MARBLEHEAD – On May 1, the bridge on Village Street was vandalized with graffiti that read: “Jews out of Marblehead.”
That same weekend, police responded to more racist and antisemitic tagging at Crocker Park and at the Ware Pond conservation area.
And on July 18, the Anti-Defamation League reported antisemitic and racist graffiti was found spray painted at the Lead Mills Conservation area.
To combat these incidents, a cross section of the community has banded together for a Zoom presentation called Marblehead Speaks Out Against Hate at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23.
The presentation is being hosted by the Marblehead Coalition, Marblehead Public Schools, and ADL New England. (A Zoom link can be found on the Marblehead Police Department’s Facebook page.)
The Marblehead Coalition is made up of the Board of Selectmen, the Task Force Against Discrimination, the Police Department, the Marblehead Racial Justice Team, League of Women Voters, Team Harmony, METCO, Abbot Public Library, Marblehead Museum, Marblehead Schools, and the Marblehead Ministerial Association, among others.
“I hope the forum will begin to create an atmosphere and dialogue of understanding and acceptance throughout our community,” said Helaine Hazlett, cochair of the Marblehead Task Force Against Discrimination and a member of the ADL New England Regional Board.
“With the numerous acts of antisemitism and racism in Marblehead over the past several months, it is not enough to hold vigils and marches,” Hazlett said. “In order to stop the rash of acts of bigotry and discrimination, it is time for education.”
“As a former member of the Marblehead School Committee,” Hazlett added, “it saddens me to know that the perpetrator of the swastika incident [within the police department] is a graduate of Marblehead High School.” Hazlett was referring to the officer who resigned following allegations he scratched a swastika into the paint of a fellow officer’s vehicle in July 2019. The incident remained hidden from the public for 18 months, which caused an uproar in town and led to a six-month investigation.
“We just want to give the community information and bring people in who can listen and talk about the issues at hand,” said Jackie Belf-Becker, chairwoman of the Marblehead Board of Selectmen.
“The forum, Marblehead Speaks Out Against Hate,” said Town Administrator Jason Silva, “is meant to continue the dialogue and efforts to educate the community on incidents of hate and why it’s critically important to do all that we can to combat and prevent these types of incidents from occurring.”
“To quote Nelson Mandela,” said Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey, “education is the most powerful weapon [we] can use to change the world.”
Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El gave his Rosh Hashanah sermon on ways to combat antisemitism.
In his sermon, Meyer drew from the words of the Talmudic sage, Hillel, who said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
The first sentence of Hillel’s saying relates to the need for “our response to Jew-hatred to be Jewish pride,” including the need to give students tools to stand up to the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement and other expressions of anti-Israel animus, Meyer said.
The second relates to the belief that “joining in association with other groups pursuing the causes of social justice must be an ongoing strategy for fighting antisemitism.”
Meyer told the congregation he will be part of the panel discussion for Marblehead Speaks Out Against Hate. “As the tide of antisemitism continues to rise, the sage wisdom of Hillel offers a timeless compass to help guide our responses today,” he said.
“Effectively responding to acts of hate is a multi-step process: acknowledge, condemn and action,” said Deborah Coltin, executive director of the Lappin Foundation in Salem. “We cannot be afraid to hold individuals, who spew hatred, accountable. Action plans are key to combating hate. Talking about it as a community as Marblehead is doing is a step in the right direction.”
“Dialogue, education, and accountability are effective tools in combating hate,” said Megan Sweeney, cofounder of the PowerUP Coalition, a diverse group which promotes increased civic engagement in town. “Marblehead’s acknowledgement of the legacy of trauma hate crimes inflict is a first step in an ongoing process.”
In an email, Marblehead attorney Anne Stevenson was critical of the effort.
“This ‘anti-racist’ effort appears to be more deflection from the problems deeply troubling the Marblehead police department which involve routine hiring and personnel policies which discriminate against women, persons of color, and those who practice the Jewish religion,” she said.
She added: “If you are looking for solutions to Marblehead’s ‘hate problem’ you will have to first address problems within the same police department tasked with solving these crimes. Marblehead has no interest in doing that.”