Anti-Semitic incident in Vermont town leaves residents outraged

At board meeting, residents call for local government to take action after home flies Nazi flag during the High Holy Days.

Dan Verbin ,

Flash 90

An anti-Semitic incident in Townshend, Vermont has spurred residents to urge town officials to publicly issue a statement condemning hate.

On Tuesday night, resident Jenny Kessler read an open letter to the Townshend Select Board describing how a Nazi flag was flown outside a local home during Yom Kippur and was only taken down at the end of Sukkot, the Brattleboro Reformer reported.

“I was deeply disturbed to see a Nazi flag hanging in my community,” said the letter, signed by Kessler and the undersigned local residents.

It went on to say that the home is located in the center of town close to three elementary schools, near a busy library, and on the way to a local medical clinic.

“The Nazi flag is an internationally recognized symbol of hatred and violence,” Kessler wrote. “Flying a swastika during Jewish High Holidays equates to intimidation, and it makes our schools and library less safe and welcoming for all.”

She called Townshend a “welcoming and diverse community that values people of all backgrounds, races, religions, and identities.”

“I fully understand the value of free speech; however, there is no value in flying a flag that represents the murder of six million people. While the town cannot legally prohibit a certain flag from flying on private property, the town can and should condemn such hostile actions to the community at large.”

The letter called on the Select Board to release a public statement condemning “symbols of hate being displayed in our town, in disregard of the welcoming nature of our community as a whole.”

Kessler stressed that keeping quiet “in the face of a Nazi flag in our community is not an option.”

“We must make it clear that we as a community do not condone the public display of this infamous hate symbol… We can’t be a community that allows racism to fester, encouraged by our silence,” she wrote.

Select Board Chairman Sherwood Lake said the board would present the petition and other submitted evidence to the town’s attorney in order to ensure they “don’t zero in on somebody.”

"I don't think anybody at this table condones anything about what happened," Lake said. "I want us to be careful that the statement is correct, and it doesn't violate somebody's constitutional rights."

Townshend resident Matt Deen said at the meeting that the town should not stay silent in the fact of hate.

"We're very worried about the impact this is having on Jewish folks in particular," said Deen, who noted that the swastika has also been used to harass other minority groups.

Juliette Carr, a Jewish resident of Newfane, Vermont, who attended the meeting through Zoom, said that how the town responds to the incident “really affects how we, as a family, feel in this school district.”

“When something happens like a swastika going up during Yom Kippur across from the schools that my kids are supposed to go to, that for us is really concerning."