Letter: Recurrence of swastika graffiti is cause for serious concern

Editor's note: The following message was written by Rabbi David Reiner or Congregation Shir Shalom in response to the latest anti-Semitic markings found in Ridgefield this week.

To the Editor:

I was saddened to learn that more swastika graffiti was recently found in Ridgefield at two locations on Main Street:  the Aldrich Museum and the Masonic Lodge.  The Ridgefield Police Department has assured me that there is no cause for alarm and I believe that they are taking these incidents seriously, are conducting a thorough investigation, and are eager to prosecute the person (or people) responsible.  I am in contact with the Anti-Defamation League and will also be reaching out to the leaders of the Aldrich Museum and the Masonic Lodge to share my sadness and offer our support.

As we prepare to celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, I am reminded of a line published in his 1963 sermon anthology, Strength to Love: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  Reverend King believed that light and love and learning are necessary to overcome darkness and hatred and ignorance.

In December I was honored to participate in a day-long retreat for more than 40 Ridgefield town officials (elected leaders and professional department heads) facilitated by the Anti-Defamation League.  The program focused on how our town can better respond to incidents of bigotry and ignorance, recognizing that these impact the entire town, not just the Jewish community.  The recurrence of graffiti — at schools, in the park, and on private property—is a cause of serious concern for town leaders. Prosecuting perpetrators may stop those whose ignorance and hatred has inspired action; responding appropriately to hatred and transforming ignorance into knowing are also necessary.

The retreat and the Anti-Defamation League programs we have been hosting at Congregation Shir Shalom (including the upcoming programs on January 28 for 4th and 5th grade students and parents and March 11 for 6th and 7th grade students and parents) are an important opportunity for us to add light, instill a sense of pride in our students, provoke meaningful conversations among families and town leaders, and respond to hatred, bigotry, and ignorance…and these programs are not a panacea.

I remain disappointed and frustrated after each incident, though I am comforted knowing that I am not alone and that town leaders share my anger and sadness.  Even if the person/people responsible for these swastikas are apprehended, sadly, this will probably not be the last incident of ignorance or bigotry in our community.  Nevertheless, I will not let the darkness or hatred or ignorance of others limit my life or dreams.

Less than a week before he was assassinated, Reverend King delivered a sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in which he said, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Reverend King’s prophetical words offer me comfort and hope:  though ignorance and bigotry create discouraging darkness, we will overcome through our pursuit of justice, knowledge, understanding, and love.

I hope you will join me in adding light and love to our community while celebrating the life of Reverend King this weekend, at our special MLK Shabbat Worship this Friday (January 12th) at 7PM, on Monday, January 15th from 3-4:30PM at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the annual Ridgefield celebration of MLK Day, or by finding a meaningful way to celebrate and honor the memory of Reverend King on your own.

By driving out darkness with light, by banishing hatred with love, by combating ignorance with knowledge, we honor the life and work of Reverend King and will succeed in bettering our community and our world.

With warm wishes for a brighter future,

Rabbi David L. Reiner