The father of a student competing at a Mineola robotics competition claims a judge made an anti-Semitic remark at the event, according to a Newsday article.
Yan Vilensky’s 14-year-old son, Ariel, was one of 10 Woodmere Middle School students competing in the FIRST Lego League regional event at Mineola High School on Sunday, Feb. 9.
Vilensky told Newsday that he recorded their presentation on his cellphone “for the memories, for personal use.”
According to Newsday, Vilensky, 48, was shocked when one of the two female judges turned to the other and said “Goddamned Jews” after a student mentioned the United Hebrew Community of New York.
“You want to, as a parent, have moments from your kid’s life,” Vilensky said to Newsday on Thursday. “It was a very, very upsetting and derogatory comment. It’s not what we teach our kids.”
Hewlett-Woodmere district spokeswoman Barbara Giese told Newsday that FIRST Lego League of Manchester, New Hampshire, which organized the event, hired both judges.
“We want to make it clear that neither of the adults in that video are [Hewlett-Woodmere] district employees,” Giese told Newsday. “We did speak with the organizer from Lego earlier [Thursday] and we were informed that the individual is not a teacher. But we don’t know more than that at this time.”
FIRST said in a statement to Blank Slate Media: “We are aware of the remark that was made at the event in Mineola. What was said on the video is disgraceful and has no place in society, let alone at a youth school event. As such, this volunteer will no longer be welcomed back as a volunteer in any capacity for any future FIRST events. We work hard to ensure an environment of respect and equity and comments such as this will never be tolerated.”
Vilensky told Newsday he avoided confronting the judges as to not affect his son’s team score and create a scene in front of the students.
According to Newsday, he told his wife, Irina, who reached out to Hewlett-Woodmere and Mineola school district officials, the FIRST Lego League and former state Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Hikind is the founder of the organization Americans Against Antisemitism.
According to Newsday, Vilensky said he was born in Minsk, Belarus, while Irina was born in Ukraine. Vilensky said they came to the United States to escape religious persecution, among other things.
“We know how things were done in the old country, the persecutions, the pogroms,” he said, “and we are very grateful to the nation since we’re here and do everything to contribute to it that we can.”
In a statement to Newsday, Mineola School Superintendent Michael P. Nagler said: “The district vehemently denounces the comments made during judging at the robotics event this past weekend. The competition judges were not Mineola employees and no Mineola students were involved in the incident. FIRST Lego League is an islandwide organization that facilitates robotics tournaments and for this competition the district’s building served as a volunteer facility.”
Efforts to reach Vilensky, Nagler and Giese were unavailing.