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Local Jewish community seeking a way to respond to hate crime

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Posted on November 17, 2016 |
By John S. McCright



MIDDLEBURY — The Jewish Congregation of Addison County is trying to make a measured response after finding two swastikas scrawled on the front door of their meeting house in Middlebury on Monday morning.

“The consensus of the steering committee and concerned members was that this is a hate crime by any definition and requires a response, but that we don’t want to sensationalize the incident and give the perpetrator any more attention than is necessary,” read a statement made to the Addison Independent and signed by Emily Joselson and Ken Wolpin, the top leaders of the congregation.

Havurah Director of Education Sarit Katzew arrived at the North Pleasant Street house that Havurah calls home Monday to start preparing for Hebrew School when she found graffiti on the door, which included a small swastika and another mark that looked like a badly drawn swastika.

Katzew notified Middlebury police and Joselson.

Middlebury Police Sgt. Mike Christopher described the two Swastikas as being “small and ragged,” drawn with a green marker at the bottom of the entry door. Havurah members wiped off the offensive symbols after police examined the scene.

Christopher said this appears to have been an isolated incident, and on Wednesday police had no suspects.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Middlebury police at 388-3191. Police are prepared to cite the culprit(s) with a hate crime, among other things, if they are caught, Christopher said.

The swastika was a symbol of the Nazis, who attempted to exterminates all Jews in Europe.

Havurah officials reported the graffiti to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, organizations that have been tracking hate crimes.

On Monday, a letter explaining the incident was handed out to Hebrew School parents and emailed to Hebrew School families.

Katzew let leaders of other local congregations know about the incident.

As news of the incident spread, widespread condemnation of the graffiti was heard. Some speculated that it was the work of a misguided young person, others noted that the fact it came in the wake of last week’s election results made it more disturbing.

The election result was blamed for another local incident of hate speech.

On Nov. 9, two Muslim Middlebury College students found the words “F*** Muslims, #Trump2016” on a whiteboard outside their room.

 Kevin Moss, a professor of Modern Language & Literature at the college, posted a Facebook status speaking out against the perpetrators, which was shared widely among the campus community. The following day, Middlebury College President Laurie Patton sent out a campus-wide email.

“This community has absolutely zero tolerance for acts of intimidation based on a person’s religious, gender, sexual, disability, ethnic, or racial identity, and we must condemn them,” the email read. “This is not the Middlebury I recognize nor is it the Middlebury we should accept. Such behavior deeply undermines who we are, and who we are meant to be. We reject it entirely.”

The college has taken several measures, such as creating small group discussions facilitated by volunteers, to discuss divisions in the community and prevent further acts of violence and intolerance.   

The appearance of the swastikas prompted similar strong denunciations.

The Rev. Andy Nagy Benson, pastor of the Congregational Church of Middlebury, informed his parishioners of the Havurah House incident in an email on Tuesday.

“Incidents like this have troubled the waters of many communities … including our own,” he said. “We stand with our Jewish neighbors and will not tolerate acts of hate in our community or anywhere else.”

Nagy Benson told the Independent that he understood the difficult effort to let people know about this act of hate while being careful not to serve the perpetrator’s purpose by shining too bright a spotlight on it.

“Regardless of anyone’s faith, we all know what that symbol means,” he said. “It’s disturbing.”

Members of the local clergy are planning to attend Jewish services this weekend. The Jewish congregation had already scheduled a service for Dec. 3 and in light of this week’s incident was trying to have it lead into an afternoon gathering where others in the community could come and show solidarity. Details will be published as they are firmed up.

Reporters John Flowers and Emma Cotton contributed to this report.

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