Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer Ran Away From His Jewish Identity For Years. Then He Reclaimed It And Faced Down Nazis.

Though it looms large in the popular imagination as the gateway to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, the city of Charlottesville is actually relatively small. Its population is just 50,000 and its mayor is not even directly elected, but rather chosen by the city council from among its members. That’s how Mike Signer became the mayor of Charlottesville in January 2016 at his first city council meeting. Needless to say, he never expected to be facing down neo-Nazis in his own backyard a year later.

The 45-year-old Signer stands an imposing 6’4, but by his own account, for much of his life he would have been the last person you’d expect to find standing up as a symbol of Jewish resistance. In fact, from an early age, he sought to escape his Jewish identity. “I heard my first anti-Jewish slur when I was seven or eight years old and it made a big impact on me,” he told me in Jerusalem, where we are serving as co-panelists at the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. As a result of this and other negative experiences, he said, “I became an assimilationist and somewhat self-denying for the majority of my young adult life.”

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