Rabbi David Reiner: Racist graffiti will not keep me away from Ballard Park this summer

Rabbi David Reiner submitted the following message to The Press which he shared with his congregation at Shir Shalom following Wednesday's discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti in Ballard Park:

It saddens me to share another incident involving racist graffiti in our community.  I was informed by the Ridgefield Police Department that there were a number of racist symbols and slurs found at Ballard Park this morning, June 14, 2017, including symbols and statements of antisemitism as well as language targeting African Americans and others.  The graffiti was documented by the police and has been removed by the Ridgefield Parks and Recreation Department.  There was no specific reference or threat to our congregation or our members.  Nevertheless, this is a disappointing and troubling incident and we continue to review and improve our security procedures in consultation with local authorities.

I have met with an officer from Ridgefield Police Department and I am confident that they are taking this incident seriously and will conduct a thorough investigation.  I am also reaching out to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, national organizations that offer support and keep track of similar incidents.

As I think about this latest incident I am sad but not scared, upset but not pained.  This is hurtful and offensive, but it will not keep me away Ballard Park this summer, where I will enjoy CHIRP concerts and play with our toddler.  Whether the graffiti was motivated by ignorance, arrogance, or animus, I remain hopeful for a brighter future. Leonard P. Zakim, a religious and civil rights leader, wrote in Confronting Anti-Semitism: A Practical Guide “As with other forms of bigotry, anti-Semitism ignored or tolerated behaves like a slow cancer: if untreated, it will grow…”  Ignoring this incident or dismissing it with the rationalization that “kids will be kids” will permit bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and intolerance to fester in our midst.  As I wrote to you in March following a similar incident at Ridgefield High School, “Installing more cameras will not remove hatred or ignorance from the hearts and minds of the perpetrators.”

We must hope and work for a brighter future when ignorance has been replaced by knowledge, bigotry replaced by love and caring.

Today, on Flag Day, we salute the national symbol that embodies our motto of E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one.  The stars and stripes come together to represent the unity of our nation, and remind me that our nation is a beacon of hope and freedom where inclusion and caring ultimately overcome bigotry and intolerance.

This week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha (Numbers 13-15) includes an account of the Israelites, feeling dejected in the midst of their wilderness wanderings, clamoring to return to their past lives in Egypt.  The Israelites cry out “If only we had died in the land of Egypt!” (Numbers 14:2).  The editors of Eitz Hayim Torah Commentary observe, “A sense of helplessness, a feeling of inadequacy, and inability to deal with one’s problems can lead to a person’s giving up…In contrast, a sense of hope in the possibility of a brighter future, a belief that God can help us to do what we find hard to do unaided, can banish that sense of futility…” (Eitz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, page 845).  When confronted with another anonymous incident we may feel inadequate and perceive that responding is futile, especially if we struggle to place blame.  But our best response is to confront hatred and ignorance and to work together with a sense of hope for a brighter future.  Following the swastika graffiti in Ballard Park in November, many came together to reclaim that space and fill the sidewalks with symbols of love and peace that endured far longer than a swastika quickly washed away.  This summer let us come together in Ballard Park and again reclaim that space, confronting bigotry and intolerance with our presence, celebrating life and filling the park with joy and hope for a brighter future.  Let us come together as a community this summer to celebrate Shabbat, to show that our Jewish community is strong and not afraid, to pray for a time when every day is filled with hope, knowledge, and peace.

I look forward to seeing you in Ballard Park and at our synagogue this summer.

With warm wishes,

Rabbi David L. Reiner