Growing past hate: 'Restorative justice' helps heal pain from teens' vandalism
May 09, 2012
In March of 1994 members of the Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines awoke to find neo-Nazi graffiti scrawled on the side of their synagogue. There were no immediate suspects, but there was anguish, anger and outrage.
At one level, the incident was a galvanizing experience, bringing together the religious community of Des Moines in a way that I had never witnessed. However, the incident also brought forth shadows normally hidden within many good and well-intentioned people who cried out for a justice that had the character of the justice sought by vigilantes and lynch mobs.
Two weeks later an 18-year-old male and his 17-year-old girlfriend were charged with felony criminal mischief. I decided to hold onto the case rather than assign it to one of the felony prosecutors in the Polk County attorney’s office. I called Rabbi Steven Fink. I asked how he was doing, how members of the temple were doing. He told me that he was angry, that others were angry and afraid. I asked him if he had ever heard of restorative justice and of its potential for healing.
I asked him if he would consider meeting with the young offenders. He said that my description of restorative justice made sense to him, that it was consistent with his tradition, but that in this instance he didn’t think neither he nor other temple members would ever consider meeting the young man and woman.
I thanked him for his time, gave him my number and encouraged him to call if he should ever have questions. He did, one week later to the day.