Jackie Congedo — In Conversation
Finding hope in solidarity
As we found ourselves full of hope with the start of the New Year, that hope was shattered for some on Tuesday, January 3, when news broke that a swastika was found on the sign of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Clifton campus. The news spread like wildfire, via social media and the news media. Fortunately, the actual swastika was removed promptly and there was no indication that this carried a larger threat. We are grateful for the swift and serious response of the Cincinnati Police Department.
At the same time, this act struck a nerve that would make it seem this incident was anything but minor. The swastika carries a painful past that symbolizes hate, dehumanization, destruction, and loss. Its placement on the sign of a sacred institution that has played a critical role in the Cincinnati community and in shaping Judaism in America only elevated the significance of this hateful act.
Despite the incident, one thing that we can draw inspiration from is the outpouring of support that came from near and far. The reaction from the Cincinnati community and beyond has been incredible. Below you will see a selection of the many messages of support from elected officials, major community organizations, and interfaith leaders from near and far. So while this incident may have broken our hope, the response should mend it. I thank all those who were and are standing in solidarity with HUC-JIR. Today it is the Jewish community, tomorrow it may be another and we need to stand up for all those impacted by hate. If we do this, we can all hold onto our hope.
“We must stand in solidarity with our friends at HUC-JIR and make clear there is not place for this in our society.”
-Senator Rob Portman
“Ohio will not tolerate hate. We stand with HUC-JIR.”
-Senator Sherrod Brown:
“As a community of interfaith leaders at the University of Cincinnati, we wish to express our dismay, hurt, and anger that someone would take such a vile and evil approach of expression as displayed upon your sign along Clifton Avenue this morning. The symbol used is recognized for its historically evil and violent intent. We collectively denounce this type of behavior.
Please accept our support of your mission at Hebrew Union College and your place as an important community member in Clifton and Cincinnati.
We pray for Shalom.”
-Sharon Stern, Hillel
Benji Sayre, Wesley United Methodist
Rabbi Yitz Creeger, Chabad
Daniel Pirkle, H2O Church
Michael, Schreiner and Leslie Keener, St. Monica / St. George Church
Alice Connor and Jamie Noyd, The Edge House
Anthony Jones and Justine Hatton, University Christian Church
Amina Darwish, UC Muslim Students Association
Ken Dillard, Baptist Collegiate Ministry
“This act of hate perpetrated against our brothers and sisters at Hebrew Union College is an attack on our entire community. I am deeply offended and disturbed by these actions. The City is committed to using all of our resources to bring these criminals to justice. As we work to build a more welcoming and inclusive City, we will not stand for this intimidation.“
-Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley
“This morning, the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) was vandalized. The sign at the entrance to our Cincinnati Campus was defaced with a swastika. The paint was easily removed and the sign quickly repaired. The incident is under investigation by local police.
For more than 140 years, HUC-JIR has been devoted to the values of pluralism, open dialogue, and the pursuit of knowledge. We pride ourselves on being a vital and engaged part of the Cincinnati community. Our academic institution of Jewish higher education lives, teaches, and brings the values of diversity and tolerance to the community, the nation, and the larger world. Our faculty, students, staff, and alumni, proudly representing all faiths and backgrounds, work together to build a just and humane world.
We will not let this act of hate alter our important work. We are indebted to the people of Cincinnati who have stood by us for generations and who have offered their support again today. Tomorrow, a new day will dawn and the values we hold dear will continue to light the way.”
-Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
“Rabbi Daniel Bogard posted a picture on social media of a swastika spray-painted across the welcome sign of Hebrew Union College. He included a caption: “We say ‘not in my country,’ or ‘not in my city,’ or ‘not at my school,’ but this IS our country, and it IS my city, and this IS the quiet and peaceful campus that I spent my rabbinical school years at, defiled with a swastika. So what will we do now? What will our response be?”
This is deeply troubling to me both as a Cincinnatian and as a Christian minister. The rabbi is right – this is our country and our city. As much as we may be ashamed of this, choosing to hide this shame or not address this profound ugliness only serves to further the agenda of silencing valuable voices in our city.
Many Christians may look at a picture like this and think “disgusting,” or “this is really too bad.” While it is all of those things, I believe that these comments only scratch the surface of the problem. This is something that we, in our privilege, may struggle to understand, and in many ways never comprehend: This is act is much more than “heartbreaking” or “sad to see.” This is an aggression that serves to terrorize our Jewish sisters and brothers.
This anti-Semitism is more than just spray paint on a sign at a local college. This is targeting people. This is intended to strike fear into the hearts of our neighbors, friends and loved ones. Those of us who claim our Christian faith should not and cannot stand for this. The fact that there was a swastika spray-painted across the welcome sign of Hebrew Union College here in Cincinnati is an indictment of the culture that fosters that activity. That dominant culture is, by and large, our Christian culture.
We have a lot of work to do in order to fix ourselves, but it is work that must be done. If our response is, “Most Christians aren’t like that,” then we have missed the point. Instead of focusing on those who are experiencing fear, we have shifted the conversation to comfort our own fragile faith expressions. This is unacceptable.
We must speak out against this hatred and bigotry in our pulpits, in our pews and in our personal relationships. We must reach out to Jewish people in our work, school and community organizations to tell them that we are on their side. We must speak out not only against those who would commit such a heinous act, but against those who would shrug it off as a childish prank.
Rabbi Bogard is asking what we will do now and what our response will be – and I don’t have a good answer. I can’t do something that will ensure this never happens again. I can’t promise that my response will put an end to hatred.
