More than a dozen faith leaders, police and government officials from East Cobb joined Monday in the lobby of Temple Kol Emeth in a unified response to recent anti-Semitic graffiti in the nearby suburban residential community.
Just down the road, a handful of incidents were reported to police last month of swastikas painted outside neighborhoods on fences, utility poles, a political sign and stone pillars. Also scrawled in the area was the acronym MAGA, which stands for Make America Great Again, a slogan used by President Donald Trump’s political campaign.
Police continue to investigate the crimes, Chief Tim Cox told those gathered Monday.
At the gathering, the Anti-Defamation League announced it would begin Becoming an Ally sessions Sept. 9 to train the public how to respond and stand up to hatred and bias. Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of ADL’s Southern division, said the training states “loudly, emphatically and clearly that this hate does not define this community. We are taking action to ensure it is not our future.”
She said the two-hour bias training sessions will teach the public how to respond to hate, how to spot implicit and explicit examples and what to do if it escalates. In addition, the facilitators will provide strategies and basic skills to be an ally and stand up when incidents occur, to “continue to fight hate for good, to build a community that is truly intolerant of hate.”
Among the speakers who lent their voices to the one-hour event at Kol Emeth were leaders of Muslim and Christian houses of worship. Soumaya Khalifa, executive director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, didn’t speak but shared with the AJT she joined the interfaith community to show support. “I wanted to be here with my Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity. Any hate that is targeted at the Jewish community is targeted at my community as well. We need to be together.”
Also in attendance was Brad Buyce, a member of Kol Emeth and the Kings Farm neighborhood where swastikas were spray painted last month. He reported the vandalism to his rabbi, Larry Sernovitz, who subsequently organized Monday’s gathering.
Buyce said that when he called to report the swastikas, he was basically looking for advice how to explain it to his young children, “how to talk about it, how to frame it.” The rabbi told him “in general, this too shall pass. We need to stay together.” The next day words became action. The initial show of community solidarity was neighbors of different faiths coming together to clean up the vandalism outside the subdivision’s entrance Aug. 23, Buyce said.
“We knew it couldn’t stay. It goes against what we believe in as a community, what we are taught; it’s an affront. We had a very visceral reaction and it ended up being a community day to meet our neighbors and do some good work.” He said the effort, intent on removing the graffiti, in essence, “completely neutralized” the vandalism.
Sernovitz, who led Monday’s gathering, pointed to a Torah scroll in the Marietta synagogue’s lobby that survived the Holocaust while the residents in the Eastern Europe village were killed. “We stand here today representing millions of our brothers and sisters that perished in the Holocaust.” The gathering recognized that swastikas, a symbol associated with Nazis, continues to evoke painful memories for Jews, he said.
Anat Sulton-Dadon, Israel Consul General to the Southeast, said that despite COVID, anti-Semitism has continued. “Over 75 years after the Holocaust, ‘Never Again’ does not resonate with everyone.” She said she’s concerned “because anti-Semitism is not only confined to the past, it is still on the rise.”
Despite the recent signs of hatred, Sernovitz stressed a need for love and education, quoting noted Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. “Hatred is like a cancer and it spreads if not stopped,” the Marietta rabbi said.
He and others reiterated the call to never forget the Holocaust, sending a strong message that Cobb County is no place for hate, and stressing the need to educate the community that it’s not OK to dehumanize others, Sernovitz said.
“’Love your neighbor as yourself’ is mentioned 36 times in the Torah, 36 times, more than any other commandment,” he continued. For that reason, the community needs to love deeply and show that “we have chosen love over hate, … we’ve chosen to turn ‘the other’ into ‘another.’”
The Reform rabbi closed the program by repeating a statement by Wiesel, “Silence only emboldens the oppressor.”
In a follow up conversation, Padilla-Goodman told the AJT about the new interfaith initiative starting next week. “This is not a moment to roll over these events. It’s a great learning opportunity, [a chance] to build bridges and build community.”
After the program, Sernovitz told the AJT, “We want people to change their hearts and minds and do the right thing. That’s critical in all of this.” He said the incidents in East Cobb are indicative of what’s happening all over the country. “To be silent is to abrogate our responsibility as leaders.”
Cobb County police asks anyone with information about the vandalism to call Precinct 4 criminal investigation unit at 770-499-4184.