Authors Posts by Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Francis Pizzarelli

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

“Acting responsibly in an irresponsible world!” was a topic I created for a class conversation in my Introduction to Social Work class at Suffolk County Community College. 

The conversation that ensued was beyond words. These college students represent the next generation of leaders and thinkers. They were insightful and challenging. It was clear to me that they were not being influenced by our present class of leaders or lack thereof.

What does it mean to live in an irresponsible world? They immediately pointed to our federal government and the lack of leadership. They expressed amazement at how so many bright, well-educated and experienced lawmakers could not have a civil conversation on any real issue. It should not matter if the participants are from the same political party or different political parties. They have been elected by the people to build bridges not walls.

This dynamic group of college coeds, most of whom are juniors and seniors, continued to talk about our irresponsible world. They touched on everything from undocumented immigration to health care, gangs, gun safety, racism, human trafficking and our poor care for the poorest of the poor among us.

As the conversation moved from an irresponsible world to acting responsibly, these students spoke about what really matters to them. No matter who is speaking, from the president to a homeless person, no one has the right to speak disrespectfully of another, to demean, name call and put people down.

Words matter. Calling people scum and lowlifes, making fun, calling people negative names; the list is endless and is clearly inappropriate. When people in public office engage in that kind of language, they dishonor and disgrace the office they hold, from the presidency to Congress. 

What my students found most disturbing is that so many respectable people elected to serve the needs of all Americans have been silent about this reprehensible language or have made lame excuses for why it is not a big deal. Some of our religious leaders have also have been painfully silent on this issue. 

My students pointed out that if their teacher or clergy person acted in this way, he or she would be sanctioned immediately and removed from their position. They expressed sadness that this behavior has clearly lessened respect for the most important office in the land — the office of the presidency.

So how do you act responsibly in an irresponsible world? Despite their poor role models in this regard, my students spoke passionately about being responsible, caring for the poor, being men and women of honesty, respect and integrity.

They acknowledged the need for more civic engagement on their part so that they can change the social and political order. They expressed a genuine commitment to restoring the social and political order to a civil and respectful landscape where all Americans are treated equally with dignity and respect.

These students expressed there is no place on the American landscape for racism, discrimination, violence, hate groups, divisiveness — no matter what one’s nationality, religion, economic status and sexual orientation.

We are a nation that was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all; a nation committed to social justice and human rights; a nation that must work to build bridges and not walls.

When the class finished on that Wednesday afternoon, I left renewed and hopeful that things will get better for all of us thanks to the next generation!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Hope House Ministries

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Fall is a wonderful time of year. On the North Shore, we are reminded of the beauty of the change of the seasons, by the tapestry of colors as the leaves change. This beauty is unfolding despite the horrific political landscape that is demeaning and reprehensible. Hope still lives.

The opiate epidemic continues to claim record numbers of lives from every walk of life, from every socioeconomic system. However, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become productive, contributing members of our community.

For more than three decades, I have lived among the most broken and wounded among us. I’ve been blessed to see human miracles every day. I have witnessed some inspiring human transformations that have strengthened my commitment to stay the course, especially when it has been difficult.

Every fall I think of the countless lives that have enriched me. I also painfully remember those lives that have fallen into the cracks. Their remembrance always challenges me to do more and to never lose hope or give up.

As I think back over the years, I remember different young men from each decade who remind me of why I do what I do. I think of what has become of these men. Each decade has a wonderful group of shining stars. The common denominator is each man was lost, overwhelmed and profoundly wounded. They had lost their way, but with a lot of support and love, they developed coping skills, not only to survive but also to change and transform their lives. They became extraordinary men. 

One young man who is now in his 50s is the father of three children. He lives in Wisconsin and is the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that services young people. He is active in his local church and works in youth ministry. Another young man from that decade is married with four children and is a practicing attorney for a large law firm in Chicago. 

