More love: Mercer Island communities join together to share, heal

Impacted Jewish cohorts and other gather following more anti-semetic incidents.

“Less hate, more love.”

The words were carefully painted onto 8-year-old Lucy Sternburg’s sign. The message was an important one, one that her mother Ashley Sternberg taught her. Lucy carried the sign to Mercerdale Field, where about 50 community members joined together in a Rally for Inclusion, but it was also one for healing.

Following the social-media circulated photo of two Mercer Island High School students giving the Nazi salute, healing was needed, Sternberg said. The March 10 event was a chance for it.

Other incidents were noted by community members, including two swastikas created in moss near the Windermere building on 77th Avenue, and a non-direct threat email sent by an unknown person to multiple Jewish agencies in the country on March 8. It fell into the general email box of the Herzl–Ner Tamid. It made mention of “their control on the sender’s beloved Venezuela,” said Jeff Magnan of the Mercer Island Police Department.

Sternberg’s tipping point came after her daughter asked if she should hide the fact that she’s Jewish.

“Her response, being Jewish is something scary or shameful, it caused me great anguish to hear,” said Sternberg who helped organize the event.

Growing up in the Jewish community, Lucy was exposed to armed security guards outside her synagogue after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018. And in March 2017, she was among the group of people evacuated from the Stroum Jewish Community Center after a bomb threat was made — one of 31 made to 23 JCCs and eight Jewish day schools that day.

“It’s a steady, slow rumble,” Sternberg said. “Anti-semitism, that’s sort of what it feels like — something that’s escalating.”

Counter to the fear-fueled incidents, the rally was described as being positive, and filled with sunshine, putting the diverse group of “kindred spirits” in an upbeat mood. People introduced themselves, and Mayor Debbie Bertlin made an appearance. She spoke on the pain caused on the community, whether intentional or not, and the “teachable moment” and how to move forward.

“Islanders feeling isolated were invited to rally together and remind ourselves of why we chose Mercer Island,” main organizer Jennifer Muscatel said. She wanted others to know that the bonds of friendship existed. “When bad things happen, people have the tendency to feel like we’re all alone. It’s important in times like these to feel the community behind you and feel that reminder of you’re not alone and there are people here who support you.”

When the bomb threat came in at the JCC, Muscatel wasn’t surprised, she said. Having deep roots in the Mercer Island Jewish community, she always wondered when it would be “her turn.”

“I think everyone, no matter what religion or belief you have, everyone right now is concerned about their turn,” she said. “White supremacy is coming after us all. It is so frightening to know there’s no place of worship or solace and peace even safe anymore.”

Around the world, other religious groups, and places of worship continue to be targeted. In a meeting on March 15, Muscatel was overcome with thoughts of those affected by the shootings at two New Zealand mosques. At least 49 were killed during that attack.

“I was stuck in what happened last night and the horror of what people there were experiencing and what families are experiencing today, the recovery process,” she said. “What it means for one targeted community, it means for every targeted community. If one targeted community is attacked, all targeted communities are attacked. Hate affects us all the same.”

She’s begun to coordinate another event — a vigil for the shooting in New Zealand.

Children hold rally signs. Photo courtesy of Ashley Sternberg

Children hold rally signs. Photo courtesy of Ashley Sternberg

Mayor Debbie Bertlin and 8-year-old Lucy Sternberg during the gathering. Photo courtesy of Ashley Sternberg

Mayor Debbie Bertlin and 8-year-old Lucy Sternberg during the gathering. Photo courtesy of Ashley Sternberg

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