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PHOTO ESSAY | Unity vigil to denounce anti-Semitism in Jacksonville

Published on November 3, 2022 at 10:44 pm

Mariam Feist was direct: It is going to take a community-wide effort to “combat the root causes of bias.”

Feist, CEO of the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida, was among the hundreds who gathered at James Weldon Johnson Park on Thursday evening for a unity vigil to denounce the series of anti-Semitic incidents in Jacksonville last weekend.

Hundreds gather at James Weldon Johnson Park in Downtown Jacksonville for a unity vigil on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. OneJax organized the event following anti-Semitic displays during Georgia-Florida weekend. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

“Jacksonville has a lot of religions,” said UNF Interfaith Center Director Matt Hartley at the vigil. “There are a lot of opportunities for curiosity and friendship.”

As Hartley spoke, four children sat off to the side: twin boys who are Jewish, and a brother and sister from a Christian household. The three boys all play T-ball together.

The Brown twins, Emmett (right) and Grayson (left), were among the hundreds gathered at James Weldon Johnson Park. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

While sports have served as a way to connect communities, Jacksonville Jewish Center Cantor Jesse Holzer said last weekend’s display was an attempt to instill fear during one of the city’s biggest parties.

Cantor Jesse Holzer performs during the interfaith vigil held at James Weldon Johnson Park. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

More than 76,000 people watched Georgia flatten Florida, and thousands more surrounded TIAA Bank Field; Holzer says he’s not sure how many people noticed the hate speech that was projected onto the back of a scoreboard at the stadium. 

“I hope people have been keeping tabs on it,” says Holzer, who has lived in Jacksonville for 14 years. “I’m hoping the flip side of it is people in Jacksonville say, ‘Wow, what if someone said something bigoted in my direction during a happy time?’”

Hundreds gathered at James Weldon Johnson Park for the unity vigil on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Holzer is a vice president with the local Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, ICARE. He is hopeful that last weekend was a reminder that anyone can be on the receiving end of hate speech if the broader community does not do more to “nip it in the bud whenever it happens.”

Feist says “deplorable events” are opportunities to engage and eventually transform Jacksonville.


author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.
author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.

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