*Image above a reproduction, not actual post-it
For someone who writes for a living, I’m at a complete loss for words.
Yet somehow, I had to find the words, to soothe my 6th grader, as she broke down in tears after school Thursday, just moments after learning that someone had written, “Jews will burn…” on a post-it note, and stuck it on the Middlebrook locker of another 6th grader…another Jewish 6th grade child, just like her.
If it was your child, what words would you have used to make her unafraid, to feel like less of a target of hate? To somehow lessen this experience she will carry with her for the rest of her life?
There were other words I heard yesterday, many of which helped soothe me. There were texts and calls from non-Jewish friends, reaching out in anguish knowing how we hurt. There were texts from friends whose children were worried for my daughter, and they wanted her to know they loved her and wanted to comfort her as well.
There were social media posts from Wilton residents with words of fury and condemnation for what had happened. One amazing non-Jewish woman tried to get a hashtag trend started, posting, #IamJewish. Words are not enough to describe the gratitude I feel at her simple, love-filled gesture.
There were other healing words–posted by dozens of Middlebrook students on Snapchat, that said, “No Hate Allowed” and “No Hate at Middlebrook,” and on Instagram with the hashtag, #LoveNotHate. This effort is perhaps the most profound of all, since it’s coming from the kids themselves.
There were words that came from school administrators, swift and unforgiving, which struck a tone of leadership and morality. They were words I was grateful to hear, and made me feel that my daughter’s safety and state of mind, as well as that of all the other students in their care, are in good hands–and that they understand that hate has no place in Wilton.
First they came in a recorded message and email from Middlebrook principal Lauren Feltz, just minutes after school let out. Her response was coordinated, well-thought-out and serious.
“We stopped everything we were doing this afternoon to gather as a school community and discuss what is happening within the Middlebrook family.
“There was another anti-Semitic incident at Middlebrook today. We discussed the event in some detail with students as well as the disciplinary response students can expect if they engage in these behaviors. While I regret the need to have this discussion occur right at the end of the school day, Dr. Kevin Smith and I needed to address the student body immediately.
“I ask you to talk to your children. Some students are feeling understandably upset by the discussion and the actions that prompted it. I will be following by email up with a longer message including more details later this afternoon. I invite parents to Middlebrook for a community discussion in our auditorium tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. We will follow up with a second opportunity as well.
“I will reach out and share ways that the school can support your child as they are managing their emotional response. We will also make available a list of resources that can help you have conversations at home about tolerance and kindness as well as content about the Holocaust. Thank you for your partnership as we work together to ensure that Middlebrook is a safe and nurturing environment for all our learners.”
Shortly after that, superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith shared his words in an email sent to the entire Wilton School community. In his message he let us know that he regarded the events as grave and serious, and that words and actions of hate would not be tolerated.
He also communicated a message to the entire faculty and staff of the Wilton district, with words that were powerful and empowering, and clearly show his belief that everyone in the community has a role to play to reject hate and intolerance. They reassured me that the safety of Wilton children is the district’s highest priority:
“This event is repugnant and is going to have profound reverberations through the Wilton community and surrounding region. I am writing to ask you to give thoughts to how you will respond to this as questions arise in your classrooms. Below are a few of my own thoughts on the power we possess to confront this together:
- In dark times, we as educators have the capacity to be bright lights of hope for those who are fearful, anxious and uncertain. Our children ARE SAFE because WE surround them with love, compassion, care and sensitivity
- As educators, we reaffirm our commitment to those values we most cherish and stand together against acts of hatred by speaking out and serving as role models
- We, through our word and behavior, can help students find their own voice and agency in confronting hate
- We have to stand against the threat of incidents like these becoming normalized and defend against being desensitized to acts of hate and violence
“I take a great deal of comfort knowing that all of you are available to our students and families. It is you who make the Wilton Public Schools a world class institution that is firmly anchored by clear values and beliefs and I appreciate all that you will continue to do in the coming days and weeks to support our children.”
There were words that came from first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, who spoke at last night’s Board of Education meeting. Her words showed strength and action, and let everyone know that the town is taking concrete steps to make sure that intolerance will not be tolerated in Wilton.
“…this is not just a school issue, this is a community issue. We all want every child, every parent and every resident to feel safe and included whether at the schools or within the community.
“The Wilton police are investigating today’s incident. The three incidents, the symbols and the language are unacceptable. That message needs to be sent loud and clear.
“I want every Jewish student and their parents and particularly the student, who was targeted today, to know that Town leadership stands in support of them. They are all valued members of this community.
“We all know most of Wilton is respectful, understanding, generous and focused on service to others. But if we are honest with ourselves, we are seeing an increase in meanness and unacceptable behavior within our community. We need to acknowledge this and address it head on.”
There are words I had hoped to hear, from the Wilton community, and will continue to listen for in the days ahead. Words of unity, love, support and compassion…but also words condemning hate, anti-semitism and racism. Words that don’t dismiss the actions as “kids being kids, just trying to provoke…” or “they don’t understand…” Those three words on the post-it note showed clear understanding of cruelty and revealed an ability to tap into specific, ugly hate against one group.
I know the words will rise up from the chorus of voices in the coming days, as Wilton comes together to say hate has no place here. There are going to be opportunities for that to happen, as Vanderslice is laying out plans with Smith, with local clergy, police and other community leaders in what she called a community-wide action-oriented approach. There is a meeting this morning for Middlebrook parents with town and school leaders, and then on Monday evening, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. another meeting for the wider community in the Middlebrook auditorium.
We are at a crossroads, one that will define what kind of community we are. GOOD Morning Wilton was started on the premise of focusing on the overwhelming good in Wilton–not to ignore what isn’t good, but as a means to counteract that which brings this community down. We’ll continue with that mission, which seems more important now, more so than ever before.
I’ll continue to look to you for that inspiration, to find the actions that uplift and soothe when we need it most. Those are the words I hope to be able to find and use, to continue to celebrate the best parts of Wilton. Will you help find them too?