LYNN – Like many other Massachusetts businessmen, Jordan Avery saw an opportunity when voters legalized the possession and sale of marijuana in 2016. His proposal to open a pot shop in Lynn was approved by the city in the spring. But before the state could rule on his application, the town of Saugus – which has banned recreational marijuana shops – filed suit against him, alleging that 10 inches of his proposed facility, some parking spaces, and an outdoor deck were located in Saugus.
As he was responding to the lawsuit in court, Avery was called to the proposed pot shop on Boston Street in Lynn by the building’s Jewish owner late last month and informed that the site had been vandalized. What he discovered was shocking. Inside, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti had been spray painted on the walls; he also found a noose dangling from the ceiling, with a knife attached.
“I’m speechless and outraged about this hatred and anti-Semitism being targeted at the building owner, my entire company and me,” said Avery, who is 25, and in the process of converting to Judaism. “I’ve never experienced any racism in my life. At one point I was thinking that there wasn’t really much happening anymore. And then this hit home, and it’s really unbelievable to see this kind of stuff happen. The images are disgusting – they’re horrifying and sickening. I’m beyond myself. Shame on them.”
Lynn Police Lieutenant Michael Kmiec said his department is investigating the incident as a hate crime. To date, no arrests have been made.
Avery’s proposed site, a former bar, is also connected to a planned pizzeria. That facility was not vandalized.
Avery, who grew up in the neighborhood near his proposed shop, also has long ties to Judaism and is in the process of converting. He wears a gold Chai around his neck, along with the Sh’ma prayer and gold Hebrew letters that spell out the word “mazal,” or “luck.”
The necklaces come from Stacey and Ralph Sevinor, whom Avery sees as role models. “They’re my second family,” said Avery, who first took an interest in Judaism when he went to Camp Rotary and realized a lot of his friends were Jewish. He went on to attend a Jewish overnight camp in New York. As a teen, he later worked at Jewish overnight camps for a few summers, and enjoyed the kosher food. He has attended Passover seders, and other Jewish holidays and loves the family aspects of Judaism.
“Judaism has really made me feel connected; I absolutely feel Jewish,” he said. “I didn’t grow up religious, so I always had that open mindset about where I wanted to be. The Jewish faith felt like home to me, and surrounding myself with family and having friends and mentors really made me feel at home. I can’t wait to go visit Israel. Hopefully, I’ll be able to partake in Birthright.”
Avery, who is a former member of the Lynn Human Rights Commission, said he is determined to find a way to open his business. He is also heartened by the support he’s received since the racist and anti-Semitic slogans were discovered last month. Governor Charlie Baker sent him a Facebook message, which read, “Sorry to hear the news about your storefront. You are a good man. Do not let it get in your way Jordan!”
Others who have reached out to him with positive messages include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Anti-Defamation League and numerous rabbis.
“He’s a young person but he’s an old soul,” said Ralph Sevinor, who has known Avery since he was a child. Sevinor and his family regularly host Avery at their Florida home during holidays.
Sevinor is unclear why anyone would want to vandalize Avery’s proposed business. The area sits on the Lynn-Saugus border, where Avery has lived much of his life. “It’s one of two things – it was either a stupid prank by kids or there was something deeper,” said Sevinor.
Avery is trying not to dwell on the vandalism as he focuses on obtaining a final license to legally sell marijuana. He also has faith that the perpetrators will be found and arrested. “I have strong belief in the Lynn Police and their investigation division,” he said.