But I can do something. I can respond some way. I can reach out to those who need to hear a gospel of love and acceptance. I can do my part to show the world that the Christ that I follow, who for the record was Jewish, a leader of love and a prince of peace. I can listen to my friends who are rabbis and leaders in the Jewish community and respond in ways that they feel would be helpful and supportive to them. It may not seem like much, but it is a hell of a lot more than doing nothing. Doing nothing gives permission for this culture to continue.”
-Rev. Alan Dicken, Senior Pastor at Carthage Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), published in Jan. 5 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer
“As we begin a new year of hope, with a renewed opportunity to affirm and live out our values, I want to take this opportunity to express our support for, and solidarity with, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) following yesterday’s incident of vandalism on their Cincinnati Campus, a neighbor to our TriHealth Good Samaritan Hospital.
Respect for All People, Response to Community Needs and Valuing Differences are more than words at TriHealth; they are the core values that guide our faith-based healing ministry and provide us with a sense of purpose and mission in our work to improve the lives of all those we serve.
Today, we stand with HUC-JIR, the broader Cincinnati community and all those impacted by this incident, to support our common values of respect and diversity and to promote healing and spiritual renewal. And we pledge our continued commitment to treat all with dignity, kindness, compassion and respect.”
-Mark C. Clement. President and CEO of Tri-Health
“As we embrace a new year, we are excited about the opportunities that lay ahead as we continue to fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community.
We fight for those who need a voice and those whose names we do not know.
This is why the act of vandalism symbolizing hate, displayed at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) cannot be accepted.
We stand in solidarity with our community partners at HUC-JIR and everyone affected by this terrible display of intolerance and will continue our work toward creating an inclusive and equitable environment for all.
We must LIVE UNITED against hate and intolerance.”
-United Way of Greater Cincinnati
“In much of the training and advice around responding to anti-Semitism, we are taught to respond quietly and carefully. Our insouciance is intentional, if not completely authentic. We are horrified and yet we diminish the crime in order to keep from elevating the voice of hate, and offering legitimacy to their identity and catering to to the offender’s craving for attention. Yet, in our quiet response, we lose something, too. We lose the ability to talk candidly about pain and how an open sign of hate triggers the darkest memories of our people. When we turn inward we lose the chance for our allies to publicly embrace us and the opportunity to talk about the reality of being a religious minority in our country.
It’s true that the swastika painted on the sign of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion this past Tuesday was easy to remove. Within hours the paint was gone, and the sign restored. However, the knowledge that something hateful had been there, on the welcoming sign of a seminary that ordains rabbis and has been a dedicated beacon of inclusion and justice for 150 years, remains. A paint, though easily washable, serving as a reminder that we are now entering an age where it is OK to hate and it makes sense to fear.
One swastika does not mean that our country is crawling with neo-Nazis. The problem is it’s not just one swastika. It’s the public menorah in Phoenix, that was twisted and re-soldered one Chanukah night to look like a swastika. It’s the small Jewish community in Whitefish, Montana, that has been targeted by anti-Semitic demonstrations. It’s the demolished wall of a Mosque in Seattle; it’s the threatening letters sent to a mosque in Los Angeles; it’s the attacks on LGTQ people all over our country. Intolerance, hate and fear do not belong to one people, or one place.
Hate is everywhere right now, which means love must be everywhere, too. No matter how quiet we are, hate is still hate. That means that right now, more than ever, we need to know where love resides. If hate is promulgated by the lack of knowledge of the other, then we must do a better job of knowing one another. Visit a synagogue, a church, a mosque. Go and meet your neighbors and show us love. Let us know that just as our country is rediscovering a voice that tolerates hate, we are building our own love army, that protects, defends and celebrates difference.”
–Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom, published in Jan. 6 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer
“We wish to comment on the recent swastika incident at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) this past week.
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim members of the Trialogue condemn this despicable act of defilement of one of our community’s iconic institutions and all that HUC-JIR stands for. This abhorrent example, and right here at home, of the surge of intolerance sweeping our country.
The recent incident at HUC-JIR, barely a month after this same offensive symbol defaced the wall of the vandalized apartment of an interracial couple in Price Hill, is troubling evidence of this re-emergence of overt racism and religious bigotry in our community.
We’re not alone. Data from the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center confirm a significant spike in hate crimes since the Nov. 8th election. It would appear that it’s now open season on religious and racial minorities who in recent years have been the targets of quieter resentment and subtler prejudice. However, an alienating and divisive Presidential campaign characterized by anti-social rhetoric seems to have emboldened certain members of our society who are convinced that the long overdue advancements made by other have been at their expense.
Cincinnati is a community fortunate to have relatively few hate crimes, even though any is too many. We take pride in our efforts to bring about an inclusive, equitable and just community for all who live and work here. Clearly, we’re not yet there. But we have made progress in recent years on many fronts, and what we don’t want is for these hard earned gains to be reversed by a backlash from bigots and reprisals from the resentful. We must pay heed.
It is precisely because of our concern for the possibility of such hateful acts that the Trialogue submitted an open letter to our President-Elect last month, requesting him to set a tone of inclusiveness, equality and cohesion in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Resurrecting old hatreds and fostering new ones will only weaken our country. We need to hear this message from our leadership, now more than ever, while also taking these acts of hatred seriously, being vigilant, and standing firm and together against them. We can never lose sight of our common humanity and respect for al faiths, as envisioned by our funding fathers. The Bridges of Faith Trialogue is committed to defending this legacy.”
–Bridges of Faith Trialogue