As a suburban East Cobb neighborhood recovers from swastikas and political symbols painted on fences outside their entrance last week, a nearby synagogue and the Anti-Defamation League organized an interfaith community response for 10 a.m. Monday at Temple Kol Emeth. The outdoor event, closed to the public because of social distancing concerns, will bring together interfaith leaders from metro Atlanta and Cobb County officials to respond to the vandalism.
The purpose of a unified response is to take a strong stand against hatred and educate the community, according to Kol Emeth’s Rabbi Larry Sernovitz. He said the vandalism was more than just anti-Semitism. It signaled a sensitivity to and the frailty of the survival of the Jewish community.
“We are using this as a teachable moment. We are trying to be thoughtful and proactive about how damaging and hurtful this is to the Jewish community … Ultimately we are all in this together.”
Sernovitz said the response is more comprehensive than just punishing the perpetrators. It will address “what it means and how we should be acting as a community as a whole when these kinds of things occur.”
For the most part, he said, the East Cobb Jewish community lives in peace and harmony and he doesn’t believe hatred is spreading locally.
“At this moment in history, tensions are high and anti-Semitism continues to be on the rise. It’s a challenging political climate,” Sernovitz continued. “Given the situation of rising anti-Semitism, we want to truly come out as East Cobb and say this is no place for hate. What we do in our response is important. What we are seeing around the country is not just protest, but protest to make change.”
Further stressing the response to the vandalism as a “teachable moment” and “learning opportunity,” he said, “this is our moment to come together and turn the ‘other’ into ‘another’.”
At the Kings Farm neighborhood, residents came together Sunday to clean up the graffiti on the fences outside their subdivision. Among them was Pam Buchalter. She estimated there are about 10 Jewish families in the upscale neighborhood of about 90 homes. “It was upsetting to me. I have never experienced anything like this and so close to home. I know anti-Semitism is out there, but this was literally in my back yard. Yes, it was scary, but I think it would be scarier if it was my actual house. It felt a little less personal.”
Buchalter said the neighborhood sent out emails about the vandalism with the subject line “gross,” and asked for help to clean it up. The vandalism includes a telephone pole and stone pillars between the fences. About 30 people came to help cover the damage. People brought paint, paint brushes and pans, graffiti remover, pressure washers and scrub brushes to help cover and remove the damage.
Buchalter brought her two children, in seventh and ninth grades. “I wanted to tell my kids this is not a joke. It’s not something that was done to be stupid or silly. It’s more hurtful than that. I hope the message gets out and people are more aware.”
She said that while she’s alarmed about the graffiti and the anti-Semitism it stands for, she’s more concerned about the direction the country is taking. “The climate in the country is scary.”
Still, seeing the neighborhood come together to clean the graffiti was comforting. “I hope there’s more good people than bad.” The cleanup also reminded her of the Black Lives Matter march she brought her children to in the area recently. “We need to stick up for each other. I’m glad to see people stand up for us too.”
The vandalism is down the road from where Leo Frank was lynched by an angry mob in 1913. It’s been 105 years since a group of disgruntled Cobb County men took matters into their own hands after the commutation of Frank’s death sentence for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan at the downtown Atlanta pencil factory Frank managed.
At around the same time, the Anti-Defamation League began and the Ku Klux Klan was reignited.
In 2018, the Leo Frank Memorial in Marietta was rededicated at the site of the lynching, the original marker from 2008 removed during construction in the area. In addition to the Frank tribute, an Anti-Lynching Memorial was erected at the same time at the site to recognize over 570 individuals who were lynched in Georgia.