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After two swastikas, calls for tolerance

By Nathan Yeo
Published: November 2008

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Following last week’s discovery of a two swastikas at places of worship in Newton, about 200 members of the Newton community gathered at an outdoor rally Sunday at Temple Shalom in West Newton to denounce hatred and promote equality and tolerance.

Members of Temple Shalom’s congregation discovered a black swastika spray painted on their temple sign as they arrived for bar and bat mitzvahs on November 15. On Wednesday, passersby also discovered another swastika drawn in marker and inside of a heart on the curb near Eliot Church. Both acts of vandalism were widely denounced as hate crimes.

“We’re incredibly touched, honored and feel embraced by the outpouring of support from the community, Temple Shalom Rabbi Eric Gurvis, the rally’s main speaker, said to the assembled crowd of his congregants, local residents, police officers, and elected officials. “This is, as I see it, Newton at its best.

Mayor David Cohen, who prayed at Temple Shalom after hearing of the incident, denounced the vandalism and the hate he said it represented.

“The only thing we will not tolerate is intolerance, he said.

Cohen also called on the community to take the appearance of the swastika, which he called the “epitome and embodiment of evil, and turn it into a renewed dedication to diversity and tolerance in the city.

“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to diversity, he said. “Not merely a tolerance of differences among us, but an appreciation of them.

The Newton Police are still investigating the nature of the two hate crimes. So far, they have said the two incidents do not appear to be connected.

The City of Newton has pledged a reward of $4,000 for anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the perpetrators of the hate crime. The New England Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and a member of the Second Church of Newton provided the funds.

ADL member and Temple Shalom congregant Laurie Gainz said that the vandalism was a “reminder that intolerance can be found even in the nicest communities.

Reverend Richard Malmberg of the Second Church in Newton and former chairman of the Newton Interfaith Clergy Association also spoke at the rally, describing the swastika as a “cowardly and vulgar act of vandalism.

“We stand together so that the perpetrator knows that he stands alone and will be held accountable, he said.

Rabbi Gurvis also stressed the need for the rally to serve a “useful purpose beyond denouncing hate. If the community remained “simply angry about the hate crime, he said, nothing would become of it.

“We need to turn our outrage into blessing, Gurvis said.

Gurvis recounted of the story of Isaac, which when translated from Hebrew contains the word “blessing 34 times – Isaac was the first to bless his children, according to the Bible. Gurvis spoke to the need to create a “community of blessing in Newton where city members share their disagreements with “civility and respect, rather than in a divided city filled with “rancor where people might commit hate crimes like the swastika on Temple Shalom’s sign.

Gurvis cited letters to the editors and opinion pieces in the local paper as evidence of an increasingly divided city, as well committee meetings.

“We are better the ugly and hateful rhetoric that is often a part of our city, our country and our world, Gurvis said.

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