Antisemetic vandalism raises concerns for Jewish students; administration plans response

BY ALEX POLETTI

Last year’s Charlottesville rally reminded the United States of the lingering existence of antisemitism, a form of prejudice which still can be seen on the Carmel High campus, evidenced by two incidents of disparaging graffiti reported to the administration this fall.

 

On one occasion, assistant principal Craig Tuana says, staff found a swastika etched into a bench on school grounds. On the other, after having a substitute teacher in his classroom, one Carmel High School teacher reported that the Nazi hate symbol was displayed via thumbtacks on a bulletin board. Multiple students have also reported seeing antisemitic markings in school bathroom stalls.

 

“There are no words strong enough to express the extent to which we condemn these actions,” CHS Principal Rick Lopez says. “These acts are insulting, ignorant, disgusting and simply unacceptable.”

 

The administration acts swiftly when these acts occur, Lopez explains, and the school holds events such as Kindness Week and Breaking Down the Walls throughout the year to discourage all forms of hateful behavior in the campus community.

 

“As soon as we see it, we get it removed,” Tuana explains.

 

In most of these scenarios, however, due to the anonymity of the perpetrator, no disciplinary action can be taken. No students have been reprimanded for the incidents this fall, nor has there yet been a school-wide discussion.

 

According to several Jewish students at CHS, these occurrences are not uncommon.

 

“I’ve had people throw coins at my feet to see if I will try to pick them up,” says senior Rachael Carroll, a Jewish student at CHS. “In middle school, someone etched a swastika into my locker.”

 

While there are a handful of reported events on campus, others say the community as a whole has been one of inclusivity and acceptance.

 

“I am happy to share we have had very little antisemitism in our community in recent years,” says Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum of the Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley.

 

Still, students say that jokes and rude remarks about Jewish people are the most prevalent form of campus antisemitism. Some Jewish students note that because of the frequency with which these statements are uttered, the vast majority of these comments go unreported to faculty.

 

“Sadly, I have to admit that I hear antisemitism weekly, if not more,” sophomore Elon Hornik says.

 

While students do not view most of these comments as a staunch expression of hate, the mockery can create an atmosphere of nonacceptance.

 

“I feel uncomfortable all the time,” Carroll says about hearing antisemitic remarks. “You just have to laugh it off.”

 

The extremity and commonality of these comments blur the line between flippant comedy and bigotry, no matter the intentions of the speaker.

 

“I would like to think that there is no malice,” one Jewish student says, “but when you have people drawing swastikas in the bathroom stalls or saluting the way Germans did when greeting Hitler, it starts to cross the line.”

 

In order to prevent these actions, assistant principals Tuana and Debbie Puente intend to speak to classes about the broader subject of bullying from Feb. 5 through Feb. 16 in students’ English classes, including in their presentation more specific information about this strain of prejudice.

 

“In the fall, we went into classes and talked, but this time we’re going to revisit and talk about [this kind of] insensitivity,” Tuana says. “It’s just unacceptable.”

 

The history of the plight of the Jewish people is woven into the Carmel Unified School District curriculum, starting as far back as seventh grade. The first exposure to the topic is through the novel “Daniel’s Story,” a fictional recounting of a young boy’s experience in Nazi Germany. After finishing the novel, that unit is capped off by a viewing of the 2008 film, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

 

In high school, CHS sophomores read Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” in English II Honors. At the end of the school year, AP World History teacher Brent Silva shows his sophomore students the 1993 film “Schindler’s List.” French teacher Suzanne Marden selects some reading materials and films that focus on the Nazi occupation of France for higher-level classes.

 

“The teaching of ‘Night’ in the classroom is essential because it is primary source material of what happened in the Holocaust,” English teacher Dale DePalatis says. “Especially in our current day and age where news is being fabricated about all those things, it is extremely important that we remember what really happened so we can avoid doing that sort of thing again.”

 

While these works are meant to shine light on the struggles that Jews have faced throughout history, some students use it as a conduit to continue the trend of insensitivity.

 

“Normally when the history classes are studying something to do with Judaism, I tend to hear a rise in inappropriate commentary,” one junior says.

 

The Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley offers support and education about the history of oppression over the course of human history. Through events such as the Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Food Festival, the congregation informs the general public about Jewish history and culture.

 

CBI is also part of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, and one resource the international organization provides is a curriculum that examines both historical and present forms of antisemitism.