On Wednesday, Dec. 1, a Swastika was found in one of the WHS bathroom stalls. The drawing of a Swastika, an act of antisemitic graffiti, is not new to the Westfield community. According to the Anti Defamation League, there have been 647 antisemitic incidents in New Jersey from 2019- present, but more specifically there have been multiple instances in our school community since September.
For the first time, the WHS administration took an active approach with a school-wide response the next day. Following her statement on the live Blue Devil TV morning announcements, Principal Mary Asfendis released an email statement to parents and staff acknowledging the impact of this hate crime on Jewish students and staff members. She specifically stressed the severity of the school and legal consequences for these actions which are still pending due to further police investigation.
Unfortunately, this act of hate coincides with the date in which the No Place for Hate committee’s third annual “Pledge Signing Day.” Students were given the opportunity in homeroom to sign a pledge that holds them accountable to speak up against bias, promote respect and reach out to targets of hate in the WHS community.
In her email and in the announcement to the school, Asfendis said, “What was particularly upsetting was that this incident occurred yesterday after a large majority of our community pledged Westfield High School to be No Place for Hate. All of us should be appalled that this was found in our school, as the symbol of the Swastika is incredibly painful to many members of our school community and should be offensive to all of us.”
Antisemitic hate crimes have a significant impact on students and staff alike, and many are struggling to cope in the aftermath of this discovery. Junior Drew Kornfeld said, “[Hate crimes are] things where you hear about it happening and you’re like, oh, this would never happen at my school. Then, when it happens at your school, multiple times, you’re extremely shocked over and over again. The fact that this happened on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah magnifies the upset [feelings].”
In line with this new active approach, Asfendis called for an open after-school discussion on Thursday to debrief with students and staff in regards to the incident on Dec. 1. Students were provided a forum to speak directly with their administrators about the effects that the repeated finding of swastikas has on them.
Senior Alyrie Silverman said, “Being Jewish in Westfield, I have to fear for my safety. It is unacceptable for Swastikas to be drawn in schools, especially at the high school level when students are learning about the effects of the Holocaust [as a part of their curriculum].”
The after-school discussion explored incorporating more opportunities to raise awareness about hate crimes into the school’s curriculum. In the meeting, the group reached a consensus that there is extreme importance in providing teachers with resources to appropriately address the topic of antisemitism and increasing the frequency of discussing hate crimes in both a reflective and preventative manner.
This new, active approach from the administration enables the conversations that our society deems as “uncomfortable” and prepares the student body for an effectuation of positive change.