There are verses in psalm 139 that I have used (to mix my spiritual metaphors) like a Zen Koan. “If I were to say that darkness will shadow me, then night would be light on my account…Night shines as day.”
On Thursday, October 24, in shadow darkness entered Bass, Burton and Seelye halls. Some one or ones vandalized these halls with swastikas. But this act is not what defines the Smith Community.
By Thursday evening, the president had written and sent out an angry heartfelt letter that moved me. The Rev. Matilda Cantwell, Director of Religious & Spiritual Life and College Chaplain, stayed at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel until midnight to speak to anyone who was in distress. Early the next morning Floyd Chung, Vice President, Office for Equity and Inclusion, assembled the College’s Bias Response team and we had a plan of action by mid morning.
At 1:30 p.m. on Friday 50 people of different faiths, cultures and races gathered to support Smith’s Jewish students. We all understood that a strike against one of us is a strike against all of us. That is the nature of White Supremacist movements.
But the community went further. At 5:00 p.m. on Friday 40 to 50 Jewish students gathered at the Kosher K, the Smith College Jewish Community (SCJC) student kitchen and meeting place, to process their feelings and reactions. During this gathering an interfaith community of similar numbers stood outside the building with linked arms, to show support and to “guard” the K so the students would feel safe. SCJC leadership facilitated the processing with wisdom, compassion and deep caring. An evening that started with anxiety ended with songs of joy and laughter, an act of affirming light in the face of darkness.
Shabbat services–normally attended by 25 to 35 people–had an attendance of close to 100 people who came to show their support. Students led the service. People prayed and laughed and again sang songs of joy. Smith College catered the ritual Sabbath meal that followed. The College nourished us.
As I look back on this incident, what I remember is not the swastikas or fear. What I remember is the gathering of diverse souls, the singing and the joy. Those who scrawled hatred have already been defeated–a defeat brought on by their very attempts at intimidation. The shadow has illuminated our compassion and our connection to each other. There is a Jewish blessing I give the Smith Community. May you go from strength to strength.