Asheville’s Jewish community grows in trying times

Posted on December 14, 2022 by Jessica Wakeman on MountainXpress

Abby Lublin wants to talk about Jewish joy.

It may not seem like an especially joyful time for the executive director of Carolina Jews for Justice. Antisemitism has been front of mind for many Americans in recent weeks: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort with Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist media personality who has accused Jews of subverting American values. The nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate reported a 23% increase in the use of a slur against Jewish people on Twitter in the week following the social network’s purchase by Elon Musk. And Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West (who also dined at Mar-a-Lago with Trump and Fuentes), was suspended from Twitter for posting a swastika blended with a Star of David.

Lublin, however, is adamant about uniting the Jewish community through a sense of belonging, not shared trauma. “It is especially important for Jews to live in our joy, in our boldness and in our connection,” she explains. “In a state like North Carolina, we’re never in places where we’re the majority, and so Jews have to really find each other.”

The Jewish community has woven strong ties in Asheville. The city is home to two synagogues — Congregation Beth HaTephila and Beth Israel Synagogue — as well as a Jewish Community Center. And Lublin, who lives in Durham, says Western North Carolina supports a robust local chapter of Carolina Jews for Justice, which is based out of Asheville and covers 17 counties.

“We’ve seen a steady flow of people who are Jewish who’ve come [here] because they see a vibrant Jewish community that they can be part of,” Rabbi Batsheva Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila tells Xpress. “And so Asheville becomes attractive to them.”

Meiri says membership at her congregation has grown by 10% each year since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have this influx of people who have been transplanted here because of the pandemic, and we also have a lot of people [in Asheville already] who are excited to come back and be part of temple life,” she explains.

Local life

Much of the Jewish community in Asheville revolves around rites of passage similar to those of other faith traditions. Meiri cites “religious school, training for bar and bat mitzvahs, welcoming babies, helping people through times of grief and getting married,” as well as regular worship services, as the pillars of community life.

Cultural celebration, particularly around food and music, may be one of the most prominent aspects of Jewish life in Asheville. Deborah Miles, a member of Carolina Jews for Justice West, founder of the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville and a member of Beth Israel, notes the joy she gets from performances of Bandana Klezmer, in which her husband,  Marc Rudow, plays fiddle. The group grew out of a class at the Jewish Community Center 17 years ago and now regularly plays parties and cultural events.

However, members of Asheville’s Jewish community also tell Xpress they’re united on social justice issues through the practice of tikkun olam, or “repair of the world.” Meiri says racial justice, voting rights and reproductive justice are the three topics most prominent on her congregation’s mind.

Assisting refugees has been important to Congregation Beth HaTephila as well. Members helped five Afghan evacuees who had settled in Asheville with their immigration hearings, Meiri explains. Her congregants have also raised money for displaced Ukrainians; in April, she delivered $56,000 donated from people in Asheville to the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland, which was assisting those fleeing Ukraine’s war with Russia.

Miles says she has participated in local “get out the vote” efforts for years. “Because of [Jewish] history, we know just sitting there is not going to protect us,” she explains. She says making a personal connection to voters and having deeper conversations with them about the issues helps encourage them to vote. (Miles is the mother of state Rep. Caleb Rudow, a Democrat representing District 116.)

‘The oldest conspiracy theory’

Such engagement is particularly important now, Lublin suggests, given what she calls the mainstreaming of antisemitic beliefs in political discourse. She says lies about Jews are “the oldest conspiracy theory … frequently trotted out when it benefits those in power.”

Lublin points to white supremacists’ recent embrace of “The Great Replacement” — the conspiracy theory that white Christians of European descent are being replaced by people from the Middle East and Africa who have higher birth rates. In the U.S., some people with far-right views believe that Jewish people are manipulating immigration to achieve that end; for example, at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

Esther Manheimer, mayor of Asheville and a member of Congregation Beth HaTephila, echoes Lublin’s concerns. “I worry about Jews in America and antisemitism being a polarizing political issue,” Manheimer writes in an email to Xpress. “No form of subjugation should be politicized, yet it is.”

