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Montauk Confronts Antisemitic Vandalism

Mon, 10/30/2023 - 18:35
People of all ages, and from all corners of the Montauk community and neighboring hamlets, came together in solidarity on Monday afternoon, several hours after antisemitic graffiti was discovered in several parts of the hamlet.
Christine Sampson photos

Hundreds of Montaukers and neighbors from nearby hamlets came together Monday afternoon — with friends calling friends calling friends, until the downtown gazebo was nearly surrounded — to stand against antisemitism, which reared its ugly head at dawn that day when swastikas and other hateful graffiti were discovered spray-painted in several places.

The “love rally,” as it was called, spanned faiths and ages, ethnicities and ideologies.

“Regardless of how you feel about what’s happening on the other side of the earth, we as a town and as a community will not stand for this kind of behavior,” Amy Duryea, an organizer of the event whose family goes back generations in Montauk, said in her introductory remarks. “We gather from a place of love and community, but recognizing the fact that there is anger and sadness and rage in some people’s hearts.”

Among the businesses targeted was Naturally Good, a health food store on Main Street with a Jewish co-owner. On Instagram, the store’s owners thanked people for the “overwhelming support” they have received. “Your messages of love and solidarity remind us of how strong we can be when we stand together . . . Please join us in denouncing hatred in all its forms. Let us band together, as Montauk always does in times of crisis, and make our community safe and strong for our children and our neighbors.”

In addition to Naturally Good, the vandals hit Blue Elm and Sweeney’s Weenies, two food-truck businesses located at Ditch Plain Beach, as well as the town restrooms there.

Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons called the incident “shocking, but not at all surprising, because Jews have been experiencing violence and hate toward them around our country and around the world right now, for weeks, since Oct. 7 when there was a terrorist attack in Israel, and 1,400 innocent civilians were murdered.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Oct. 19 that “as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, we have seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions.” Indeed, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., on Tuesday, an unknown person “threatened a mass shooting and antisemitic violence on campus,” according to a statement issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“Public safety is my top priority and I’m committed to combating hate and bias,” Governor Hochul said.

One suspect is in police custody in the Cornell incident, but in Montauk, the perpetrator remains at large. The Suffolk County Police Department’s hate crimes unit is now “leading the investigation into the hate crime” at Naturally Good, a county spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday. County detectives have asked anyone with information to call 631-852-HATE (4283) or the toll-free CrimeStoppers line at 800-220-TIPS (8477).

The East Hampton Town Police Department is investigating the incidents at Ditch Plain. Chief Michael Sarlo condemned the vandalism on Monday as a “horrible crime.” Later that day, Police Capt. Chris Anderson urged people with security cameras in that area to “check for suspicious person(s)” overnight on Sunday and early Monday morning, and to come forward by calling 631-537-7575.

At Monday’s rally, Rabbi Franklin, who earlier in the day had helped scrub away swastikas at Naturally Good, said he felt like he was living a present-day version of Kristallnacht. On Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, in Germany, Nazis launched widespread attacks on Jews, rounding up some 30,000 Jewish men and taking them to concentration camps. “Kristallnacht” translates to “the night of broken glass,” as the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., explains on its website, citing “the shattered glass that littered the streets after the vandalism and destruction of Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, and homes.”

“I hate having rallies like this,” Rabbi Franklin said, “because I hate the fact that I have to do it, but let me tell you I love the fact that when we do need support, when our communities are a little bit broken, that we rally together and come together in love and peace. . . .”

Rabbi Isaac Baumgarten, who leads the Montauk Chabad congregation, urged people to flood the community with “acts of goodness and kindness” to counteract the hateful incident.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc called the crimes “an evil act in our community. I’m a little emotional about this, but what’s really heartening about it is, look around — look at your neighbors and friends coming out to share light in the face of darkness. This is what our community is about. It’s about loving each other, it’s about tolerance, inclusiveness, support. This is what makes our community so special, and we have to rebuke this hateful act and at every occasion say, ‘No, this is not what we’re about.’ “

From left, Keri Lamparter, Adrian Martin, Jennifer Maguire, and Flo Lunn made signs to show their support for the Jewish community.

Joshua Odom, superintendent and principal of the Montauk School, told the crowd that teachers had addressed the incidents with the sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students that day. “We teach a lot of lessons throughout our day in school. We teach math, we teach reading, we teach writing,” he said. “But we teach a lot more about character. . . . We had conversations to talk about how this plays out in our community, and the importance of accepting each other and of having each other’s back.”

Leaders and members of other faith communities showed up in droves at the rally, including the Rev. Bill Hoffmann of the Montauk Community Church, who recalled a similar gathering of South Fork residents after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Mr. Hoffmann said. “Too often, throughout our history, the types of things that we see happening here in Montauk reflect too much activity like this throughout the centuries, done in the name of my faith. . . . It’s a twisting, it’s a deformity of what I understand Christian faith to be.”

At the conclusion of Monday’s rally, Ms. Duryea called upon the many children who were present to come up to the microphone and speak an uplifting word or two. From the children’s mouths and hearts came words such as “love,” “peace,” “gratefulness,” “happiness,” and “respect.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a statement on Tuesday that he stands “in solidarity with the affected community and all those who reject such acts of discrimination and intolerance.”

The vandalism was “not only a blatant violation of public spaces but also a shameful display of bigotry and hatred,” he said. “In a time when we should be striving for unity, respect, and understanding, it is deeply troubling that individuals would resort to spreading messages of hate and division.”

East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen has announced that a “rally for Israel and peace” will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Herrick Park.

Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons called the antisemitic vandalism "shocking, but not at all surprising."

Both East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, left, and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (who has also been a Montauk business owner and East Hampton supervisor), teared up with emotion during their remarks.

Rabbi Isaac Baumgarten, who leads the Montauk Chabad congregation, urged people to fill the community with "acts of goodness and kindness" to counteract the hateful vandalism.

The love rally concluded with children being invited up to the gazebo to share uplifting words. Among them were "love," "peace," "gratefulness," "happiness," and "respect."



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