Local clergy in Middlebury have planned a Community Gathering of Love and Hope on Saturday in response to vandalism at the county's Jewish congregation, as well as other incidents across the nation.
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The event is a response to the discovery of two small swastikas drawn on the door of Havurah, the Addison County Jewish Congregation, found in the days after the election of Donald Trump for president.
At the community gathering, people will add to a wall of Post-it notes with positive messages, an installation based on a Subway "therapy" project started by a New York City artist.
Havurah Education Director Sarit Katzew, who discovered the vandalism, has worked with the students at the Hebrew school to create a heart out of neon-colored Post-it notes.
“[It’s] less about fears and anything politically-slanted, but more about messages of hope," she explained. "If someone enters our building and they’ve been having a hard time, feeling challenged these last few weeks with the election results or with their own encountering of anti-Semitism or homophobia or Islamophobia, any of that, what are some messages we could write that would let them know we stand with them, we support them, and we want to lift them up?"
The swastika vandalism was one of two hate incidents in Vermont reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups. Their most recent report tallied 867 hate incidents since the election.
Senior Fellow Mark Potok says it’s part of a rash of celebratory violence and hate as a direct response to the election.
“People who paint swastikas on synagogues, even post-Trump, are not going to do so in public," he says. "It’s a crime, at the end of the day. But I think what has happened is they feel legitimized."
Middlebury Police are still investigating the vandalism at Havurah. Potok, of SPLC, says these sorts of crimes are most likely the act of an individual rather than an organized hate group. And they often go unsolved.
“Victims of these hate crimes are made to feel very isolated and start to feel like the entire society around them is somehow against them,” he said. “There are few things [better] — other than solving crimes ... than to really, as neighbors, stand by the victims of these attacks.”
Katzew says Havurah has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from all around Vermont.
“It’s just nice to know that the community stands behind us. And I think the way we have chosen to handle it and move forward has been really important and meaningful,” she said. “It showed us how this community really feels and that people are willing come out of the woodwork to stand up for us and let us know that it's not acceptable.”
In addition to collecting messages of love at Saturday's event, the congregation hopes to collect donations for the local non-profit that fights poverty. While the event is organized by clergy, they want everyone to come, regardless of religious affiliation, to join hands and stand united.
The Community Gathering of Love and Hope will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Middlebury Town Green.