Manheimer continues that she “struggle[s] to imagine how to pull back from partisanship playing into preventing and responding to hate speech and actions, but that is what we need to do as a nation, and leadership should be a role model in this effort.”

Keeping watch

Much of that antisemitic rhetoric is taking place at the national level, but local law enforcement remains alert for worrying signs. Asheville Police Department Capt. Joseph Silberman, who is Jewish and has been on the force for 19 years, says in the past two years, police have investigated “a number of incidents” directed at the Jewish community.

Jewish institutions in Asheville take safety “very, very seriously,” Silberman says, explaining that they will contact APD with any concerns. The department has also provided those institutions with training on explosives awareness.

However, there have been “no specific threats, or what we would consider communicating threats, to a Jewish institution or place of worship,” he says. Among the incidents APD has looked into included damaged property — “minor vandalism that didn’t have a specific antisemitic connection but we still are sensitive to” — and harassing phone calls, Silberman explains.

Silberman also says there have been “prominent Jewish people that were threatened” on the internet by white supremacists, and in those cases APD has worked in partnership with the FBI. He declined to go into more detail about that activity with Xpress.

“You have to take all of these very seriously,” Silberman says. “But the reason it’s so sensitive is we can’t let one fall through the cracks, because we don’t know what it would lead to.”

Hate crimes are governed by federal statute, Silberman says, and North Carolina has legislation prohibiting “ethnic intimidation” due to race, color, religion or nationality. He says nearly all of the incidents related to the local Jewish community that have aroused concern haven’t met the criteria to be charged under those laws.  Spray-painted vandalism at a temple, for example, might raise concern but not meet the threshold of ethnic intimidation.

Asked whether any local incidents have made him personally concerned, Silberman recalls one case of intimidation against a resident of Jewish descent.  “I remember feeling personal discomfort to have that reminder that there are people like that out there,” Silberman says. “As far as we’ve come as a society — and it’s been leaps and bounds the past 50 years — there are still people like that out there, and being on guard is still necessary.”

Pursuing Justice in Western NC in 2023

We are commanded to “pursue justice, justice!” What are some ways we can obey this commandment and repair our world in the coming secular year?  Consider:

Racial Justice

  • Get involved in the work of the Racial Justice Coalition, of which CJJ is a founding member. Here’s the website:  Go to the “Get Involved” tab and look for “Calls to Action,” where you will find the most current opportunities for taking action, such as the call to “Authorize the Audit” in support of reparations.  Under the “About” tab you will see information on The Every Black Voice campaign, the Government Accountability Project, and more.
  • For MLK Shabbat, on Friday, January 13 at 7:00 pm, Congregation Beth HaTephila will be honored to have Rob Thomas, Director of the Racial Justice Coalition as the speaker.
  • The Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Breakfast is on January 14th. The Peace March and Rally will commence at St. James AME Church at 11:30 a.m., on Monday, January 16. For more information go to:
  • CJJ is hosting Dr. Dwight Mullen, Professor Emeritus of UNCA and chairperson of the Reparations Commission, on Thursday, February 2, 2023, starting at 11:30 a.m. at Land of Sky UCC, 15 Overbrook Place in Asheville. His topic is "Envisioning Reparations." Details about lunch options are forthcoming. For registration information, contact Lisa Forehand [email protected] or check Carolina Jews For Justice’s calendar page at:
  • The YWCA is offering monthly virtual Racial Justice Workshops (these workshops were originally designed for YWCA staff but are being expanded to anyone looking to grow their understanding of racism and racial justice).  The workshops are on various weekdays for an hour and a half or two hours, depending on the day (some are mid-day, some in late afternoon/evening).   More information is here:

