On behalf of Congregation Beth Israel and the Jewish community of Bangor, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for the overwhelming show of support, prayers and solidarity in the aftermath of the shameful vandalism at two synagogues in our community.
I would especially like to thank the Bangor Police Department for its professionalism and attentiveness in apprehending the potential perpetrators of this crime. For around 150 years, the Jewish community has been an integral part of the city of Bangor. Despite still being new to the city of Bangor, I feel that the rarity of the types of attacks we saw on our synagogues is a testament to the people of Bangor being a respectful and tolerant community, and the incredible show of support and solidarity the Jewish community has been shown in the aftermath of the vandalism on our synagogues proves that.
While the vandals responsible for this crime reminded all of us of the significant need to remain vigilant against all expressions of hatred, prejudice and intolerance, we were also shown that in times of tragedy a community can bind together. Almost immediately, we began receiving calls, emails, letters and personal visits, which reminded us that the people of Bangor will not tolerate vandals abusing the sensibilities of the residents of this city.
In the days following the unfortunate incidents, we continued to be overwhelmed by the number of statements published in newspapers throughout the state and statements issued by Rep. Mike Michaud, Sen. Susan Collins and the Maine Council of Churches. Knowing that the officials and people of Maine stand with the Jewish community has made it easier to move beyond the emotional pain experienced by the members of Congregation Beth Abraham and Congregation Beth Israel.
Some members of the Jewish community are veterans of World War II; others have family who perished in the Holocaust; and a few are survivors of the Holocaust. The pain and fear elicited by the sight of the swastika cannot be underestimated. Those who were responsible for this shameful act of vandalism against our synagogues need to also realize that this was more than a defacement of a house of worship; it was an attack specifically against the individuals that make up the Jewish community and against all people in the city of Bangor.
While the perpetrators of this crime clearly recognize the meaning of the symbols that were spray-painted on Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Beth Abraham, it may very well be that they do not fully grasp the impact the symbols have, especially on individuals who are intimately familiar with the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, who used that symbol as their banner.
This should even further serve to remind us that “the greatest generation” is nearing its end. Therefore, I hope that we can deepen our commitment to remembering the valiant effort of those who fought for our freedom and to also hold close in our hearts the memories of those for whom they fought who died as a result of the war or as a result of the horrifying genocide perpetrated by the Nazis.
We will soon reach a day when there are no living individuals to share their stories and experiences of the Holocaust specifically and World War II in general. It should also serve to remind us that despite our calls of “never again,” there have been numerous genocides in the 20th century in Europe, Asia and Africa. It should be considered an utmost priority of our educational system to teach our youth about the dangers of hatred and prejudice and the importance of standing up to intolerance.
Again, I would like to offer my personal gratitude to the city and people of Bangor for speaking out against this hateful vandalism. The vandalism against our synagogues should be a reminder to all of us of how incredibly important it is to educate our youth on the tragedies of our past and of the trauma experienced by the victims of the brutal genocide perpetrated during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. Only by educating our youth are we able to confront the past and avoid repeating it. May we use this incident as a motivating force to be committed to combating the rising tide of vandalism in Bangor and to fight intimidation, intolerance and hatred of all forms against all people.
Rabbi Justin Goldstein has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor since July 2011.