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North Suburban News

Increase in Anti-Semitic Incidents in Reading Coincides with State Increase

Nov 01, 2018 06:03AM ● By Lisa Redmond

READING – In a tersely- worded joint statement, Town Manager Bob LeLacheur and Deputy Police Chief David Clark this week condemned the recent acts of vandalism that have targeted both Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities in Reading.

Reading police are actively investigating recent incidents of vandalism, including swastikas found at Reading Memorial High School and the two middle schools, as well as an anti-LGBTQ message found in a bathroom stall at the high school on Oct. 30.

While some people may view these actions as “pranks,’’ LeLacheur stressed, “Let me be clear – these are acts of hate.’’

These incidents of graffiti - nearly two dozen dating back to 2017 - are particularly distressing in the wake of the Oct. 27 shooting of Jews during services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people were killed, seven injured, in what is being called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

According to Clark, these acts of vandalism are “as much a violation of our values as they are a violation of the law.’’

Both men noted that the Reading School Department has done “a great job’’ bringing these issues into the classroom as an opportunity to teach and learn, the statement read.

Last year, Dr. Anna Ornstein, a holocaust survivor, spoke with students at an assembly hosted by the student club, A World of Difference, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. Students and staff also trained as upstanders and RMHS hosted the Unity Project, a powerful interactive public art project about embracing differences.

This year, students began the school year with Community Day, which was an entire day devoted to the school’s core values and to build a positive RMHS community.

A World of Difference Club, along with several student leadership organizations, such as Peer Leaders, Rocket Ambassadors and Student Council, have more training planned throughout the year.

But LeLacheur stated the unified message “does not seem to be resonating with all members of the community.’’

Reading police have partnered with the Human Relations Advisory Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Reading Public Schools, Reading Embracing Diversity (RED) and other town groups to ensure community safety and to catch those who are criminally responsible.

After several swastikas were found drawn in pencil on the legs of a science table at the high school on Oct. 19, RED held a rally on the Reading town common to support the town’s Jewish community, and to oppose anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.

RED member Anne Schwartz said this grassroots organization was created in response to the incidents of anti-Semitism in town. Since then, RED has been “forging alliances’’ with many of the community groups, police, the schools and local government to end the message of hate by stressing tolerance and diversity, she said.

While Reading has a reputation as a “nice town,’’ it not known for its diversity, Schwartz said. The challenge, she said, is to change the culture in town and to send a message that spreading hate is “not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.’’

The issue is personal for Schwartz, whose 17-year-old daughter, Tali Shorr, an RMHS senior, found a swastika drawn on a classroom floor in May of 2017. As the hate graffiti continues to pop up, Schwartz said her daughter is “terrified and doesn’t want to go to school.’’

At the RED rally, Shorr responded to people who dismiss the anti-Semitic graffiti as a joke. “The deaths of six million people is not a joke, ‘’ referring to Nazi Germany’s extermination of Jews in the Holocaust.

Rabbi Gregory Hersh of Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield was also at the rally. Hersh said the person or people responsible for these incidents “may be trying to be funny, but seeing these symbols instills fear and terror in Jewish students.’’

His temple draws Jews from around the area, including Reading. Hersh got involved in this issue a year ago when anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at the Reading Public Library.

While the community meetings and rallies are great for unity, they are “preaching to the choir. The people who come already believe this baseless hatred is wrong,’’ Hersh said. His fear is that the vandalism could escalate into something far worse.

In the Pittsburgh shooting, “no one saw that coming,’’ Hersh said. And while he hopes that the vandalism in Reading is “isolated incidents,’’ he said that since 2017 the Anti-Defamation League has seen a “real uptick’’ in anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts in 2017.

In a February 2018 press release, an ADL audit of Anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 shows 177 anti-Semitic incidents reported in Massachusetts, including harassment, vandalism, school incidents and threats made against Jewish institutions. This represents a 42 percent increase over 2016.

There were 93 reported incidents in schools in 2017, an increase of more than 86 percent compared to 2016, which saw 50 incidents.

For people who want to get involved, the following events are being held:

·         A Community Candlelight Vigil will be held at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3 at the front entrance of Reading Memorial High School to “in support of human rights, in celebration of diversity and in opposition to hate and bigotry.’’

·         On Nov. 2 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield, 120 Chestnut St., Wakefield, will hold a Solidarity Shabbat: Remembering Pittsburgh.

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