Fourth Universalist New York City

Too Close to Home: Vandalism at Fourth Universalist Society

By Maud Kersnowski Sachs

On the night of Monday, February 27th, swastikas were carved into the front doors of the Fourth Universalist Society in New York City. The day before, I had walked through those doors with my nine-year-old daughter. We’ve attended Sunday services there off and on for a while. My daughter loves everything about Unitarian Universalism (UU). It’s a safe place for her, full of caring, thoughtful, accepting people who share our liberal values. During the coffee hour, her Sunday School teacher, Patty, informed me that during class my daughter had shared about my recent treatment for breast cancer.** I was so relieved she had found a place to talk about mommy having cancer. That’s the kind of place Unitarian fellowships are. They’re welcoming and lacking in judgment.

On the walk home, I promised my daughter that even though I’d rather sleep in on Sundays, we would start going to Fourth Universalist. And now that place has hate carved on the doors.

Most of the congregation found out about the swastikas in an email from Rev. Schuyler Vogel sent on Tuesday afternoon:

“We don’t know who is responsible for the vandalism. We don’t know whether they were responding to our new status as a sanctuary congregation, or to our Black Lives Matter banner, or simply to the increasing tide of bigotry and divisiveness in our country.

We do know where we stand though. Our congregation has long been a refuge and a voice against hatred and close-mindedness. Such horrid actions must only strengthen our resolve regarding the need for a powerful, love-filled and prophetic voice of Unitarian Universalism. The real work of justice is not going to be easy. But I am proud to be part of a congregation committed to the task.”

As I read this email, I sat at my desk and wept and cursed. When I’m angry, confused, or scared, I have a mouth like a truck driver. This isn’t supposed to happen anywhere—and certainly not on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Jerry Nadler is my congressman for f***’s sake. Like most people, I’ve been horrified and outraged by the rising wave of bigotry and racism that is sweeping across our country—the bomb threats, racially motivated shootings, desecration of cemeteries. But it never occurred to me that this hate would touch me so directly, so close to my home.

I was raised a Unitarian. In the Kansas City congregation of my youth, I found acceptance, support and life-long friends. As an adult, I was surprised to realize that many of my core values are rooted in UU teachings, but I still find it difficult to articulate what it is we actually believe. There are no rules to adhere to. There’s no deity binding us together. Many of us don’t even believe in one. The best explanation I’ve come up with is that while most religions have a covenant with God, we UUs have covenant with humanity.

In the Bible Belt, we were different than other “churches” and everyone knew it. I was a targeted by evangelicals who wanted to save my soul. I was told I was going to hell. I was even accused of worshipping the devil. But to my knowledge, even in that conservative community, crosses were not burned on our lawn and swastikas were not carved into our doors.

People who align themselves with Nazis and the KKK used to be on the fringes of our society. Everyone, including conservatives, looked askance at them. Yes, our culture was steeped in prejudice, but at least we had reached a point where overt racism and bigotry were bad manners.

Today, it feels like our country has been slammed into reverse. People that once wrinkled their noses as if they had stepped in something now quietly ignore the bigots, or worse yet, cater to them for political gain.

When we say never again, we mean never again for anyone. Some part of everyone represents something that someone else hates. We’re black or white or Hispanic or Irish or gay or Italian or Asian or Catholic or Polish or Muslim or Southern or Yankee or Jewish or intellectual or Democrat or Republican—or any of another million things. And no, not all those labels have been discriminated against to the same level. But the only protection any of us has when we become “the other” is to stand against discrimination and hate in all forms. In a democracy, we all have a covenant with humanity.

So, on Sunday morning— even though I’m hurt, scared, and angry—my daughter and I will be at the Fourth Universalist Society on Central Park West and West 76th Street in New York City because hate doesn’t get to win.

For more information about the Fourth Universalist Society “a Beacon of Liberal Religion on New York’s Upper Westside” visit their website: http://4thu.org/

**I’m fine, by the way, thanks to early detection and excellent care. Don’t put off your mammogram.

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Maud Kersnowski Sachs

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1 Comment

  • Love you, Maud. And, good for you. Hate wins when we cower in fear or meet hate with hate. No matter how frightening this is, we stand our ground, as part of the human community. But it is horrifying to see these acts of hatred so close to home, especially where it’s generally NOT the norm. And I love that your daughter has a place in which she feels safe to share her fears.

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