By Stacey Dresner
RIDGEFIELD – For the third time in the past eight months, antisemitic and racist graffiti has been found at a park in Ridgefield – and the second time it has been found in a town park.
On the morning of June 13, multiple antisemitic symbols – including swastikas – and antisemitic and racist slurs were found spray-painted on the stage of the bandstand and on a stone wall at Ballard Park, a popular town park on Ridgefield’s Main Street.
By the next day, the parks and recreation department had removed the graffiti. At press time on Tuesday, the police had still not found the perpetrators.
Ballard Park is about a mile away from Congregation Shir Shalom in Ridgefield. The five-acre park includes an “Imagination Station” playground, gardens and greenery and a bandstand where summer concerts are held.
Rabbi David Reiner of Shir Shalom was notified of last week’s vandalism by Ridgefield Police.
“I think my hope is that this was done by somebody who is ignorant and trying to get a rise out of people and doesn’t really recognize the gravity of the symbols they are putting out there or writing, and that it’s not an act of hatred,” Reiner said. “At the same time I think it needs to be taken very seriously whatever the motivation was, and should be investigated and prosecuted.”
Just last November, antisemitic symbols were also found painted at Ballard Park, and this past March, a swastika and antisemitic and racist language were painted on the outside of Ridgefield High School.
After the November incident of vandalism, the community organized an event denouncing the vandalism and promoting peace.
“It was actually very nice and very impressive as well,” said Reigner of the event that was held over Thanksgiving weekend. “The community really came together nicely. Somebody who was not a member of the Jewish community approached me about doing something. They were really very upset with what had happened and wanted to ‘reclaim the space.’”
“There were about 150 people there that came out and took part in the gathering,” he added. “We decorated the sidewalks with symbols of peace and love. It was a very special thing.”
After Reiner learned of the vandalism, he in turn notified Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Congregation B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, which is just over the Ridgefield line and whose membership includes many from the town of Ridgefield.
Bearman said she was “surprised and disappointed that a voice of hate had come up again” but buoyed by the response to the November incident.
“After the graffiti in November I had been so impressed with how the community came together to say that the space was a place of peace and togetherness,” she said.
Both rabbis spoke to the local police department and both were assured that their synagogues were not targets of the vandalism and were not threatened in any way.
Each rabbi sent out messages to their congregations about the antisemitic messages.
“I want to remind all of us that our tradition teaches us that words have power – after all, the first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created the universe just by speaking,” said Bearman in her message. “When we look around, we can see the darkness and the light that have existed since that first day. All too often, it can appear as if the darkness is overpowering the light, but that is not the way it has to be. We have both the ability and the responsibility to use our words and our actions to bring more light, more balance back to our community, our country, and our world. And, in the words of our prayer book, ‘…the winding way to that promise passes through the wilderness. [And] there is no way to get from here to there except by joining hands [and] marching together.’”
Reiner expressed hope in his message.
“As I think about this latest incident I am sad but not scared, upset but not pained,” Reiner told his congregants. “This is hurtful and offensive, but it will not keep me away from Ballard Park this summer, where I will enjoy concerts and play with our toddler. Whether the graffiti was motivated by ignorance, arrogance, or animus, I remain hopeful for a brighter future.”
CAP: An event held last November at Ballard Park in Ridgefield to “Reclaim the Space” after antisemitic graffiti was discovered.