Bloomington, Indiana: United and Ready to Respond to Hate

"Bloomington, Indiana: United and Ready to Respond to Hate" is part of the Not In Our Town program, Class Actions, that premieres nationwide on PBS stations in February 2012. 
 
When a string of anti-Semitic acts rocked the college town of Bloomington, Ind. just before Hanukkah in 2010, the town knew how to respond.
 
Bloomington’s quick and supportive response from the city’s university, police, city, and community leaders comes from experience. The community group Bloomington United was first brought together by the mayor when former Indiana University student and white supremacist Ben Smith started spreading white supremacist and anti-Semitic flyers around town. Several months later, Korean doctoral student Won-Joon Yoon was fatally shot on his way to Bloomington’s Korean Methodist Church, the last killing during Smith’s two-state shooting spree.  
 
More than a decade after the summer of hate, Bloomington United’s anti-hate, pro-unity message was needed. During the Jewish holidays, windows at the campus Chabad House and Hillel Center were smashed. Swastikas were discovered in a student dorm. Then, just days before Hanukkah, eight Hebrew texts from Indiana University’s Wells Library research collection were taken to eight men’s bathrooms and urinated on. Similar books were also flushed in toilets at the county library. The small college town, again, gained national attention.
 
Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan was shaken but committed to taking action, “In Bloomington, there's a feeling that it's an idyllic place, but this was a call to reality that hate can hit home. We need to never take it for granted that this is a safe and civil community.”
 
Interfaith Support
 

Bloomington, Ind. Mayor Mark Kruzan lights Hanukkah menorah
as town members gather to support the Jewish community after
a series of hate incidents. Photo by: Aut Phanthavong
 

On the first night of Hannukah, the mayor joined the Jewish community and more than 300 Bloomington residents as they lit a menorah in the center of town. In freezing temperatures, Kruzan lit the 9-foot menorah that incorporated a 10-pound rock that had been hurled through the center’s window. Fearing vandalism, volunteers guarded the menorah overnight. 

Bloomington Muslims expressed their support at a small gathering with members of the Beth Shalom synagogue. “We need to become more proactive and work together as people of faith to educate people,” Yusuf Nur is reported saying in the Herald Times. “These acts of hatred come from ignorance.”
 
Rabbi Sue Silberberg was touched by this understanding between faiths. “One of the really powerful things that happened is that the Muslim community said we want to support you, you have always been there for us, and we want to stand in solidarity and condemn these horrible acts.”
 
Campus Support
 

In a show of solidarity, Rabbi Sue Silberberg receives the game
ball at Indiana University after anti-Semitic attacks on campus.
Photo credit: Indiana University Athletic Department
The university provost issued a statement recognizing that the “anti-Semitic significance of these targeted and malicious acts is beyond any serious doubt” and increased patrols of both IU and Bloomington police to ensure safety. In another public act, the university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics also condemned the acts and made Silberberg honorary captain of the Dec. 4 home basketball game against the Savannah State Tigers. Silberberg accepted a basketball from head basketball coach Tom Crean to a “rousing ovation.”
 
Sea of Blue: Hoosier Action
 
In addition to the university, one student stepped forward to make a statement. Geoffrey Schmelkin organized the campaign, Bloomington Jewish Solidarity Day, using Facebook. The campaign touted this rally call to the city, “Let us respond to the heinous anti-Semitic crimes of recent weeks by standing in unity with the Jewish community of Bloomington. Wear blue on Monday and be proud to say that we will not be intimidated!”
 
Nearly 3,700 confirmed to wear blue on Dec. 6, and even attracted blue-wearing supporters from as far as Long Island, N.Y. and St. Louis, Mo.
 
Bloomington United: Then and Now
 
The original Not In Our Town group in Billings, Mt. served as inspiration as Bloomington United moved forward after the initial crisis that brought them together. They even invited key Billings character, Tammie Schnitzer, to speak with the then-fledgling group. Similar to Bloomington, Billings witnessed a rash of hate crimes in the mid-1990s. Schnitzer became active when someone threw a brick through her six-year-old son’s window during Hanukkah. The Billings Gazette printed images of a menorah and encouraged the community to post them in their windows to send a unified message to the perpetrators.
 
When Bloomington United formed, members distributed 10,000 yard signs that read, “No Hate, Not In Our Yards, Not In Our Town, Not Anywhere.” The signs still stand in Bloomington yards today. In the past 13 years, the group has quickly responded to several incidents of hate in the town.
 
In the fall of 2010, Bloomington United published a letter in the Indiana Daily Student, stating that the recent anti-Semitic acts “provided us with the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and to fighting all forms of hatred.” Bloomington United invited the community to print out one of two PDF signs from Hillel’s webpage: one read “Bloomington United in Diversity” and the other depicted a menorah. The group invited the community to post these signs in windows throughout the university, city and county.
 
To view the Bloomington United web extra from Class Actions, click on the link below.

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