Economic Justice

  • Support the work of our partner organization, Just Economics. Visit its website at and click on the “Get Involved” and then the “Take Action” tabs, where you will find how to support paid family leave, increased minimum wage, the PRO Act (strengthening unions), and more.  You can join with others to support affordable housing, a living wage, and improved public transit.
  • Support our partner organization, Beloved Asheville. On their website,, you can learn how to support projects such as Beloved Village, Asheville in Black, Asheville en Español, Street Medics Outreach, and more. Be part of a group of CJJ members who regularly joins a hands-on work crew and assist at the building site at the Beloved Village at Overbrook Road behind Prestige Subaru.  Contact Lisa Forehand for more information at [email protected].

Become Educated

  • If you do not already receive it, please sign up for the Becoming Anti-Racist Allies newsletter edited by Adrienne Hollifield by emailing [email protected] (CJJ is a part of this group).
  • Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic, poet, and author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America and other books, will be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Smith will speak at UNCA on Wednesday January 18th at 7 PM in Lipinsky Auditorium.  Here is a link with more information:
  • In honor of Black History Month, Ta-Nehisi Coates, award-winning author of Between the World and Me and many other books, articles, and other pieces, will speak at UNCA on Tuesday, February 28th at 7 PM in the Sherrill Center.  Tickets are required for this event, but currently are all distributed.

We want more Jewish community members to join our collective call for progress in this state. If you are interested, please contact our WNC staff organizer, Lisa Forehand, at [email protected].  Or for more information about CJJ and its work, contact Judy Leavitt at [email protected].

So we passed the Inflation Reduction Act. What’s next for climate justice?

Reflections and invitations from Rachel Karasik

In mid-August, amid record setting temperatures, heatwaves, and flooding events, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act. The act is the US’ largest investment into climate mitigation ever. These investments will promote clean energy technologies that reduce carbon emissions and make electric vehicles and heat pumps more accessible. The bill can cut emissions by 40%, begin to address environmental injustices, and create jobs. Climate change as well as jobs and the economy are political issues that are priorities for Jewish voters and voters across party lines.  

While the face of this legislation from the senate is a seemingly unlikely alliance between senators Manchin and Schumer, it’s momentum was powered by, in the words of our comrades at Dayenu, who can read more about at this link, “decades of organizing led by Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and more recently, by young people.” These grassroots efforts — which have frankly been admonished by leaders and in the media, labeled as histrionic, unrealistic, and not based in science— communicated the urgency of the climate crisis to the American public. This is not about a polar bear floating on a thinning ice sheet in the Arctic.    

Climate change is here and let me be clear: if it has not affected you or a loved one yet, it will. In the past year as CJJ has become immersed in climate justice knowledge and activism in North Carolina, I have met climate refugees from California escaping fire seasons that have destroyed their homes. I learned from  North Carolinians fighting fracked gas pipelines from the motels they live in years after hurricanes wiped out their communities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, I FaceTimed my mom as she tried to save decades of family memories now floating in flood water.

This bill is not perfect. It favors the fossil fuel industry, which keeps Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-wealth communities across the country on the frontlines of industrial pollution, racism, and poverty. It allows oil and gas development on public lands. It excludes critical investments in childcare and family care and does not provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and essential workers. It does not invest adequately in climate resilience, which prepares communities to respond to the ongoing natural disasters and hazards they are facing today.  

So, what is next? Let’s start by celebrating this victory, and acknowledging the Jewish climate movement’s role. Let us then remember that this work is far from over. At CJJ we will continue to invest in shared learning on environmental justice. We will continue to support North Carolina’s League of Conservation Voters Foundation’s voting rights and voter registration work, we will communicate opportunities to support communities affected by natural disasters.


