Anti-Semitism came to Mercer County this week in the form of two disturbing incidents. The first was the use of the term “Jew her down” by the president of the Trenton City Council, and the second was the defacing of a Lawrence Township park with a swastika. Both instances remind us, in different ways, of the rise in hate and bigotry in our country.
The comment by Councilwoman Kathy McBride has gained national attention and was swiftly condemned by many state political leaders. Perhaps McBride was unaware of the offensive nature of the phrase, which comes from the malicious stereotype that Jews are stingy and cheap. If she had immediately apologized and acknowledged that she now knows better, the moment would have passed.
Instead she refused to address the issue until she finally apologized a few days later. Unfortunately, other members of the council rose to defend her initial statement, calling the phrase “Jew her down” a “statement of speech” and a “verb”. While we can forgive ignorance and mistakes, we cannot forgive the refusal to learn and do better.
The other council members eventually did apologize as well, and I hope that they have learned that words have meaning. One councilman, Jerell Blakeley, stood up from the start against the anti-Semitic remark and on Wednesday he called a town hall meeting in the Trenton council chamber to allow members of the community to be heard on the subject.
I attended the meeting and spoke, along with members of our local Jewish Community Relations Council and other residents. Rather than denounce and condemn, we came to educate and use the incident as a teaching moment. Hopefully this painful situation will allow the community to think about the words we use and how they may offend others.
The town hall was also attended by the mayor of Lawrence Township, Christopher Bobbitt, who told us about a swastika that was scratched into the ground at Mercer Meadows Park in the display about the AT&T Pole Farm. One of the poles in the antenna array was used to communicate with Tel Aviv and it is that city’s name which was covered with the Nazi graffiti. Mercer County has been notified and hopefully the offensive image will be removed soon.
The rise in anti-Semitism we have seen in the last few years requires our constant vigilance. We must respond and stand up against any instance, but we should also appreciate that there are friends and allies who will stand up with us. If there is one silver lining in these moments, it is the love and solidarity we feel from our neighbors who are willing to call out bigotry when they see it.