Update: Read the joint statement from South Orange and Maplewood elected officials responding to the graffiti incident here.
This morning, local residents were horrified to find that one of the bridges in the South Mountain Reservation spanning South Orange Avenue was covered with anti-semitic graffiti, including swastikas. (See photo and video below.)
The graffiti, on the bridge closest to Cherry Lane in West Orange, has since been removed by the Essex County Parks Department.
Local leaders responded quickly.
On twitter, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. wrote, “Disgusted to hear about this senseless act of anti-Semitism at the South Mountain Reservation Bridge” and “The wave of anti-Semitic threats around the country, including in NJ, is chilling, & we as a community must stand together against this hate.”
South Orange Village President Sheena Collum posted a response to the incident on Facebook, which read in part: “I’m incredibly disheartened that even our towns which are known for our inclusion and diversity are not immune to the hatred that exists but at the same time, I remain inspired by the reactions and actions of our clergy, community leaders, and residents to stand up in solidarity against any act of hatred or bigotry. Continue the activism and fight back with love.”
Also on Facebook, Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange wrote, “”This afternoon, I joined with my rabbinic colleagues in South Mountain Reservation to see with our own eyes, the hateful graffiti that we had heard about earlier in the day. Thank you to the Essex County Parks System for cleaning it up. We know that this is not who we are as a community and we refuse to stay silent. We urge all to speak up and stand up to hate as well.” (See Olitzky’s video of the graffiti below.)
Meanwhile, the rabbis and cantors of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange responded with the a message sent via email, writing that “hate in any form is unacceptable. There are those who think it is increasingly acceptable to express themselves in ugly, inappropriate ways. It is up to us, as individuals, as a community and as a nation to make clear that we will not tolerate hate speech, hateful acts or discrimination in any form.”
The message continued, “Please take a few moments to call or email our representatives, both local and national, and express your expectation that when such behavior is manifest we ask… and expect… them to speak out against it with clarity.”
In addition, local residents organized a “Candlelight Peace Patrol at South Mountain Reservation Bridge” on Tuesday evening. “Please bring CANDLES and posters/artwork/messages of love, and meet at the bridge over South Orange Avenue at 5:45 for an informal candlelight peace patrol,” read the invite on Facebook.
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca said that a joint statement from the towns would be released shortly.
Below is the full TSTI email message:
As you may have heard, some time last night one of the bridges leading over South Orange Avenue in the South Mountain Reservation was tagged by graffiti that included a series of swastikas along with other hateful symbols and phrases. The Essex County Parks Department was quick to respond and, by the time we arrived to get a close look, they had already removed most of the graffiti. It has since been entirely removed. We are grateful to our local governments and to the Parks Department for their quick response.
Seeing such images appearing in our community is, of course, troubling. At the same time, it is worth noting that the swastikas were only part of the damage left by the vandals. Other graffiti included foul language, a variety of other symbols and a profane message against the President. The far-reaching nature of the graffiti suggests that this was not specifically or ONLY anti-semitic. Still, coming at a time when the epidemic of bomb threats against Jewish Institutions nationwide has not only continued but has now expanded to include other Jewish institutions, it is a troubling development.
It is also a reminder that hate in any form is unacceptable. There are those who think it is increasingly acceptable to express themselves in ugly, inappropriate ways. It is up to us, as individuals, as a community and as a nation to make clear that we will not tolerate hate speech, hateful acts or discrimination in any form.
Please take a few moments to call or email our representatives, both local and national, and express your expectation that when such behavior is manifest we ask… and expect… them to speak out against it with clarity.
If you have further question or concerns please do not hesitate to reach out to any of us.