Another young man lives locally with his wife and twin boys. He is a successful financial broker. He has given back for more than 20 years, anonymously dropping off pizza to the main house every Saturday for dinner. The present community only know him as the “Pizza Boy.”

This group of men from the 1980s refer to themselves as a band of brothers. They continue to connect with each other on a regular basis. Distance has never been an obstacle for connecting.

The 1990s saw the house grow in number with a new band of brothers — more lawyers, teachers, tradesmen and social workers. They all make sure that if they are in town to stop by, say thank you and urge the present community to stay the course and not lose hope.

One of the men from this decade who lives and works out of state recently stopped by with his wife of 15 years and their 12-year-old son. In front of myself and members of the present community he said, “This was and is my home where I learned how to love myself and love others and it will always be where my heart is!”

The men from the 2000s are doing great things. One is an author and a founder of a not-for-profit wellness center, another is a social worker in charge of a street outreach to the poor, while another is in law school on a scholarship. There is also a young man who discovered his gift for music performance who recently received a full scholarship to a local college. He and a band of brothers, through music and song, celebrate the message of hope through recovery and wellness on an ongoing basis within our larger community.

These are just some of the many stories of hope that have sustained me and encouraged me for almost 40 years. A very important part of the story is you — the community; without your love, support and encouragement none of this would be possible. For all of you, I am forever grateful.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Vaping is a new health hazard. Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It is hard to believe that summer is over and another school year has begun. This year the landscape for the opening of the new school year has been marred with another mass shooting and Hurricane Dorian, which has paralyzed the south eastern part of our country.

Schools around the country are beginning a new school year with intense anxiety around gun violence and the country’s inability to come up with reasonable, effective gun safety regulations that protect people’s safety and people’s Second Amendment rights.

The lack of decisive leadership on the part of those we have elected to lead is scandalous. The lack of clarity and the profound silence from the White House is deafening and shameful. Gun safety should be a priority issue that should not be buried in the political rubble of partisan politics. People from both sides of the aisle should be able to come together and pass legislation that protects the quality of life for all Americans. If they cannot, then simply vote them out!

As an educator and mental health professional, it troubles me deeply how those who lead us are quick to blame the mentally ill for all of our mass shootings. Every mass shooter has not been mentally ill. Yes, a number have, but our system for support of those battling mental illness at best is poor and honestly is so broken and fragmented that de facto it is useless.

We have an insurance system that sets people up for failure; when it should empower people to wellness. We must address the stigma we impose on people who need help with mental health issues and/or addiction issues.

Finally, we are holding the big pharmaceutical companies accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic. Will any of those billions of dollars be directed to long-term residential treatment or will they get lost in a bureaucracy that has lost its way?

We have to have the courage to do things differently, and the new school year is an excellent opportunity to live differently. Education is a gift, and our children should learn early on what a tremendous opportunity is being given them. Attending class, doing homework and excelling should be everyone’s expectation. We need to hold our children accountable; as parents we need to collaborate with teachers and school administrators to create the most life-giving environment for all of our children to grow and excel.

We also need to be concerned about our children’s social behavior. It is troubling that a growing number of our children in junior high school through college age spend more time on social media and texting than they do on face-to-face human communication and studying.

Ask your junior high and/or high school student if he or she could give up his or her cellphone for one month. Most will tell you no! Remember life before cellphones and social media? This present generation is not learning how to effectively communicate and build healthy human relationships.

One last concern as the new school year begins — vaping, e-cigarettes — are a new health hazard. Don’t be brainwashed by advertisements to believe that e-cigarettes and vaping are an excellent deterrent to smoking. They are not! Our children are not just vaping their favorite flavors, but cannabis.

These are not social behaviors that are healthy for our teenagers and young adults to indulge in. We need to take our blinders off and do our homework if we genuinely care about our children.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Father Frank speaks at candlelight vigil for Robert Grable on July 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These past two months have been an extraordinary time. Mass shootings occurred in California, Texas and Ohio. The Democratic debates in Detroit captured the nation. The unfortunate, reprehensible rhetoric that came out of Washington that lacks substance and is focused on hatefulness and attacking the character and integrity of people in leadership was most disturbing.

