A Jewish woman in Pennsylvania woke up recently to find something very disturbing when she stepped outside: a large swastika had been spray-painted on her trash bin.
The Nazi symbol of antisemitism both scared and saddened the woman, Esther Cohen-Eskin, and she knew that she had been targeted because no other swastika, or graffiti for that matter, appeared in her neighborhood.
In a telephone interview with Big Story, she said,
“It’s not like someone wrote some obscenity on my trash can or gave me the finger. The swastika is such a deep-rooted sign of hatred for everyone, especially Judaism, that I felt so targeted.”
After speaking with her husband, they decided to call the police to file a report and begin an investigation into the hate crime. In the meantime, something had to be done about the graffiti. When she called a friend, he told her firmly, “The only way to triumph hate is with love.”
Being an artist, Cohen-Eskin knew what she had to do. She painted over the swastika with flowers and put letters in her neighbor’s mailboxes to ask them to join her in combatting hate with love. What started as a moment to unite the neighborhood filled with different religions soon turned into an even bigger movement.
Several people and businesses caught wind of Cohen-Eskin’s story and started spreading the word, both by word-of-mouth and online. After sending the letters out, she went out to an art show and returned to find hundreds of messages and phone calls from people showing their support by painting flowers on their trashcans as well.
Surprisingly, the toughest part of Cohen-Eskin’s request for support was not to actually ask her neighbors to join her but to first paint a swastika and then paint flowers over it.
“It’s something you would never want to put ever, and not anything I ever thought I would be painting on anything,” she said. But her neighbors, both on her block and internationally, have risen to the challenge.