We will also join Dayenu in their upcoming efforts to keep this momentum going and ensure future legislative efforts do not give a pass to the fossil fuel industry. And we hope you do too. We encourage you to take action now in these three ways:

  1. Launching the Chutzpah 2022 campaign to mobilize voters and change the political landscape. To defend the IRA's investments and prevent the fossil fuel industry from turning back the clock, we need to ensure that our elected leaders have the Chutzpah to continue making climate a priority. Learn more about the Chutzpah 2022 get-out-the-vote campaign and how you can get involved here. Mark your calendars to join the virtual campaign kick-off, Wednesday. Sept. 7, 7:00-8:30pm ET in partnership with the Environmental Voter Project (EVP).
  2. Standing with impacted communities to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Fossil fuel companies snuck some nasty provisions into the IRA, including opening additional public land and water for oil and gas drilling. We must stop dirty deals that expand fossil fuels and harm communities on the frontlines of poverty, racism, and pollution. Sign this letter from our allies at People vs. Fossil Fuels and stay tuned for additional action opportunities.
  3. Urging President Biden to declare a climate emergency, fully leveraging the power of his office. We’ve pushed the limits of climate action in this Congress (see Chutzpah 2022 for how we're working to change the political landscape), but there is so much more the federal government can do to confront the climate crisis. Add your name and boost Dayenu's petition calling on President Biden to declare a climate emergency and use executive authority to confront the crisis.

If you want to get more involved in this work, please do not hesitate to contact CJJ-Durham/Orange County chapter leader Rachel Karasik at [email protected].

Voting as an Imperative

Voting as an Imperative
Ron Katz

In a post written by Rabbi Dara Lithwick on titled "What’s So Jewish About Voting", she opens her essay with the following sentences: “Judaism teaches us that voting is not just a civic duty. In fact, many of our rabbis and sages have framed voting as a mitzvah, a Jewish imperative.” 

With the midterm elections in November, voting has never been more important. Since Congress is unable to enact federal laws to establish minimum standards for all states, each state is empowered to create its own rules. In some states that has resulted in laws that are characterized as voter suppression. 

Another challenge is misinformation or a lack of clarity about how to navigate voting. Questions about the rules for absentee voting, the need for a voter ID (currently, not in NC), and more. Those questions and misinformation can create obstacles not to vote.

Carolina Jews for Justice (CJJ) is a leader in promoting voting. CJJ cannot take positions on candidates or political parties, but it does work to “create a more just, fair, and compassionate North Carolina”. That means CJJ is working to address the challenges to provide those eligible to vote the information they need to do so. To promote voting, CJJ works with many partners to provide opportunities for people to take action.

It starts by all of us:

  1. Putting together a plan for voting. A statewide organization, You Can Vote, offers a “pledge to vote” campaign to help make your plan. “Google” their name to sign up, and you will receive timely emails to help you navigate voting.
  2. Checking that you are registered under your current name at your current address. Go to: or “google” NC Voter Search. Enter your name to see if you are registered accurately. You can find out what districts you are in to determine what races will be on your ballot and where your polling place is on Election Day. In September, you will be able to see your sample ballot.
  3. Learning about the candidates on your ballot. is an important website to provide information on candidates and voter guides. CJJ-West is helping people learn about the positions of candidates on key social justice issues for those running for NC General Assembly seats in WNC and US House District 11. Watch for the announcement to get this online candidate guide.
  4. Joining CJJ for a statewide Get out the Vote (GOTV) Shabbat. This online event is set for the late afternoon on October 21st. There will be opportunities before and after, but the GOTV Shabbat will be a great way to learn, be inspired and “plug in”. 

Should you have questions at any point or want to help promote voting here in the west, contact Ron Katz, CJJ-West’s Democracy Rights work group lead. To reach him, email him at [email protected].

The Jewish Response to Reproductive Justice

The Jewish Response to Reproductive Justice
Mena Kates and Judy Leavitt

The Jewish Perspective (National Council of Jewish Women ((NCJW))/Rabbi Jenny Solomon)The Written and Oral Torah conclude:

• The fetus does not have the status of personhood.
• The full status of personhood and therefore the protections of personhood do not begin
at conception but begins at a viable birth.
• The fetus does not have meaningful status for the first forty days; thereafter, it is
considered part of the body of the pregnant woman until it breathes on its own.  
• Termination of a pregnancy is required if a mother’s life is at risk, the risk. This can be
understood to concern her physical and mental wellbeing.