The presidency is supposed to be about unity, not dividing us. The presidency is supposed to provide support of the moral fabric of our nation, which is founded on diversity, integrity and the respect for human rights for all. Painfully, the end of July underscored everything we are not.

However, more disturbing than the despicable rhetoric coming out of Washington has been the deafening silence of our religious leaders across the country.

Shame on the leaders of all of our major religious traditions — religions that preach compassion, forgiveness, respect, inclusiveness of all; religions that claim they are founded on social justice and human rights, focused on building bridges and not walls. Your silence is deafening at a time when we desperately need your prophetic voices and leadership to challenge the infectious behavior in Washington. By your silence, you are complicit!

There are a few local clergy who are courageous, who are speaking out against injustice, who lead by example! There is a sign outside of a church in Mount Sinai that reminds us boldly that, “We must protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. And enjoy this life.” Amen; hope lives.

In the midst of this craziness, I witnessed firsthand the power of community at its best especially in a time of crisis and pain. In late July, a very dynamic and compassionate educational leader died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 49.

Rob Grable was the principal of Mount Sinai High School. I first met him when he was the assistant principal in the junior high school. I did a program on social responsibility for the eighth graders. We reconnected when he became the principal of the high school and collaborated on a number of projects for his high school students to build and strengthen community and social responsibility.

After his sudden death on a Monday night in late July, the district held a candlelight vigil to honor this dynamic, educational leader. Close to 2,000 people gathered in the rain to honor a man who was everyone’s principal. Mount Sinai was his life. He was everywhere for everyone. He walked with academic students, with the athletes, with the students who struggled, with the fringe students. They all claimed that Mr. Grable was their principal. His colleagues talked about a man of impeccable character and integrity, a mentor, a friend, a confidant, with tears in their eyes.

That night I was honored to be asked to offer prayer, but more importantly I felt privileged to be a part of a moment in history where we were a community at its best — men and women, students and former students holding hands in solidarity to honor a man who profoundly made a difference in so many lives, reminding all of us that we can all be people of integrity; that we have the power to make a difference in our world. It is fitting that the school district plans to rename Mount Sinai High School the Robert Grable Memorial High School.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Father Frank in front of the new plaque at the Cedar Beach basketball courts. Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Bonner’s office

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are difficult days for our country and for the world. The rhetoric all around us is infectious and vile. Recent images from our southern border about undocumented people being detained in squalor and filth is unconscionable. There is no humane justification for separating children from their parents no matter what their legal status is.

What has happened to our moral compass that was once able to transcend political parties and nonsense and do what is right for humankind?

Despite this troubling American landscape, hope and compassion still lives. On Friday, July 12, I went to support the efforts of two brothers from Miller Place who lost their brother from a heroin overdose more than five years ago.

To honor their brother who was a senior at Stony Brook University and an avid basketball player, The Jake Engel Foundation was created. Jake’s two brothers did not want their brother’s senseless death to be in vain. They were determined to celebrate his life and “bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County.”

Their focus is on developing healthy outlets for youth. They reach out to people who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They reach out to students who need to navigate peer pressure during school; people who know others who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They believe that the human community as a whole is responsible for creating a world free of addiction!

These two brothers could have buried their heads in the sand. When they started Hoops for Hope five years ago, the youngest brother was still in high school and his older brother was still in graduate school.

These two courageous young men have raised thousands of dollars for many worthy programs that treat addiction. Equally as important, they have raised the awareness of an entire community about the opioid epidemic that is taking so many lives senselessly in record numbers.

When I arrived at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for this annual basketball tournament, there was not a parking spot to be found. There were vendors everywhere raising money for this important cause. Thirty teams participated from all over the North Shore. Ten teams were on a waiting list for next year because of limited space. 

That Friday was really a community effort. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Republican) had the Cedar Beach basketball court renamed “Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court “Shine On …” and a new plaque was attached on its entrance gate.

