People gather to protest anti-Semitism, hate

Unity vigil on the Green in Newton

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  • The sweltering heat did not diminish the zeal of anti-hate protesters on Newton Green Photos by Laurie Gordon

  • Ann Pompelio proudly held her sign at the vigil

  • Toddler Abigail Schlesner sits by the sign her family made for the vigil.

By Laurie Gordon

--Silence was not going to be an acceptable reaction to the hateful graffiti recently found covering the exterior of the Airport Diner, in Sussex. A Unity Vigil Against Hate to condemn these actions took place Sunday afternoon on the Green in Newton.

Residents in the Sussex/Wantage area woke up on Sunday, Sept. 17, to news of a grim discovery — the popular diner, on County Road 639 near the Sussex Airport, had been vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti and other restaurant property destroyed. Days before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, black spray-painted Swastikas, “Heil Hitler,” “Kill Jews” and “WPWW” (an acronym for white power world wide) could be seen covering the walls of the diner. The shed and outdoor freezer were also broken into, and all of the food products and supplies that were inside were destroyed or thrown into the yard to spoil. Hundreds of dollars of food and supplies were lost.

Dozens came out in the sweltering weather this past Sunday to protest the atrocity.

“I'm here because silence is viewed as acceptance,” said Reverend Robert Griner, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, in Newton. “We are not accepting what happened. This is a gathering to unify and demonstrate that hate is not welcome here.”

Griner joined other religious leaders, members of the community and schools and local businesses to stand against these deplorable acts.

The event was put together very quickly by Action Together, Sussex County.

“You can't wait with something like this,” said Erin Jacobus, Founder and Co-Chair of the county's chapter. “We gathered on the Green to take a stance. Let me be clear that what happened at the Airport Diner was a horrific hate crime. The diner was able to be painted over but you can not paint over the lasting effects it has on people. When you are silent, you show acceptance and we gathered today as allies unified to show we will not be silent. Hate had no home in Sussex County.”

Action Together Sussex County, is a grassroots progressive group that launched last November. Jacobus along with JoAnn Hinksmon and Joan Jacobsen run the Sussex chapter of the New Jersey group and planned the vigil.

A special kind of peace was shared by participants as they were asked to shake the hand of five people they'd never met before there on the Green. It was an expression of religions, races and all ages unifying.

Ann Pomelio, of Sparta, held a sign urging people to resist racism, sexism, xenophobia, corruption and above all hate. She said, “I can't believe what happened in Sussex. I just had to be here. This is unacceptable.”

Randy Parks, the chaplin at Newton Memorial Hospital said, “This gathering is so important. We have to stand together in the wake of this completely unacceptable act of hate.”

Thanks to a GoFundME established to help the diner, nearly $3,000 was raised and members of the community rushed to paint over the graffiti last Sunday.

Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex) and Republican Assembly Candidate Hal Wirths, released a joint statement on the vandalism last Tuesday. “An assault on any member of our community is an assault on us all. This was a despicable act of vandalism in which property was destroyed and defaced. But it went further, in that it attempted to degrade and debase a religion,” the statement read. “As members of this community, we are disgusted by this act of racist and anti-Semitic barbarism. We stand with the business owners and employees, and offer them our support and assistance. As for those who committed this criminal act, we trust that the good officers of the law will bring you to justice.”

Space and Wirths are Republican candidates for the Assembly from the 24th District. Their democratic opponents, Kim Matteson and Gina Trish, were at the unity rally on Newton Green. They issued this statement:

"Many thanks to our friends at Action Together New Jersey for a wonderful vigil honoring peace and unity in Newton yesterday. In the wake of Charlottesville and anti-semitic, racist graffiti in our own home, it is necessary to stop and declare that hate has no home here. It never has and it never will."

Toddler Abigail Schlesner, of Green, came with her mom to the rally and sat by the sign the family had made.

“I just can not put up with what happened,” said her mother, Caitlin Schlesner. “There's too much hate in the world. We had to come here.”

Their sign was simple but spoke volumes: “Love not Hate.”

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