For a moment, Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin imagined that after the first day of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, life would go back to normal.
The day before, hundreds of white nationalists had descended on Charlottesville, where she was an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel. They carried torches, chanted racist slogans and tore through crowds with flags pointed like spears. A night’s sleep, she had hoped, would expel the trauma she had experienced.
“The Unite the Right rally was the most terrifying experience of my entire life,” Schmelkin said. “I had never seen extremism like that up close, and I never feared for my safety as a Jewish person. It changed me.”