In Summary: (interpretations by NCJW)

  • Jewish teachings command us to care for our communities and our neighbors. That
    includes making sure everyone has access to safe health care, including access to
    abortion and reproductive care.
  • Abortion care is health care, and health care is a human right. The Jewish value
    includes believing in a world where everyone can access abortion care when they
    need it.
  • Bans on abortion aren’t just a violation of the human right to bodily autonomy,
    they’re a violation of our religious rights as Jews. Jewish tradition doesn’t just allow
    abortion, it commands it in some cases — and we need to make sure abortion stays
    accessible for everyone.

The facts:

  • Is abortion still legal in the U.S.? In some states. 
    The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade guaranteed the constitutional
    right to have an abortion in the U.S. The Supreme Court has now overturned Roe v.
    Wade with their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
  • Roe being overturned is not the same thing as there being a federal ban on
    abortion. Roe being overturned means the constitutional protection that was in place
    has been removed, and the states are no longer limited in what kinds of abortion
    restrictions they can pass. Some states have legal protections in place that will ensure
    that abortion remains legal there. Others have banned or severely restricted abortion.
  • It is legal to travel out of state to get an abortion, no matter what state you’re located


  • 8 states completely ban abortion
  • 36 states ban abortion after a specified point in pregnancy
  • 19 states (including North Carolina) require a person seeking an abortion to
    wait a specified period of time before their abortion
  • 28 states require some type of parental involvement for a minor to get an abortion
  • North Carolina - Abortion is legal in North Carolina until "viability"; which is the stage of pregnancy when a fetus has developed enough to survive outside the uterus with medical help. It usually happens around 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy. For more info go to:

If the injunction is removed, abortions will still be legal in the first 20
weeks of pregnancy or in a medical emergency, unless new legislation is passed by
the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor.

Relative History:

Before Roe v Wade, abortion was illegal in most states. One of the most effective responses, was
the creation of the Jane Collective, started by Heather Booth (
of-the-jane-collective/), a Jewish woman. Officially known as the Abortion Counseling Service of
Women's Liberation, it was an underground service in Chicago, Illinois affiliated with the Chicago
Women's Liberation Union that operated from 1969 to 1973, a time when abortion was illegal in most of
the United States.

In 1973, the Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that the constitutional right of privacy implicit
in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protected a woman’s right to choose
abortion. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, decided in 1992, the
Court clarified that the right to have an abortion could be exercised at any time before viability.

Taking Action:
83% of Jews support abortion – more than any other religious group.
Abortion action is a matter of religious freedom. We as Jews must act on our teachings!

  • State action is a priority –
    o Vote for pro-choice candidates for state offices
    o Protest efforts to gerrymander districts
    o Support Medicaid expansion and maintain reproductive healthcare
    o Support health providers freedom to give care
    o Know the facts: 1 in 5 women will have an abortion – whether it is legal or not
  • Federal action
    o Ask our Senators to support the Women’s Health Protection Act
  • Individual action:
    o Donate to the Carolina Abortion Fund, and independent clinics such as Keep Our
    Clinics  to make sure people can get the care they need.
    o Contribute to the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access, an initiative of the National
    Council of Jewish Women that resources the National Abortion Federation. 
    o Support Pro-Choice NC - sign up for their Rapid Response list to stay informed
    about actions you can take now and in the future.
    o Support Planned Parenthood of NC, to continue reproductive health care and support
    women coming from other states to NC.

Join Carolina Jews for Justice to expand access and support!  See the Reproductive Justice page on the CJJ website.

