Community rallies against hateful signs in Burlington


Alek Fleury

Grace Odell, executive director of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, Dana Kaplan, executive director of Outright Vermont, and Rabbi Any Small hold a rainbow pride flag Feb. 8. The Synagogue and the Pride Center were targeted between Feb. 4 and Deb. 5.

Lee Hughes, Assistant News Editor

Student groups joined community members at City Hall Feb. 8 in support of Jewish and LGBTQ communities following white supremacist signs posted on a Burlington synagogue and the Pride Center.

The Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, the Pride Center of Vermont and Champlain High School were targeted between the night of Feb. 4 and the morning of Feb. 5, according to a Feb. 6 release from the Burlington Police Department.

The posters and stickers read “America First” and “Better Dead Than Red” and listed the name “Patriot Front,” a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated white nationalist hate group, according to the press release.

Patriot Front was founded by some of the leaders from the 2017 white nationalist protests in Charlottesville that left one dead, according to a Feb. 6 Vermont Digger article.

Queer Student Union joined the protest to better connect with the Burlington community, QSU President Carter Shapiro, a junior, said.

“I am really proud to associate myself with such an incredible community that shows up for each other,” Shapiro said at the rally. “I am in awe of all of us that have the courage to be here today.”

Senior Miriasha Borsykowsky, president of the Jewish LGBTQ group Hineinu, said it was meaningful for her to attend based on her connection with both communities, but it is important to remember to engage beyond just attending rallies.

“I hope we acknowledge the context we’re coming from more, and we use experiences like this to remind us of what’s happening in our greater community and not just to us as individual organizations that we step outside of our spaces of comfort,” Borsykowsky said.

Sharon Lifschutz, assistant director at UVM Hillel, said she was happy to see that people showed up for this event in support of one another, and she hopes in the future there is more collaboration between different communities in Burlington.

“It’s important for me that it’s not just these moments of fear and pain and anger that bring us together but to know that whether it’s the Jewish and the LGBT community or whatever marginalized identity, they are building those relationships,”

“We believe one another should have the rights to exist, to be free and to not have to live in fear,” Lifschutz said.

Travis Miller, a graduate student, addressed the crowd at City Hall, calling for unity and healing.

More than 100 community members joined the rally downtown at noon with posters, speeches and chants in support of those targeted.

“What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” the crowd yelled while walking down Church Street holding signs.

They repeated chants calling for an end to bigotry.

The posters appeared around the same time as the State of the Union address and during Black History Month, which is not a coincidence, Miller said.

“The attempt to take away from the celebration of Black History Month was challenge to keep the oppressed away from each other, but we are better than that,” Miller said.

Mike Bensel, executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont, said it is important to stand up together against white supremacy and the policies coming out of the White House.

“Hate is here in Vermont,” Bensel said. “We need to stand up against each and every form,” Bensel said.

Grace Odell, executive director of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, also spoke, saying that it is unfortunate that hateful actions succeed in making people feel afraid but the solution is to stand up for one another.

“When we show up for each other like this the state of our unions together is strong,” Odell said.

President Tom Sullivan wrote in a Feb. 8 email to the University that UVM condemns the poster’s message and urges students to contact the UVM police services at 802-656-3473 or the Burlington Police Department at 802-658-2704 if they have any information.

Sophomore Brooke Stellman, chair of the committee on diversity, inclusion and equity, said SGA opposes white supremacy.

J Street U declined to provide comment.


This story was updated 8:45 p.m. Feb. 18, 2019 to include comment from Sharon Lifschutz.