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D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson led a small, private group of councilmembers and staff on an unannounced visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum late Friday afternoon.
The self-guided tour drew only Mendelson and At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, along with more than two-dozen council staff members. The tour was arranged by Council Secretary Nyasha Smith.
Mendelson said fewer people attended because the Council is on summer recess and the tour was scheduled for a late Friday afternoon.
Mendelson also said the unannounced visit was just one more way he wanted to address the antisemitism that rocked the Council last spring.
That’s when Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White Sr. publicly suggested that the Rothchilds, a powerful Jewish family, control the weather. White promptly apologized, saying he didn’t intend to be antisemitic. But the incident erupted further after it was revealed that he had sent $500 from his official constituent service fund as a donation to the Nation of Islam.
Former mayoral appointee Joshua Lopez also held what he called a “unity rally” on the steps of the Wilson Building but allowed an antisemitic speaker to personally attack Silverman, one of two Jewish members of the D.C. Council. The speaker, who Lopez said was not invited to speak, call Silverman “a fake Jew.” Lopez later resigned his housing commission appointment.
In response to the City Paper inquiry today, Silverman issued a statement about the unannounced tour.
“I want to thank Chairman Mendelson and Council Secretary Nyasha Smith for setting aside the time for the visit,” Silverman wrote. “It was striking to me that within a short walk from the Wilson Building, we have such powerful reminders in the Holocaust Museum and the African-American History Museum of the horrors of racism and many examples of those who fought for justice. And it was hard not to think about some of the current policies of our own country and think that each of us need to do more.
“I was particularly struck this visit by the stories of non-Jews who were rescuers—the wall of the righteous—and one rescuer of Jews who said he was not special or extraordinary—he did what any person should have done in the face of evil.”
The antisemitism drew worldwide attention to the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser denounced hate speech but also was criticized by some, including Washington Post columnist Colby King, for not doing more publicly to bind the city’s wounds.
Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who at one point called on the Council to censure Trayon White, did not attend today’s museum visit.
“A visit to the Holocaust Museum is something very personal for me and not something I feel comfortable sharing with colleagues,” she wrote in response to this story.
This weekend of July 21–22 is the observance of Tisha B’Av. Various descriptions say it is a day of mourning to remember events such as the destruction of the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem. On Tisha B’Av, the Book of Lamentations, also known as Eicha, is read with a unique nusah, a special melody. As a sign of mourning, it is customary for some observants to fast and refrain from bathing, wearing leather shoes, and having sexual relations.