At a time when minority groups are increasingly under public attack from multiple sources, it is important that our community leaders speak out strongly to condemn all bias incidents and hate crimes.
Last week, the leaders of the Port Washington public schools did just that – and got it right.
On Thursday, November 2, a swastika, anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic graffiti were scrawled on the wall in one of the boys’ restrooms at Schreiber High School. This was not the first time this has happened at Schreiber. Indeed, this is not the only place such vandalism has occurred in our immediate vicinity. According to a well-documented study just released by the NY Anti-Defamation League (ADL), hate- and ignorance-inspired incidents of vandalism, harassment, and assault have increased by 96% in New York State in just the first nine months of this year. Almost double the same period last year.
Some schools might want to attempt to hide or downplay bias incidents in a misguided effort to protect their reputation. Instead, Port Washington School Superintendent Kathleen Mooney, Schreiber H.S. Principal Ira Pernick, Assistant Principal David Miller and the entire staff of our school district responded quickly to let the community know what had happened and share their proactive action-plan.
Immediately after discovering the graffiti, it was photographed and the police were called to investigate. The next day, in strong letters of condemnation written by Dr. Mooney and Dr. Pernick, the community was told of their plan to investigate thoroughly and hold grade-level assemblies where students would be shown images of the graffiti in order to reinforce “the damage these abhorrent acts can have on the very fabric of our school culture.” This is what good leadership – and great education – looks like.
But there is much more to be done, and our vigilance cannot take a break. The 24-hour news cycle and day-to-day acts of ignorance and divisiveness can become banal and exhausting. We must not allow this to become normal by its sheer repetitiveness. There are specific ways our community can join together to fight back against bigotry and hatred whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.
About a year ago, under the guidance of Rabbi Jodie Siff of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore (RSNS), we formed a community-based group we’ve named Shamor (Hebrew for “to keep guard”) to monitor and respond to anti-Semitism and other acts of bias and hate in our community. Recognizing that such incidents present “teachable-moments,” one of our first meetings was with Superintendent Mooney and her staff to learn more about how the schools were preparing to meet this rising tide of intolerance, and how we might be of help. We learned, for example, that funding had run out for an ADL-designed Peer Leadership Training program at Schreiber H.S. Working with all five synagogues in Port Washington and the ADL, Shamor helped arrange funding for the program, which is once again in place at Schreiber – adding one more tool in its arsenal to fight anti-Semitism, racism and hate. Shamor is proud to partner with the Port Washington schools and other local institutions to combat bias in our community.
The next public meeting of Shamor will be held on Tuesday, November 14th at 7:30 pm at RSNS at 1001 Plandome Road in Plandome. Please join us.
On behalf of Shamor:
Matt Harris, Lorri Staal, Joe Maissel and Don Buford
Port Washington, NY