Hundreds Gather To Call For Unity After Desecration Of Jewish Center
By: Laura M. Reckford
“This meeting is a call to action,” Blake Blaze, Barnstable High School senior class president, said to the packed crowd in the school’s Knight Lecture Hall Tuesday night. Blake was one of more than a dozen speakers at the Unity Rally organized in response to last week’s vandalism at the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center, across the street from the high school. “Acts of destruction should not be tolerated,” he said.
The rally was a time to stand together, and even more importantly, several speakers said, to make it clear that Barnstable will not stand silently in the face of such actions. Filling the hall were young and old, black and white, students and families, Barnstable residents and those who traveled from neighboring towns. As the hundreds of chairs in the lecture hall filled up, people sat on the floor and in front of the stage. People lined the walls of the hall, and those who could not fit in the room stood just outside the door. Speakers stressed unity against hatred. They gave speeches promoting tolerance and one speaker gave a call for mercy for the boys who committed the acts. Three teen-agers, whose names are being withheld because they are minors, were arrested shortly after the crime was discovered last Wednesday. They were charged with four felonies, including committing a hate crime.
Blake and other speakers motivated the crowd to standing ovations, chants, and applause with calls to combat ignorance and intolerance.
After the rally, dozens of participants crossed West Main Street from the high school property to the Jewish center across the street carrying small lit candles and standing in a prayerful vigil.
Blake urged his classmates in the crowd, to, in the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see.”
He said the majority of students were “disgusted” when they heard about the vandalism at the Jewish center. He said the acts should not mean that students at the high school should all be painted with a broad brush.
But, he said, “It’s naive to say these acts are isolated. The responsibility falls on all of us.”
Blake told the crowd, “During this difficult time, our greatest challenge is to combat ignorance in all of its forms. To give up is to admit defeat.”
He told his classmates to do two things, to apologize to those who may have been particularly hurt by the acts of vandalism and to “speak up when you hear racial and ethnic epithets and take a stand.”
Town Councilor Janice Barton of Marstons Mills, who is co-chairwoman of the Barnstable No Place For Hate committee, also picked up the theme that the acts of vandalism should not reflect on all students at the high school. She stressed the good in students, which was on display at a breakfast last month during Peace Week in which 130 Barnstable High School students were honored for “acts of kindness and works of promoting tolerance at the school.”
The Barnstable chapter of No Place for Hate was founded four years ago, and Ms. Barton said at that time she heard from some in the community who said the town did not need such a group.
“Unfortunately, the events last week show we do. We need an active community that stands for peace and justice.” She added, “You can’t just want tolerance. You have to work for it.”
She challenged the audience to stay involved and invited them to meetings of the No Place For Hate Committee, which meets the second Thursday of each month at 4 PM at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
Town Council President Fred Chirigotis of Centerville told the crowd,“We are friends, neighbors, family. We will not tolerate acts of hate.” State Representative Matthew Patrick reminded those gathered to think of the boys who committed the crime. “We can’t forget about them and their future.” He pointed to violence in the media as an influence on children and said “to err is human, to forgive divine.”
When it came time for Rabbi Yekusiel Alperowitz to speak, the audience gave him a standing ovation. He said that the most accurate measure of a society is not its crimes but the response that follows. He thanked people in the community for their response to the crimes through phone calls to him, e-mails, contributions, and their attendance at the rally, which he called “a unified call to condemn such senseless acts of vandalism.”
He said he wanted to hold the rally at the school “to confront students head on.”
His message to all community leaders was, “We need to speak to youth and instill a system of values. Teaching ethics and morality must be placed on our priority list.”
The rabbi also announced a new Good Deed Award for Cape Cod teen-agers, and students applauded and cheered.
Chief Paul MacDonald told the crowd that all town of Barnstable police officers receive special training in dealing with hate crimes. He said when officers responded to the Jewish center, they found that it had been “completely torn apart for no real reason,” that robbery was not the intent. The teen-agers downloaded 43 computer images pertaining to Hitler, swastikas and victims of the Holocaust. Two of the teen-agers gave verbal confessions, Chief MacDonald said.
Looking at all the evidence, Chief MacDonald called it, “a textbook hate crime.”
It is the policy of the Barnstable Police Department to defend the civil rights of all citizens, he said, noting the rabbi was not the only victim of this crime. “The entire community, the entire town of Barnstable is a victim of such a crime,” the chief said. “They cannot and will not be tolerated. No other crime takes a greater priority” for the police department.
Besides Blake, other students participating in the rally were Kristopher Barbato, a senior who sang the national anthem, and Daniel Orth, a junior who played Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on the piano.
Also giving speeches were Fallon Rice, a sophomore, and Ben Cohen, a senior, who head the student club, ACT, which stands for All Come Together. Fallon said she and her fellow students are “appalled by the actions of our classmates.”
Ben urged fellow students to be activists. “It is possible to make a difference,” he said.
Jennifer Smith of the National Anti-Defamation League said that the large turnout at the high school sends a clear message “that anti-Semitism has no place in your community.” But she cautioned, hatred exists. “At the Anti-Defamation league, we see it all the time.” She led the group in a spirited chant of “Barnstable is no place for hate.”
After the rally, Lois G. Hirshberg of Marstons Mills, a member of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation, said she decided to attend the rally because, “when there is any action of hate, we support reconciliation for the community. We are shocked and devastated and hurt by the incident. We hope the student perpetrators will be able to learn from this incident.”
Theresa and William Holmes of Hyannis said that as lifelong members of the community, they wanted to support the cause of unity. In a lesson on cultural differences, Ms. Holmes went to give Rabbi Alperowitz a hug and then a handshake during the vigil in front of the Jewish center, but he refused both, saying his religion only allowed such physical contact with his wife. Ms. Holmes said she was not at all offended and respected his religion. She said she just wanted to offer her support. Ms. Holmes’ daughter suggested they do that by jumping up and down, which she did.
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