on November 19, 2016 at 4:15 PM
EASTHAMPTON – In response to hateful graffiti found on Mount Tom, nearly 50 people hiked up to the site on Saturday for an interfaith prayer and blessing service.
Earlier this month, anti-Semitic phrases and racial slurs were spray-painted on a cliffside at the Mount Tom State Reservation, on the town line of Holyoke and Easthampton. Volunteers worked hard last week to clean up the green, white and blue spray paint, scrubbing away some of the most vicious slogans.
This weekend’s service featured reactions from Christian and Muslim leaders, as well as people of the Jewish and Buddhist faiths. In his opening remarks, Bishop Doug Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said “this is a time for honoring the sanctity of life and the dignity of all people.”
“We do not believe hatred is God’s will, but rather is a sign that something is profoundly out of balance,” said Bishop Fisher.
He said that in the Christian tradition, mountains are often seen as sacred. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, Noah’s ark landed atop Mount Ararat, and Jesus appeared to his disciples on a mountain, a significant moment in Christianity called the transfiguration.
“He is transformed, telling us to go down the mountain and transform the earth, transform the world into the dream God has for it,” said Bishop Fisher. “We come to this place where hatred was expressed, and we say God is love, and we will bring his love to this mountain.”
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield sent a letter in solidarity, read aloud by a representative, Rev. Warren Savage, the Catholic chaplain at Westfield State University.
“We say God is love, and we will bring his love to this mountain.” – Bishop Doug Fisher
“Such actions not only cause fear, anger and anxiety among those targeted, but are also a stain against the whole of our civilized society,” the letter read. “As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to speak out and reject such divisive actions, and not remain silent.”
Rozanski said parents have a special responsibility to spread messages of love to their children.
Zubair Kareem, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, said local Muslims have received numerous messages of support and sympathy since the election of Donald Trump as president. He said the outreach has been “humbling.”Hateful behavior, he said, must be confronted, or it will spread unchecked.
“If we believe that (the United States is) exceptional, we have to prove that we are,” said Kareem. “I’m pleased that I can relate to my community that there are people here who will stand for justice.”
Amber Black of Easthampton organized an effort to cover some of the graffiti with sheets bearing slogans like “Put Bigotry 2 Bed” and “Love Is Love.” She said it “doesn’t make the hate disappear,” but it puts out a different message.
Not all the recent graffiti contained extreme right-wing messages. Some promoted liberal causes, including “Bernie We Need You,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Love Trumps Hate.”
Those removing the graffiti said those messages will be scrubbed away, as well, but the priority is to remove hate speech targeting Jews and African-Americans.