DANVERS – How ironic that the nights of Nov. 8 and 9 marked the 83rd anniversary of the biggest pogrom in Nazi Germany. The 1938 attack is known as Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” which gets its name from the shards that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were destroyed by the Nazis. A total of 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland, and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. During World War II, (1939-45), Hitler and the Nazis implemented their so-called “Final Solution” to what they referred to as the “Jewish problem,” and carried out the systematic murder of some 6 million European Jews in what came to be known as the Holocaust.
I’m sure you can imagine the horror when Jews heard about swastikas found in Holten Richmond Middle School bathrooms in Danvers not once, but on two separate occasions last month. The first antisemitic markings were completely unnerving, especially since their discovery came about on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. No symbol can strike fear in the hearts and minds of Jews everywhere more than the swastika.
With all that has happened in town, the second Vigil for Prayerful Witness and Healing was held Nov. 20, initiated by the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee and the Danvers Interfaith Partnership. The first such event came three years ago following the tragedy at the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were shot and killed while peacefully worshipping during the morning Shabbat service. Their only crime: They were Jewish.
So once again, about 90 people from Danvers and surrounding communities came together last month to “Choose life and acceptance in response to homophobia, racism, and antisemitism in a vigil of inclusion.” All faiths were represented and supported not only by clergy but by state Senator Joan Lovely, state Representative Sally Kerans, Danvers Police Chief Jamie Lovell, and Lieutenant Robert Sullivan.
As someone who has lived in this town since July 1961 when I came here as a new bride, I loved Danvers from the get-go. As a result, you can understand why I was so disappointed at the recent antisemitic attacks that took place in my town. Because my late husband was a pediatrician in Danvers, in order to be on the staff of the former Hunt Hospital one had to live in Danvers or Middleton. And so, we bought our first home on Rowell Road, between Route 114 and Centre Street, not far from our families’ Anshe Sfard and Temple Beth Shalom cemeteries.
I will never forget my invitation to coffee from a Jewish woman shortly after we moved in. It was more of an indictment of my neighboring family, which she told me was antisemitic. Interestingly, these antisemites became so close to my family, my children called them aunt and uncle. They were our dearest friends until they passed away.
Sometimes I believe we create our own problems. Imagination is an amazing thing.
Stories that get passed along may change with each retelling as in the game, “Telephone.” One person starts by whispering a rumor. By the time the message gets to the end, it’s just not the same. Details change, interpretations and bias set in, and the end message often bears no resemblance to the beginning.
Is this what happened in the Danvers High boys’ hockey locker room? I initially thought so but now, I’m not so sure. Is there homophobia behind some of this? Do these stories get embellished with each retelling? Without compelling evidence, with more young men telling their side of the story, how can we judge? I have seen communities caught up in wanting to put a quick fix on everything. We are not ready to judge without more information.
As David Benson, who has lived in Danvers with his family for many years, said: 99 percent of this community is made up of like-minded people who want to do the right thing. It’s perhaps 1 percent of the population from where the problems come from.
I must admit, we’ve been through similar situations before and survived. Years ago, when David McKenna, whose business, John M. Ross and Son, takes care of most of the Jewish cemeteries in the area, once came to the town upset because he saw quite a few toppled headstones in one of the Jewish cemeteries. That’s when the town got together trying to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen again.
Now, as we enter the Hanukkah and Christmas season, let us do so with the hope that people of all faiths will be able to come together in peace and love.
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.