To the Editor:
On July 5, along with countless other stupefied individuals, I bore witness to a most shameful debacle here on M.V. It occurred suddenly prior to the talk to be given by the renowned author and lawyer, Jeffrey Toobin, at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.
Arriving at 6:30 pm, we discovered a long line of patient would-be attendees stretching from the front door of the synagogue to Center Street, up Center Street and along Pine Street. Everyone chatted amiably to their friends, wondering, because of the large numbers, if we would get in when the doors opened at 6:50 or thereabouts.
Suddenly a woman appeared at the door, shouting and beckoning to her friends on Pine Street, the last group to arrive in line to come forward, as she obviously had secured seats for them. Then came the deluge.
Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, a sea of folks from Pine Street descended en masse, dashing across the lawn, rushing to the entrance, creating utter pandemonium. All law, order, and self-discipline departed as this appalling horde of people clamored to enter. It was utter mayhem. The thin veneer of civility was nowhere in evidence, except for the two remaining lines on Center leading to the door.
We, who remained in disciplined ranks, watched helplessly as the unruly mob stormed the doors. It became quickly apparent that those who came early were not the individuals who would gain entry and hear Mr. Toobin.
How could such civilized? educated? mostly older folk sink into a herd mentality? We have viewed on TV mob scenes at rock concerts, football matches, and desperate, starving people when food supplies are delivered, but for a lecture? It reminded one disappointed man of the novel Lord of the Flies, where mere children resorted to anarchy.
The disappointed folk, stunned at what they had just witnessed, trickled away, but now a second disaster loomed. Because they came early to the event and parked their cars in the adjacent lot, latecomers parked their cars perpendicular to the early arrivals. So now, not only did the conscientious folk who had stood in line, some since 6:00 pm, not hear the speaker, but they could now not retrieve their cars.
The irony did not escape those of us turned away. We were there to hear a lawyer explain the rulings of the Supreme Court, yet many of the listeners themselves had behaved without due regard for their fellow citizens. One distraught elderly woman said, having viewed this disgraceful behavior, that she would not wish to be in the company of such persons.
No doubt the staff at the Hebrew Center will attempt in future to prevent a re-occurrence. They obviously had not anticipated such a huge crowd nor its unanticipated actions. Perhaps donors or sponsors need to enter by a different door and be permitted only one extra ticket, thus making certain that the general public had access to seats. It was indeed a sorry sight and one which gives me cause to believe that civility is indeed only skin deep.