The spirit in the air that day was electric. I must admit it was so good to feel so much positive energy that afternoon. These two young brothers continue to inspire an entire community to be more. Their passion and commitment to make a difference should be recorded and sent to every elected official at every level of our government, challenging them to roll up their sleeves and lead this nation by example — working harder to build bridges and not walls and grounded in hope that tomorrow can always be better than today.

These two brothers and their parents are the embodiment of our great American spirit and that hope lives! Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope! Let hope become the anthem of our souls.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Are our smartphones destroying the fabric of the American family? Think about that question. How many young families with children are allowing their elementary school children to have smartphones with little or no restrictions?

In April, I was at a celebration with a family with three children from the Midwest; all were in junior high school. Dad is a successful attorney and Mom is a tenured schoolteacher. Grandparents and an aunt were also there to celebrate the eighth-grade daughter’s confirmation. By traditional definition, they are a strong, intact family.

After grace was said, I was amazed at what followed. These children are bright and articulate. They are not inhibited to share their opinions. After a few minutes of banter, which I initiated, they immediately became obsessed with their smartphones. The only communication for the remainder of the meal was shared among the adults present. 

As I flew back home after the celebratory dinner, I could not help but be distracted by my cellphone observation. I decided I would be more attentive of young people and how and when they use their smartphones. I must admit I was taken back by my observation.

On Tuesdays, I take an early morning train to New York City. I teach in the graduate school of social work at Fordham University. I was deafened by the silence. Based on observation, most of the passengers were on their smartphones, their tablets and/or their laptops. It was the rare row of seats in this crowded train where people were actually engaged in conversation!

So I decided to look further into the smartphone issue. I already knew from my experience that smartphones were becoming a problem in college classes, so much so that I had to develop a specific policy on the use of cellphones in my classes. 

However, I wanted to know more. When did you get your first smartphone? How many hours a day do you spend on it? Are you permitted to have a cellphone at family dinner? Would you rather text than speak to someone directly or leave a voicemail?

I was definitely concerned by their responses. I sought input from my classes in a four-year school and a community college. All who responded were students in the classes I taught at these respective schools. For the most part, their answers were the same.

Most students said they received their first smartphone by late elementary school, early junior high school — that is fifth or sixth grade. As small children, their use of their smartphone was limited by bedtime. However, by high school most students admitted they were using their smartphones from 10 to 15 hours a day, and in some cases, even more!

Most admitted that they would rather text or leave a voice message instead of talking. The only split was with those who had family dinners where cellphones were prohibited; however, those not having a family meal said it was not an issue. They were equally divided on how many had a family dinner and how many had not had a family dinner since early elementary school.

These observations could not be seen objectively as conclusive since the survey is very limited in number. However, it does offer us a lot of food for thought. It helps to explain for me as a teacher why college students’ writing skills have deteriorated over the years and their critical thinking skills are almost nonexistent. The human connection seems to be lost. The next generation seems more grounded in one-dimensional nonhuman connections rather than face-to-face human interaction.

For the sake of our future, we need to go back to simpler times where people were more important than social media posts and human touch with respect and dignity more valuable than a social platform. We must reclaim the fabric of our American family life before it is too late!

P.S. I still write hand-written notes and letters! LOL!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

File photo by Alex Petroski
Father Frank Pizzarelli

As you read this column, we are in the midst of college graduations and anticipating our annual high school graduations. This year’s classes of graduates have made a powerful impact upon all of our communities. 

The social landscape that these young men and women have had to navigate has been complex, complicated, painful and, at times, overwhelming. Despite an increase of school shootings, this year’s graduates have become a powerful voice for common sense gun safety, challenging those that lead us to come down out of their ivory towers and listen and equally important commit themselves to action.

Despite the lack of positive, courageous elected leaders to look up to, this year’s graduates have not allowed their poor example to temper their desire to lead by example, challenge the social indifference that has become commonplace and the commitment to make a profound difference in our world. So many seniors have expressed the desire to leave the world better than they found it!

