one banner.

Truth be told, my Jewishness was a tangled mess before August 12, 2017. I was a Jew doing things in the world, but I was not in the world as a Jew. I loved the holidays, traditions, and idea of my Jewishness. I loathed the Zionism, religious zealots, and state of Israel. My Jewishness was a negative project, if it was anything at all. It was a proving ground for “I’m not that kind of Jew,” and involved checking the box of Palestinian solidarity to make sure that people knew it to be true. At best it was a model immigrant legend and at worst a tale of assimilation into whiteness. My childhood was replete with Ellis Island visits and knowing what New York borough my grandpa once lived in. It was a bat mitzvah and Torah portion long forgotten.

I did not expect to see organized formations of men in white polo shirts march past Congregation Beth Israel, the oldest synagogue in Virginia, early on the morning of August 12, hours before the Unite the Right rally was scheduled to take place. I did not anticipate having to deeply interrogate myself in that moment. The men shouted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” I knelt down in the grass of a nearby park with my Jewish comrade, and asked if we should stick to our plan or offer our support to the temple. The only people there to defend the synagogue that morning were the rabbi and a hired security guard. Despite the many credible threats of violence made against Congregation Beth Israel in the days preceding Unite the Right’s convergence, and a request by the rabbi and mayor—himself a member of the temple—for aid, the police had decided not to provide a contingent for the synagogue that day.

Around forty people had observed Shabbat services that morning while neo- Nazis trooped past. The Jews davened in worship. They sang. They said kaddish, an ancient mourner’s prayer, for those who had died.

None of us knew that we’d be saying kaddish for Heather Heyer during the shiva, the communal mourning period, to come.

In the park, in the grass beneath some trees, we chose to stay with our anarchist comrades. We chose to stick to our plan to try to keep the rally from happening.

I return to that moment in the park on a near-daily basis. I hear those men chanting Nazi slogans, marching in military style past a synagogue full of people praying on Shabbat. It haunts me that the congregation had moved the Torah scrolls out of the building in advance for fear of losing them to an attack on the building. One of the scrolls at Beth Israel had been saved from destruction during the Shoah and then found refuge in Charlottesville. Holocaust scrolls are cherished because they’re imbued with the history of Jewish survival and resilience.

I come back to that morning and the decision to stay with my friends, and sometimes I feel certain that I made the right choice. The anarchist in me affirms this commitment to the collective, to the whole. The Jew in me, though, questions what commitment I perhaps should have considered to the Jews davening in that building, to the Jews who once studied that Torah scroll, to the ancestors who fought against Nazis from the ghettos and forests. It is in that instant in the park, in my decision and indecision, that I found my Jewishness. Charlottesville, for all its pain, pried open the space within myself to engage in the world as a Jew.

How many different versions of my own experience that summer morning, sitting with the pang of antisemitism, and impossibility of being everything or everywhere at once, have led our ancestors toward their Jewishness?

In the months following Charlottesville, I oscillated between total despair, shaken by trauma and depression, and glimpses of joy. Through it all, I unwaveringly longed for Jewish moments, and fumbled toward cultivating them.

On Rosh Hashanah, I sat by a river in observation with both Jewish and non-Jewish anarchists. We performed tachlich, the ritual casting off of the wrongs one has done over the past year, but instead of atoning for our transgressions, we tried to mend our aching hearts. We built a fire by the water, and shared stories and food. I don’t think a word of prayer or Torah was spoken, but we created a sacred space together.

The challah we ate that night, braided into a lopsided crown, was the first I’d ever made on my own. It had been a meditative process. The kneading by hand on the kitchen table was a form of release. I hadn’t yet learned to let necessary tears flow through me, but I could feel anger move through my body as I pounded the dough against a wood board. Centuries of ancestors had likely done the same as they prepared for other new years, permitting their broken hearts some respite as they braided the bread that their loved ones would share with them in the darkness, illuminated by blessed candlelight.

On New Year’s Eve, after journeying on a red-eye bus, I joined friends in New York City for an annual noise demo outside a federal prison. The city was impossibly cold that night, yet without fail, dozens of anarchists, many of them Jewish, and other radicals made as much racket as possible as we attempted to penetrate the prison walls with our solidarity. Many of us wore masks or otherwise tried to conceal our identities; we’d been present in Charlottesville and were now being doxxed by the alt-right.

