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Brattleboro Department of Public Works personnel replace a stop sign with hateful vandalism.

Voices / Viewpoint

What more could we have done?

Within the past two weeks, stop signs in both Putney and Brattleboro have been defaced with a swastika — a sign of threat and, for some, of terror

Rev. Dr. Lise Sparrow is chair of religious affairs for the Windham County NAACP and is a member of the Social Equity Caucus of the Vermont Legislature.


This week has marked Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — a special time preceding two other important holy days, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, which also take place in September. I am sure I join with many in the local community in wishing all our Jewish neighbors a safe and prosperous new year.

Even so, this time of heightened awareness and celebration can also be a time of heightened risk for our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Within the past two weeks, stop signs in both Putney and Brattleboro have been defaced with a swastika — a sign of threat and, for some, of terror.

Schools nearby and throughout Vermont regularly report acts of anti-Semitism against students. Far north from here, in Swanton, racist, anti-Semitic, and other hate speech was recently scraped and carved into a mural that had been painted as a way to cover up previous vandalism.

In Brattleboro a few summers ago, swastikas appeared on sidewalks and anti-Semitic flyers appeared on telephone poles, all of which were immediately taken down and replaced with affirmations of love.

And a few summers before that, clergy worked together for hours with steel wool to scrub anti-Semitic language that had been painted on rocks at the Quarry on Route 30.

But still, these signs of hatred continue to emerge and, significantly, this year at a time when the Jewish community is most likely to gather and be visible.

Just as the weeds in our gardens flourish when we turn away, hatred, ignorance, and prejudice grow unfettered when we fail to pluck them out. We might take steps to root out one form of hatred, only to see it emerge in a different form.

We can come to love some while failing to see and understand others. Our vision of a loving diverse community needs to be embodied by actions that root out diverse forms hatred and foster love in many forms.

* * *

Today, as I wished a friend a blessed new year, I couldn’t help but think about the swastika in Putney and to lament the week-long delay in replacing it.

I had to ask myself: What more could we have done?

If we are constantly replacing signs and painting over misdeeds, is that enough to make our neighbors feel safe? Or is it a form of sidestepping, or whitewashing, the presence of those who harbor ignorance and hatred?

Are we working to hold people accountable for what some see as nonsense and others see as signs of danger?

Have we asked our neighbors what they need to feel safe? Have we been good neighbors and listened compassionately when they voice a sense of threat?

And have we then taken action as allies in support? Are we active or passive bystanders when hate rears its head among us?

After World War II, we — along with other nations — pledged to be vigilant, to prevent the types of hatred that led to the genocide of 11 million people.

I fear we need to renew that promise to ourselves and others and remind ourselves to work in systemic and in neighborly ways to assure all our neighbors have the hope of a prosperous and safe new year.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #629 (Wednesday, September 8, 2021). This story appeared on page C1.

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