Seniors, as you begin a new chapter in your life don’t let the world and the bureaucracy temper that commitment to be grounded in that important value and principle. Do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than a successful academic record. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than any science formula or social platform. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.

As you graduate keep these simple thoughts in mind: May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and to work for peace grounded in social justice. May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who only know hate; let that love embrace you as you continue in the world. May the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. It is the content and quality of who you are that is important not merely the actions you take.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Read it through, seeking meaning and message of every life, for everyone’s life is sacred, even those who are different from you or whom you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive. Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame and guilt to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

So, seniors, as you take leave, what is your purpose? What is your mission? Your life will be what you create it to be. No one can take that life from you! There is no blackboard in the sky that your life outlined for you. You get to fill the blackboard of your life with whatever you feel is important. If you have filled it with junk from the past, wipe it clean. Erase all the hurt and pain that has blocked you from living and loving and being grateful that you are now in a place where you have a new beginning, a fresh opportunity to start new and make something wonderful of your life.

May your moral compass be grounded in integrity and respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed and/or sexual orientation. May your moral compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice. Congratulations, graduating class of 2019. Thanks for making our world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Paris’ famed Cathedral of Notre-Dame suffered a massive fire on Arpil 15.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

On Monday evening of Holy Week this year the world stopped in shock and watched the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris burn. This 850-year-old Catholic cathedral is a symbol of culture, art, spirituality, Catholicism and hope.

For a brief moment people from around the world came together to express their solidarity with the people of Paris and all of France. For Catholics, it was a prayerful reminder that from ashes new life comes — and hope lives!

Since the fire, I have thought a lot about the power of compassion and love that comes from people — ordinary men and women who make a difference every day. They go about their business not seeking the limelight or wanting anything in return for their kindness and compassion.

The present world landscape, our own country’s landscape is wrought with division, hatred and volatility. Those who lead us have failed to challenge injustice, discrimination and violence. Our religious leaders too often are complicit by their silence to the complex social issues of our times.

However, hope does live among us! There are those anonymous people in our midst that remind us every day to build bridges and not walls, to be more inclusive without judgment, to respect the dignity of every human person, no matter what his or her social circumstance might be.

Every day I am fortunate to see firsthand these miracles that make our world brighter and better. A few weeks ago, I was waiting at the railroad station in Port Jefferson for the train to New York City. I was on the platform closest to the street. At a distance, I saw an elderly woman slip and fall. Before I could respond I watched a teenager jump off his bike and run over to help her. He helped her up and he walked her to a bench. He sat next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was alright. She was able to get up and continue her walk. He got back on his bike, continued his journey, turned around and waved goodbye.

So often we are in such a hurry we don’t see anyone around us, especially those that are crying out for our help. We miss those moments for random kindness and compassion for which our world is in desperate need.

Spring is in the air; the flowers are blooming. For Christians around the world, we are in the midst of another new season of hope! Maybe it’s an opportunity for personal renewal, for a renewed focus on what’s really important, a focus that is centered more on people and not systems, more on loving and not hating, more on doing and not just being.

The fire in Paris gave us a moment to see humanity at its best. Let’s keep it going!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Above, flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting in New Zealand

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On March 15, halfway around the world another horrific act of violence and hatred marred our world. Two mosques in New Zealand were viciously attacked and 50 innocent people were senselessly killed and countless others wounded because of their Muslim faith.

This particular act of hatred is even more depraved and despicable because it happened in a sacred house of worship. Traditionally all houses of worship are supposed to be safe havens for people who want to pray, rest and find peace.

Once again we are reminded of the infectious hate that wounds, blinds, divides and often kills. This hate is being perpetuated by a small group of narrow-minded people who have little or no respect for the sanctity of all human life, no matter what your color, your race, your nationality, your sexual orientation or your socioeconomic status.