A comrade began to read a statement, and we all echoed his words, amplifying them to those who were locked in concrete cells. My voice cracked as I yelled the words in repetition, and my body shook from the frigid wind. Suddenly I felt the warmth of tears, running down my face behind my mask and turning icy on my cheeks.

To many, it feels like we live in a time like no other with surveillance and repression at every turn, but also resistance, rebellion, and open revolt. This is neither the new golden nor dark age. It is simply another moment in time where we can collectively force conflict with a fucked-up system.

Every day there are revolts of varying scale, most of which you never hear about. For those captured in revolt, we come together in protest and celebration. Through the din of revelry and rage, we tie ourselves to those who suffer systematized white supremacy and war against the working class, behind steel bars and safety glass.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

We shouted “you are not alone” into the air, and as I moved back and forth to stay warm, I felt as if I were davening. Shuklen. In Yiddish this means to shake. I shook. I shook in spirit and body as I swayed rhythmically, chanting “you are not alone.”

The following morning, on the first day of 2018, I went to see the Amedeo Modigliani exhibit Unmasked at the Jewish Museum in Upper Manhattan. Modigliani had been my favorite artist as a child, along with Marc Chagall. My sister once told me that I had a face like a Modigliani painting. I’ve never been certain if she meant that as a kindness or insult.

At the museum, I stood in front of a small piece of paper that depicted a bearded man, with full and rounded features, drawn sparsely in ink with fine lines. The sketch was titled, simply, “Self-portrait with a beard.” The image in front of me didn’t look anything like Modigliani, who was clean shaven with a thin face. The curated text explained that he was portraying himself as an Orthodox Jew.

While wandering through the show, I learned that during a period of intensifying antisemitism, Modigliani would introduce himself by saying, “I’m Amedeo Modigliani. I’m a Jew.” He’d been raised in a home by Jewish parents who followed kabbalah-inspired rabbinical teachings, but chose a bohemian milieu as an adult, turning away from Jewish life and practice. Yet he would recite kaddish to himself as a comfort when hit by waves of depression, and would drunkenly scream things like “I’m a Jew, and you can all go to hell!” when he found himself at parties with nationalists and fascists, who traveled in the same avant-garde circles at the time. He shunned Jewishness for a different world, and then embraced it as an act of defiance and resilience.

Four months after Charlottesville, in front of a triptych painted in hues of blue and gray, at a Jewish Museum in Upper Manhattan, I began to cry again. I was frozen in front of the figures depicted, my tears moving slowly down my cheeks, and when I could finally move my feet again I found myself confronted with the death mask of Modigliani. He’d made a request of his dearest friends: on his passing, he wanted a cast made of his face. I thought of Heather’s death, which we’d witnessed so recently. I thought about the death that my friends and I had so narrowly escaped that same August day. I thought of comrades who had died in prisons, ancestors who’d perished in pograms and the Shoah, and anarchists who’d given their lives fighting fascism.

I remembered that indeed we are not alone. We are carrying those lost with us.

It took me months after Charlottesville to release my pain in any productive way. I learned how to daven. Then I learned how to cry. And now, I’ve learned how to introduce myself to the world: “Hello, I’m Chava. I’m a Jew and an anarchist.”


Chava Shapiro is a Jew living, parenting, baking challah, davening, and organizing in the occupied lands of the Tohono O’odam and Yaqui nations. For Heather, Chava will continue to fight against white supremacy. For Toor, they will not let despair take hold of them. For their friends, they will never let geography tear them apart. For their children, Chava will try their hardest to ensure that they have something left of this wild world to grow into. For their partner, they’ll find the safest place to keep all their tenderness, bad ideas, and hope.


  In this floating world with its cargo of brutality, there are many things that want to be said. Living & Fighting will say a few of them. It is a necessarily rude gesture in cyberspace, hopefully exceeding it. This excess is our desire and its refusal to settle into an automatic life.

  L&F circulates a multiplicity of fragments from the so-called Southwest.

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