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Outpouring of love counters sign of hate on Ojai peace sign

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Photo by Fern Barishman

A ubiquitous pink peace sign in Ojai, created by Fern Barishman's neighbor Lou Mora, was given to her by friend Brian Berman. It replaces the peace sign in front of Barishman's home on Ojai's Ventura Street that was defaced with a spraypainted backward swastika, obscenity and racial epithet sometime overnight between Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.

 

By Marianne Ratcliff, Ojai Valley News editor

Who ever spraypainted a backward swastika, racial epithet and obscenity on a pink peace sign on Ojai’s Ventura Street during the night from Feb. 19 to the morning of Feb. 20 probably had no idea that act of hate would prompt such an outpouring of love.

That person also may not have known that the owner of the peace sign is a beloved piano teacher who has taught scores of valley residents for more than two decades.

Fern Barishman is not sure if her sign was defaced with a swastika because she is Jewish, but she is speaking out about it because, as she told the Ojai Valley News last week, “It is important for people to know, for Jews not to be scared, but to stand together.”

As soon as a neighbor alerted her to the defaced sign on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 20, Barishman called the sheriff and reached out to the Ojai Valley News, and, earlier this week, the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate group that fights anti-Semitism and provides anti-bias education.

Two days after her sign was vandalized, Barishman opened her front door to find a potted plant in a red container, with a gold heart decoration and two cards, signed by 33 people, including Ojai Mayor Betsy Stix, reading, in part: “Your Ojai neighbors love and support you!” The cards and gift were collected by Nicolette Walker-Itza of Ojai who reached out on social media to gather support for Barishman, to let her know she is loved.

Barishman’s personal Facebook page had 129 supportive, loving comments as of March 3; and several people, including Rabbi Mordy Nemtzov of the Chabad of Ojai, have reached out to her.

Also, the hate crime has inspired Chiany Dri of Ojai, an anti-racism educator, to organize a group called Ojai For Justice, for people to document incidents of hate in the Ojai Valley and to stand together against it.

In addition to giving Barishman his pink peace sign, in response to the hate crime, Brian Berman of Ojai, founder of the nonprofit organization Awakening Peace, has scheduled five Zoom meetings on Monday evenings through March, called the “Ojai Listening Gathering.”

“In silence, our community will not heal from hate and racist acts,” Berman wrote in an email to the Ojai Valley News about the Zoom meetings. “Lisa and I will offer the gift of compassionate listening to both victim and perpetrator."

Barishman joined Berman’s March 1 Zoom meeting, attended by about 12 people. 

Dri, who has created the Ojai For Justice group, also participated in the Zoom meeting.

“I feel like we are in a time of turmoil and I hope that something good will come out of it,” Barishman said, more than a week after she discovered the hateful symbol and words on the peace sign outside her home. “I would like a conversation, more education. More people need to get involved. This is not going away.I hope that we keep the conversation going. I hope that we don’t forget that this happened and that we keep going forward with this.”

That is exactly what Dri intends to do. 

Dri said she created a group called Ojai For Justice two days after she heard what had happened to Barishman. “I wanted to create a space for people to come together to talk about it,” she said. There has been a lot of response, she added. 

Dri said that one goal in creating Ojai For Justice is to document how often people in the Ojai Valley experience hate and where, to identify patterns, geographical locations, and ethnic or racial backgrounds of the people targeted, to find out “how much is this impacting in our community.” Those who want to learn more can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dri said Ojai For Justice can help to “show what we stand for in Ojai and what we don’t stand for.”

It is to promote “how we want to be loving in our community and inclusive and how to be accountable to each other…. It is an opportunity to show how we hold each other accountable, how to protect each other, and care for each other.”

The message she and others want Barishman to hear is that people in Ojai will “show up for her. We support her safety, her protection, her care,” Dri said. “We are building that momentum and sustaining that.”

The message is clear. “I really do feel loved in this town,” Barishman said.

 

Barishman said a sheriff’s deputy returned to see her on Sunday, Feb. 21, after taking a crime report the day before, to deliver a California Department of Justice flier about hate crimes. It reads:
“If you, or someone you know are a hate crime victim, you should:
“— Contact your local law enforcement right away.
“— Get medical attention (if you need it).
“— Write down the exact words that were said.
“— Make notes about any other facts.
“— Save all evidence. If safe, wait until law enforcement arrives and take photos.
“— Get the names and contact information of other victims and witnesses.
“— Try to get a description from any eyewitnesses of the crime.
“— Contact community organizations in your area that respond to hate crimes.
“— Contact 911 or go to a local hospital if you need immediate attention. To file a report, contact your local law enforcement agency. If you need additional information, contact the California Attorney General’s Office Victims’ Services Unit: 877-433-9069; oag.ca.gov/VictimServices."

 

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 Photo by Fern Barishman

A flowering plant and two cards, signed by 33 people with words of love and support, were left on Fern Barishman's doorstep the Monday after her Ojai peace sign was defaced sometime during the night between Feb. 19 and 20.

 

 

 

 

 

To read the Feb. 22 article in the Ojai Valley News about the defaced peace sign, visit:

https://www.ojaivalleynews.com/?view=article&id=19733:swastika-and-racial-epithet-spraypainted-on-pink-peace-sign-on-ojai-s-ventura-street&catid=856 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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