Establishing a Town-wide Coordinating Committee in Wake of Anti-Semitic Incidents

By Virginia Spencer

Bedford-Embraces-Diversity_Following up on the public meeting held in Bedford on March 22, Superintendent Jon Sills convened the first of two planned meetings on April 2, to which the public is invited.  The purpose of evening meeting was to establish a coordinating committee which would be responsible for developing positive ways the town can respond to recent incidents of anti-Semitism occurring in the schools.  This committee would also share in the responsibility for maintaining effective communication among residents regarding the issue.  Sills said he envisioned that various sub-groups within the coordinating committee would form to focus on implementing specific ideas.

In addition to Sills, Town Manager Rick Reed, Chief of Police Robert Bongiorno, Chair of the Selectmen  Margot Fleischman, Selectman Mike Rosenberg, BHS Principal Henry Turner, Davis School Principal Beth Benoit, Rabbi Jill Perlman of Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington, Detective Lieutenant Scott Jones, and a representative from the New England Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were in attendance, along with about 40 town residents.

Sills opened the meeting with a review of recent events, which he characterized as both “disappointing and exciting.”  Disappointing and disturbing was the fact that swastikas have continued to appear in various places in the high school, most recently on Tuesday.  On  more positive note, Principal Turner informed the group that students at the high school are “stepping up” and actively exploring a variety of ways to respond.

Chief Bongiorno described the role of the Police Department as two-part: first, to conduct an active and open investigation of the incidents; and second, to maintain a high level of communication and trust among the town officials, the schools, and the Police Department.  Bongiorno said he believes communication among all the town officials, including Detective Lieutenant Scott Jones who is in charge of the investigation, has been very tight, with frequent daily exchanges.

Rabbi Jill Perlman, who is also a Bedford resident, spoke as a member of the Bedford Clergy Association, which has developed and is implementing the “Love Your Neighbor” campaign. She described the campaign’s purpose as one of promoting the idea of getting to know and understand your neighbors, including their particular religious and cultural traditions. She encouraged use of the campaign’s logo, which is now being displayed by some local residents and businesses, and voiced her hope that the actions taken going forward by a concerned community will be uplifting and will overpower the incidents themselves. Click this link to print your own poster: Bedford Embraces Diversity Poster.

Discussion then centered on developing a list of ideas for programs and events aimed at increasing cultural awareness and promoting inclusion throughout Bedford.  Sills posted a running list on a white board as people spoke.  Many ideas surfaced and were discussed briefly, including such  ideas as installing an anonymous “tip line” to the Police Department, planning a multi-cultural event which might be incorporated into Bedford Day activities, arranging for a community Seder, and inviting guest speakers to speak on relevant topics during school assemblies.  Contact information was solicited from those at the meeting who would be willing to continue working on community response.  Superintendent Sills then brought the evening to a close, indicating that at the second meeting, scheduled for April 10, those  attending will be asked to break into smaller groups based on their level of interest in particular suggestions.  These sub-groups will be asked to further develop the ideas and begin organizing for implementation.

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