Signs rejecting hate are appearing around town in response to the hatred that has reared its ugly head here in very public ways this fall: rocks were thrown through faith institution building windows and Nazi swastikas appeared on school bathroom walls.  And then that hatred turned really personal with a note directed to a Middlebrook student so vicious, hateful, and individually targeted as to be utterly appalling.  

Middlebrook School has been the site of important and very constructive gatherings convened by our schools starting the day after that hateful, targeted message, and the Wilton community has attended in large numbers, filling much of the Middlebrook auditorium. School Superintendent Kevin Smith and Middlebrook Principal Lauren Feltz (joined by other school administration and teaching leaders) spoke powerfully about what had happened and plans going forward including for student education.

Those curricular plans include incorporating educational material from the Anti-Defamation League with other educational material in existing (and already planned expansions of) school curricula in this area. In fact, a regional leader in the ADL’s education work spoke compellingly at the gatherings, as did First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, our school board leadership, and an array of Wilton clergy.

Then parents and others from across our community came to the microphone and presented deeply moving accounts from many individual perspectives of the impact of what happened to both children’s and parents’ sense of safety and of the fear felt by some students about even returning to school.

Hate words and symbols do more than offend — they cut to the core of personhood, identity, and acceptance. Not only does one wonder who hates you so much to leave such a note but also more broadly, “Is this some general feeling about me, even one that is townwide? Do I have a place here?”

The answer to that question needs to be both an individual and a community-wide one, and it needs to be expressed powerfully and unremittingly. Signs resolutely rejecting hate need to continue springing up all over town, and indeed steps are underway to make that a reality. And in fact, walking the halls of Middlebrook the same day as that first meeting — the day after the targeted message — one could see many Post-it (and larger) notes of encouragement and support for fellow students placed on lockers all along the school hallways. Likewise, many individuals, families and groups in town have prepared videos proclaiming that same message and are circulating them on social media. And residents are now working on plans for community-wide events of conversation with everyone invited and with attendees mingling and talking together, hopefully making new friends in the process.

But more still is needed. For example, attendance at services in our town faith institutions by those who are not their congregants is both welcomed and an important reflection of solidarity. Services at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown (on Friday evenings) are truly uplifting with moving sermons by Rabbi Rachel Bearman and joyous singing led by Cantor Jon Sobel.

The temple’s oldest Scroll of the Torah was inscribed in a town near Prague in 1832 and stolen by the Nazis when they destroyed the beautiful synagogues there as they exterminated Czech Jews along with so many others. The Nazis took this scroll and many others for display in their intended museum for Jewish artifacts when, according to their master plan, the Jews would have been eradicated from the earth. Those scrolls were recovered after World War II, lovingly restored, and then sent to Jewish congregations around the world to be treasured and safeguarded. In the story of that one scroll alone is an enormously powerful message about what hatred does and why hatred is what needs to be eradicated from the earth.

These are stories our children need to hear, and they come best from and with their parents. Researchers consistently tell us that what is taught and exemplified by their parents is the single most powerful educational experience for every child.

In fact, the answer to hate is in the hands of each of us and needs to be heard forcefully and repeatedly so that those who are targeted and hurt will know that they are integral to who we are as a community and that we all feel targeted and hurt when they are. That answer also lets those who would do hateful and hurtful acts realize that one of the results is an outpouring of the very opposite of the fear and isolation they seek to instill.