In a free society, respect and inclusiveness of all people is foundational. We must continually give voice to these vital principles. Our nation was founded on religious freedom — not for certain religions, but for all religions! All houses of worship must be respected as well as everyone’s holy book.

This unfortunate tragedy in New Zealand reminds us that we still have so much more work to do in the areas of tolerance, respect, inclusiveness, acceptance and diversity on every level.

Words matter, especially when they come from people in authority and leadership. We all must confront hateful rhetoric, especially when and where it erupts. It should not matter who is using it. Hateful rhetoric is hateful rhetoric. No one is exempt from being held accountable in this regard.

We cannot pick and choose who we call out on their hateful speech. Hatefulness has no boundaries, no color, no class, no religion, no sexual orientation or economic status.

When our synagogues, churches and mosques are violated with hate and violence, it must be a call to action for all caring human beings everywhere. We must have the courage to stand up and confront the violent hate-mongers head-on.

Our silence is destructive. Unfortunately, it is seen by some as an affirmation of this vile behavior. Our message must be loud and clear. There are no exceptions, no excuses! There is no room in our country for violent, hateful destructive rhetoric and people.

We need to have the courage to work more aggressively and advocate for positive change in our country. We can no longer excuse the violent reprehensible and hateful behavior that erupted in New Zealand. Actions speak louder than words!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

All the major religious traditions at their core espouse love, forgiveness and respect.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Over the last few weeks we have read much about racism, bigotry and discrimination that continues to infect our social landscape. We have also seen the double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for the poor choices they have made.

Accountability seems to be a concept sadly missing in our civil discourse. Freedom of speech is a basic human right guaranteed by our Constitution. However, that right does not allow people to publicly disrespect and degrade others because we disagree with them.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on the social rhetoric that is infecting our civil discourse on a regular basis. Some feel that they have the right to say and do whatever they want even if it’s at the expense of someone’s character and integrity grounded in no fact or reality.

It becomes increasingly difficult to hold people accountable when those who lead us on both sides of the aisle live with a double standard; when our religious leaders live by a double standard. We have the right to hold any opinion we wish. We do not have the right to impose our opinion on others or demean them if we disagree. Basic human respect for the dignity of every person seems to be buried in the rubble of hateful speech and countless people making excuses for that hatefulness.

All the major religious traditions at their core espouse love, forgiveness and respect. It is unacceptable to use religion as a manipulative tool to justify basic hate, discrimination and bigotry. Our religious community has to move beyond their silence and speak to the issue of respect for all people, no matter what their social and/or political circumstance.

In early September a few years ago, a Jewish family was celebrating a Jewish holy day. The public schools in the community were closed to respect and honor the Jewish community. The family came home from temple and found a white swastika painted on their driveway. Needless to say, they were devastated.

Upon investigation, local law enforcement discovered that two Christian eighth-grade boys who were classmates of the boy who was a member of this family painted that hateful symbol on their driveway. Those young men did not know that the boy’s grandmother lived with them and that she was a survivor of the Holocaust.

Law enforcement took the two boys responsible for this horrific act, arrested them and charged them with a hate crime. The two boys were friends with the Jewish boy whose home they violated with that horrific symbol.

Unfortunately, that hateful act polarized that small community. Some felt people overreacted to a childish prank, stating boys were boys just playing around with no harm or disrespect intended. Others felt people minimized the severity of that act of hate and felt the young men should be held fully accountable for their reckless decision-making.

The victimized family, especially the Holocaust survivor, did not want to prosecute the guilty boys, but they did want them to be held accountable and helped to understand how profoundly hurtful their prank was.

After many conversations back and forth with law enforcement and the local school officials, the elderly Holocaust survivor suggested that the boys apologize before her temple community and participate in a full school assembly on the need for respect and tolerance of people from every walk of life and at that assembly apologize for being so hurtful.

The boys agreed. The charges were dropped and what was once a hateful act became an opportunity to learn a real-life lesson about respect, tolerance and accountability.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.