Reflections: Thursday’s Forum on Anti-Semitism in the Bedford Schools

Compiled by The Bedford Citizen

Bedford-Embraces-Diversity_After Thursday’s forum on anti-Semitism in the Bedford schools, The Citizen asked several participants and town officials who were in attendance for their reflections on the event.

Rabbi Jill Perlman of Temple Isaiah in Lexington, and a Bedford resident
Tonight’s forum was a needed first step in acknowledging the problem that we as the town of Bedford face and in moving forward positively. It was incredibly affirming to see members of the broader community come together and speak out against anti-Semitism and discrimination of all kinds. It is crucial that we not let this forum be the last word; there is much work to be done, but I believe that we as a community can rise to the challenge. While I am not proud that there is discrimination of any kind in our town, I am proud that we are choosing to talk about it, deal with it, and learn from it.

Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington, and a Bedford resident
It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of support for those of us who feel so deeply affected by the discriminatory behavior which has surfaced this year. Superintendant Sills is to be greatly commended for his courage, thoughtfulness and transparency in defining the problem, being open to hearing from residents and taking concrete steps to address the problem. As a Jewish resident of Bedford, to also have the Town Administrator, Chief of Police, elected officials, school principals, a spectrum of clergy and a room full of fellow citizens who all took the time to stand up and be counted as decrying anti-Semitism in particular as well as discrimination in general, makes me proud to be a resident. When a teacher from a neighboring town spoke about how her school administration barely acknowledged her after a swastika was drawn on the door of her classroom, it was clear how fortunate we are to be united in our strength of resolve and support for those who experience this form of discrimination. I also agree with the woman who spoke so forcefully about how important it is to educate the children and how it is they who will help overcome the prejudice of their parents.

Rev. Christopher Wendell, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
I was very heartened to see so many people of all backgrounds turn out in solidarity against the recent string of anti-Semitic incidents.  Conversations about anti-Semitism and oppression of any kind are difficult to have as a community.  They require personal introspection, reflection on institutional practices, and a willingness to listen and share generously over a sustained period of time.  There is a lot more work to do in the months ahead, building on tonight’s positive beginning.  But I left the meeting hopeful and energized because it was clear that so many in our community are ready to be more visible and vocal in their support of a Bedford that embraces diversity, rejects hatred of all kinds, and is curious about difference.

Rev. Megan Lynes, Parish Minister, First Parish Unitarian Universalist
Tonight’s forum highlighted for me the decency, dignity and goodwill of the people of Bedford.  At Superintendent Jon Sills’ invitation, we came together to discuss a matter of grave importance: anti-Semitism has no place in our town, and we will not stand by.  Facing this ugliness among us doesn’t cure it, but it is an honest thing to do, it opens our eyes, and it straightens our backs.  We know it to be true, that “no one is free when others are oppressed.”

As I sat among a sea of parents, teachers, selectmen, police officers, school principles, clergy, and other concerned citizens this evening, it became increasingly apparent to me that each person who showed up truly cared, and wanted to be a part of truth telling, deepening understanding, and building solidarity.  By its nature oppression causes people to feel separate from one another and mistrust or blame others for the problems in our society.  Yet I think humans naturally have a genuine interest in each other’s wellbeing.  Tonight we experienced that compassionate and supportive environment as people told their stories and spoke out in love.

As a minister, and a person of faith, I know that standing together on behalf of justice transforms the soul and transforms the world.  I do believe that one person alone can make a difference, and that any individual act of speaking up or caring is significant.  I also believe that working side by side with others, especially with people of differing backgrounds and cultures is part of building and strengthening the Beloved Community of which we are a part.

Standing with other Bedford and local clergy to read a blessing we’d created for this occasion, a lump came to my throat.  Every word resonates for me.

May our beloved town of Bedford
be blessed with healing from all hatred,
May our homes overflow with loving kindness,
May all our children grow up in the safety that
encourages them to be their own best selves,
May our public spaces welcome strangers and friends
with abundant grace,
And may our citizens of all backgrounds and traditions
share generously with and learn eagerly from one another.

The word “tolerate” was lifted up tonight as outdated.  I agree that to simply tolerate others is not enough.  Accept, honor, celebrate, cherish others… these words feel life-giving.  Bedford is already a place of such rich diversity.  Together let us continue to embrace the diversity among us.  Let us love our neighbors well.

Ed Pierce, Chair of the Bedford School Committee
As I listened at last night’s meeting I couldn’t help but consider a scene in the movie 42, the Story about Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers are playing in Cincinnati and the shortstop on the Dodgers, Pee Wee Reese, is from a city in Kentucky just across the river from Cincinnati. The scene shows a local young boy who is at the game to root for his hero Pee Wee Reese. He excitedly asks his dad how many hits do you think Pee Wee is going to get? In the next scene you see and hear the taunts that Jackie Robinson is receiving from the crowd and then the boy’s father taunts Robinson as well and you see puzzlement on the boys face and then he yells a taunt at Robinson. In the next scene you see Pee Wee Reese come over from his shortstop position and put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder and say I have a lot of family and friends in the crowd and I just want to show them how I feel.

Margot Fleischman, Chair of the Bedford Selectmen
Tonight Bedford came together over a deeply challenging subject. The incidents of anti-Semitism in Bedford schools challenge our vision of ourselves as a welcoming community. As many speakers noted, we are not alone in dealing with the harm that expressions of intolerance and bigotry cause to children, families, individuals and communities. In holding this meeting, the Bedford community has created an opportunity to set a positive example for how to rise to meet this challenge: with openness, compassion and integrity. It is evident that there is still much to be done, and one meeting will not heal all the wounds or get at the root of this pernicious problem. However, by coming together tonight we took the necessary first step on a path that affirms our core value that no one should feel less welcome on account of real or perceived differences. It is our shared responsibility to work proactively to live up to this commitment.

Michael Rosenberg, Member of the Bedford Selectmen
This gathering validated all the positive qualities of Bedford as a community. The sincerity and significance of the response, coupled with the size and diversity of the turnout, made a statement loud and clear that we are taking the offensive against hurtful, insensitive words and acts. I look forward to witnessing the Love Your Neighbor campaign blossom, and I told Millie Seaborn I am ready to help plan the multi-cultural festival suggested.

Robert Bongiorno, Chief of the Bedford Police
Our job in the Bedford Police Department is to make sure that this town stays a safe and welcoming community. This is not just about a graffiti case. Hateful words and actions make people feel unsafe and unwelcome, and we are here as a resource to intervene and to help stop these actions from continuing. This is about restoring harmony in our town, and we will work with our partners in the schools and town government to do just that.

Ken Gordon, Bedford’s State Representative
Sometimes intolerance, injustice and bigotry emerges from a small fraction of a community. Anti-Semitism could occur anywhere, but the focus is how Bedford responds to the incidents. It has done so with grace and dignity. The school department and town government leaders supported the families, and superintendent Jon Sills shed light on the Anti-semetic acts, so that the community could voice its displeasure with the incidents, support the victims, and address it head on.

One instance of intolerance, hate or bullying that happens in Bedford is one too many.  We have supported the victims, sought out the answers as to how this happened We do not hide from these matters, we address them and we reach out to find a healing process.

Mike Barrett, Bedford’s State Senator
No one pooh-poohed the incidents, but they didn’t put down the broader community, either. People in Bedford are realists.  They know intolerant behavior by some can work its way into the most accepting of towns.  So how do you help your community assert its decency?  That’s what people were asking tonight.

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