Crime & commemoration

Marshall Weiss

By Marshall Weiss, Editor and Publisher

The Dayton Jewish Observer

The breadth and depth of the Dayton area’s offerings to commemorate the Holocaust this year rival those of the largest cities in America. When details about these programs started to trickle in here, I began to wonder: In our small community, will people attend all of these events? Will people support all of this? Amid these questions, I neglected to consider: Does our community need all of these remembrances?

I now wonder how one Jewish family in Oakwood would answer that last question. Their home has been the target of antisemitic attacks three times: on Feb. 18, March 8 and 15.

Twice, a perpetrator or perpetrators damaged the property and vandalized the home, writing, “F— U Jew,” along with swastikas.

For the third incident, the perpetrator(s) attempted to set fire to the home. Yes, you read that correctly: an act of terror has been committed on a Jewish family living in Oakwood.

The FBI and Oakwood Police are investigating the incidents. Understandably, they’ve urged the family not to discuss details of the case in order to help them solve the crimes.

Also, on March 15, someone vandalized a stairwell at Oakwood High School with a swastika. In a letter to Oakwood High School parents sent by Principal Paul Waller on March 27, he indicated that the school “had several occurrences of hateful graffiti and derogatory terms drawn on school surfaces.”  Waller wrote that he met on March 16 with the entire staff to address “this issue of antisemitic and other racial illustrations being found in our school and community.”

What are we, as a community, to make of these incidents? Until we know who is responsible for these acts — and whether or not they are connected — it’s hard to say. Oakwood is home to approximately 90 Jewish households, two Jewish houses of worship, and our Jewish day school. The irony is not lost on longtime Daytonians that Jews were restricted from living in Oakwood only two generations back.

Our response rests on a fulcrum of reason. Are these attacks a small-town or maybe a Midwest phenomenon? Nonsense. Isolated incidents of antisemitic hate crimes occur across the United States in communities large and small, and with Jewish populations large and small.

Over the past few generations, antisemitism in America has largely been marginalized to the crackpots at the fringes of society. As horrific as the situation is for this family in Oakwood, as uncomfortable as the vandalism has made it for Jewish Oakwood High School students and other intended victims — and as painful as it is for all of us to contemplate these actions — the sky is not falling.

But neither can we look the other way and pretend these incidents didn’t happen because we wish they hadn’t. We must stand down hate. Will hate go away if we ignore it? It hasn’t happened yet.

Credit must go to Waller and his student leaders at Oakwood High School. Senior class leaders met with each senior homeroom to update them on the situation and to brainstorm ideas for preventing more of these incidents of vandalism. On March 27, 10 seniors led an assembly for all freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. During this assembly, the seniors emphasized to the students the importance of speaking up and reporting such incidents.

I don’t know if the Oakwood attacker(s) would gain understanding from hearing survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein speak at Oakwood High School when she’s there April 11 and 12. But Mrs. Klein, we need to hear you. We all need to be reminded that in America we are blessed to be able to speak out and that to build a more civilized society, we must do so.

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