Contact Mena Kates ([email protected]) or Judy Leavitt ([email protected])

Elections and Voting Rights 2022: What You Can Do Now

This is our last chance to Get Out the Vote! If you are thinking of supporting specific candidates, go for it! But please consider the value of voter outreach with nonpartisan organizations.  These groups often know best how to reach people of color and young people and may be better equipped to connect with voters who don’t identify with either major political party or are turned off by partisan politics.  This guide gives you information about the nonpartisan organizations active in North Carolina. Take a look and then sign up! 

If you’d like to take action together with others in CJJ, contact one of our Voting Rights groups. If you have questions or would like to talk with someone in order to figure out how to get started, contact [email protected].



It’s time to vote!

ELECTION DAY is NOV 8! EARLY VOTING runs from October 20 - November 5! 

FIVE things to know about casting your vote: 

  1. Check your registration here. If you can’t find it, or it’s not up to date with the correct address, you can register and vote at the same time during Early Voting. It’s too late to update your registration for voting by mail or voting on Election Day, so use Early Voting!
  2. Find your polling location. From now through November 5 you can vote at any early voting site in your county. Click here to locate these sites.  On Election Day, you must vote at your precinct polling location. To find the address, look up your registration here, and scroll to the bottom. 
  3. Request a ballot if you want to vote by mail. To request a ballot, click here. If you want to download a form, click hereThe deadline to request a ballot is November 1, but do it sooner! You need time to receive the ballot, fill it out in front of two witnesses or a notary, and return it.  Completed ballots must be delivered to the county Board of Elections Office by 5 pm on November 8, or postmarked by 5 pm on November 8 and received by November 14.  To track your ballot online, click here.
  4. Look up your sample ballot, so you can decide who to vote for before you head to the polls. District lines have changed, and there may be some races on the ballot you didn’t know about! To find your sample ballot, look up your voter registration by clicking here, then scroll down to the bottom.
  5. Read nonpartisan information about candidates at or

Races on the ballot include:

  • The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
  • The N.C. General Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives)
  • The N.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals
  • Municipal and county elections in some locations, including judicial and sheriff races, bonds, etc.  (Check your sample ballot!)


Read more

The Status of Abortion Law in North Carolina

A Memorandum for Carolina Jews for Justice — May 25, 2022 

On May 2, 2022, Politico published a leaked draft of an opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Case No. 19-1392, now pending in the United States Supreme Court. The draft is authored by Justice Samuel Alito and apparently represents the proposed decision by a majority of the Court to overrule both Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), the seminal cases establishing and clarifying the constitutional right of reproductive choice. The draft, dated February 10 of this year, does not reveal who besides Justice Alito would join in the majority opinion or who would dissent, but the draft’s authenticity has been confirmed by Chief Justice Roberts. According to Politico, a confidential source “familiar with the court’s deliberations” says that Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett voted with Justice Alito in the Court’s initial conference after hearing oral arguments in December. 

If the draft becomes the decision of the Court, what will its effect be in North Carolina? 

Read more

Don’t Kvetch, Organize


How Community Organizing Can Build a More Just World

“Issues of social justice have always been important to me but knowing how to put my strong feelings into action has been a challenge, says Roni Freedman member of CBHT. “I’ve always wanted to act on issues that impact my life and the lives of my family and work toward change. “Don’t Kvetch, Organize,” has given me the tools to make a difference,” she added.


Read more

In-Person Event Guidelines

The health and safety of our community remain our utmost priority, and after extensive research and consideration, CJJ is updating our policy for in-person events. The parameters for in-person events are detailed below, and align with most recent CDC and NCDHHS guidelines.
Read more

CJJ in Conversation: NC Democracy Defenders

On April 24, veteran voting rights attorneys Leslie Winner and Hilary Harris Klein joined us for a conversation about the struggle for voting rights in North Carolina, past and present, and how we can be engaged in this critical work now. You can view the recording of this powerful dialogue on YouTube.

Read more