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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jew Pond needs a name change

Telegraph Editorial

Who says nothing good ever came out of a summer outbreak of algae?

After all, if it wasn’t for the discovery of those colorful organisms on a small pond two summers ago, Mont Vernon voters might not be going to Town Meeting next month with the opportunity to officially change the name of the tiny pond with the offensive name.

At that March 13 meeting, voters will consider a warrant article that asks: “To see if the Town will vote to petition the United States Geological Survey to rename Jew Pond to Grand Hill Pond.”

Despite the wording of the article, there also appears to be some sentiment in town to rename it Carleton Pond in memory of George C. Carleton, who donated the land that contains the pond to the town 40 years ago.

We’ll leave it up to town residents to decide whether it should be Grand Hill Pond, Carleton Pond or any of the names that have surfaced in recent months, such as Frog Pond, Spring Pond or even Lake Serene.

Anything but Jew Pond would be fine with us.

It was on July 14, 2010, that The Telegraph published a brief 138-word article reporting that Mont Vernon and state officials had closed the pond because of possible contamination by algae. As it turns out, the closing of the 6-foot-deep pond proved to be less newsworthy than the headline that accompanied it: “Blue-green algae closes Jew Pond.”

“It was the first time the name hit print in a long time,” Rich Masters, the town’s public health officer, says in “The Story Behind Jew Pond,” a documentary produced by University of New Hampshire-Manchester graduate student Katelyn Ann Dobbs.

“A lot of people cringed when it was publicized. I didn’t think it was a very good name and figured maybe I should go about trying to change it.”

After conducting some extensive research, Masters approached town selectmen the following year with a recommendation to rename it Frog Pond, but the board voted unanimously at that time against changing its name.

The half-acre pond appears to have gotten its derogatory name from town natives during the 1920s, after two young Jewish lawyers from Boston purchased the nearby Grand Hotel, an upscale resort that attracted many summer vacationers from the city. The new owners closed the hotel two years later, but the name “Jew Pond” eventually made its way onto a U.S. Geological Survey map of the area.

Today, the push to change the name of the pond is getting attention around the world, with stories appearing in Yahoo News, The Boston Globe, The Jewish Press, The Arizona Republic, The Guardian of London and The Straits Times of Singapore, to name a few. Videos are also available on YouTube and other sites.

It also caught the attention of Bishop Peter Libasci, the newly installed leader of the Diocese of Manchester, who didn’t mince words in a letter to the editor published Monday in The Telegraph.

In that letter, in which he urged Mont Vernon residents to support the name change next month, the bishop noted the use of the word “Jew” in this instance was clearly “pejorative.”

“It is different than the use of the word ‘Jewish’ or ‘Christian’ because it is added as a stinging barb, the way that a bigot in private company would mention a ‘Jew lawyer’ or ‘Jew doctor.’ You just absolutely know it’s meant to convey some measure of contempt,” he wrote.

“It’s a small pond, but anti-Semitism is a big deal.”

We couldn’t have said it any better.