By Christian Kallen
Candlelight illuminated the faces of some 75 people under the Plaza gazebo roof an hour after sundown on Saturday, Nov. 11. The human circle was not just present to enact the ritual of Havdalah, to begin a new week at the conclusion of the Sabbath, but to meet in shared company over the ongoing grief of Oct. 7.
The group was assembled by Gabriel Froymovich, a financial advisor to the wine industry, who lives just north of Healdsburg city limits. Social media, telephone trees and a full-page ad in last week’s Tribune may have spread the word for the ad hoc gathering. What motivated many attendees may have been the city council’s decision on Oct. 23 to light the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge white, for the color of peace—and not the white and blue initially proposed, which would have expressed support for Israel in the wake of the horrific attacks on Oct. 7.
Froymovich overtly criticized the council in his ad, saying it lacked “the moral courage to offer their Jewish community comfort and support.”
“Instead of lighting the bridge in blue and white of the Jewish people, as is done every Hanukkah, they chose to show their indifference by lighting the bridge in white, ostensibly to symbolize peace,” the ad stated.
But there was no discernable ill will at the Nov. 11 Plaza gathering, which saw four of five council members in attendance, holding candles in support of the Havdalah ceremony that began the gathering. (Councilmember Chris Herrod was out of state and could not attend.)
Mayor Ariel Kelley, whose maiden name is Ungerleider and who was raised in the Jewish tradition, spoke out movingly at the gathering. “This has been a very difficult time for local elected officials,” she said. “We have a number of Jewish mayors and elected officials in Sonoma county and across the Bay Area.” She mentioned the situation of Sandra Lowe, the current mayor of the city of Sonoma, who “had a personal attack against her, an antisemitic attack just this week, and is receiving additional hurt and hate for her identity.”
Kelley also mentioned that the city of Healdsburg, and other cities in the state, have had to end public comment by Zoom because of people who don’t live in the community, or even in the state, “saying some of the most hateful, disgusting things, that I will not repeat, but you can only imagine—and it’s worse.”
“We have come together in trying to navigate through a time when people feel very emboldened to say terrible antisemitic things,” Kelley said. She expressed her fear that, even in America, “our freedom and our democracy, I believe, is at stake.”
But the mixed character of those candle-lit faces beneath the gazebo offered a kind of solace.
“I want to say that I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support that we receive as a city to see these faces here tonight, and our grandparents’ generation as well,” said Kelley. “We know that historically this is something that many generations have had to endure. And now we are experiencing a lot of hatred and antisemitism, for some of us for the first time in our lives.”
Califia Wytch, who Froymovich introduced as having had the “rare experience of growing up in the Healdsburg community and being Jewish,” spoke briefly as well, saying, “I just want to remind you that you have thousands of years of resilience in your body.”
The gathering lasted a little over half an hour and ended with the communal singing of the Hatikvah, the national anthem of both Israel and the Jewish people. Though a page was handed out with the words to the anthem in both Latin and Hebrew script, and an English translation, many did not even need the prompts but sang the words from memory, with eyes closed, deep in prayer.
Despite the criticism the city council has faced over their decision to light the bridge in white instead of blue and white, the somber gathering seemed to offer some reconciliation and forgiveness. Froymovich himself said, “I also perceive that the community, I think, showed a lot of sympathy for everybody that’s been hurt in this conflict. That meant a lot to me.”
But his central motivation was clear and unwavering. “Being quiet, trying to be unseen, not using our voice, never leads anywhere good for the Jewish people,” he concluded. “So thank you all for coming here so we can be seen.”