Reaching the breaking point

Hi’s Eye staff demands conversations and action

“You who live safe / In your warm houses, / You who find, returning in the evening, / Hot food and friendly faces: / Consider if this is a man / Who works in the mud / Who does not know peace / Who fights for a scrap of bread / Who dies because of a yes or a no. / Consider if this is a woman, / Without hair and without name / With no more strength to remember, / Her eyes empty and her womb cold / Like a frog in winter. / Meditate that this came about: / I commend these words to you. / Carve them in your hearts / At home, in the street, / Going to bed, rising; / Repeat them to your children, / Or may your house fall apart, / May illness impede you, / May your children turn their faces from you.” – Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz 

The Hi’s Eye staff is disheartened by the recent acts of antisemitism in our school. As a publication, our goal is to enlighten students and faculty on issues that pertain to our community, especially those that are difficult and disturbing. We feel it is our obligation to inform our readers about how these acts of hate impact the people around us.

Part of understanding why these acts of antisemitism are so hateful stems from the true meaning behind these emblems. Although it originated as a buddist symbol, the swastika later became an antisemitic insignia, resurfacing at the inception of World War II. Nazi soldiers wore this symbol as they tortured and killed Jews in concentration camps and the symbol became synonymous with Jewish hate everywhere. 

Despite the prevelant Jewish population in Westfield, we have experienced many antisemitic hate crimes. In fact, earlier this year, we published an article regarding the swastika drawn on the Mindowaskin Park playground. Evidently, these hateful acts have sadly continued and developed into something much larger with multiple swastikas and a racial slur carved into various bathrooms at WHS.

Many Americans, the same age as our classmates, left their homes to fight in 1940s Nazi Germany, some of whom walked the halls of WHS. While we know the swastika to be a symbol of Jewish hate, we must also understand that its use is an affront to those who risked and lost their lives fighting against a fascist regime. 

It is frightening to see the frequency to which these hate crimes are occuring, and upsetting that many members of the community have become desensitized to these discriminatory actions. One element that seems to be missing is the outrage: how are we not appalled by these events? It is only when we take a genuine zero tolerance approach to antisemitism, not just addressing it by name, but with substance at its core, that we, as a community, can come together to combat such hate. 

It has reached the point where it is no longer sufficient to argue that the acts are occurring out of ignorance. It is one thing to claim ignorance when a swastika is found at an elementary school or even a middle school, but it is alarming and unrealistic to think that a high school student doesn’t know the hateful nature of this symbol. Even if the perpetrator doesn’t have a solid background on the meaning behind the symbol, the recent attention from the student body and administration alone, implies its significance.

If ignorance is the true cause, then incorporating the first hand accounts and horrors of the Holocaust into the curriculum will go a long way. These methods acknowledge true antisemitism and hate, pushing students to realize the weight of their own actions. 

Actions have been taken to try and initiate a conversation by holding optional meetings after school. While refreshing to see, it seems to defeat the purpose if students are given the choice to attend, as only those being affected are attending. The perpetrator(s) who committed these hate crimes likely don’t  attend these meetings and thus, no change can be made on an individual or school wide level.

However, Assistant Principal Warren Hynes, along with many members of the student body, have recognized this concern. The No Place for Hate Club and the Jewish Culture and Development Club are working together to plan a school wide meeting on Dec. 20. This meeting will be held during school hours, so there is no choice to opt out of these uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations.

Each homeroom teacher will be given a list of discussion questions after viewing a video put together by the Jewish Culture and Development Club, providing a brief history of the Holocaust and the meaning behind the swastika symbol. Personal statements from students will also be included. Hopefully, each homeroom will be accompanied by one or more students who attended the No Place for Hate meeting on Dec. 9 to help facilitate the discussions. 

After countless times where these hurtful incidents have been swept under the rug, it is reassuring to see the school taking serious actions in order to make students at WHS comfortable and safe in a time of tragedy. 

Along with all that the Jewish Culture and Development Club has planned in order to recognize the severity of these actions, it is crucial for teachers and administrators to continue to facilitate open and real conversations with students, despite the discomfort it may cause. The Jewish community needs to feel supported during these times of crisis, which will not be possible until open conversations are being held in all classes.

We hope that the administration will realize that the students hold a lot of power and are capable of making a large change in our community. We seek a level of transparency from the faculty so that we can reach our full potential as a student body.  

Additionally, we encourage open conversations between friends on a smaller scale. If you feel that you are unaffected by these events, realize that some of your peers are greatly hurt by them and remember to have an open mind when listening to their concerns.

There is something incredibly jarring about the time and effort needed for a person to actually carve out a swastika. This was an explicit crime, and one that deeply affects the safety and wellbeing of a large number of students and faculty. Through the measures taken by the WHS staff and administration in response to these displays of hate, we are hopeful that this will create a new oath to tolerance and acceptance.

Speaking to the perpetrator(s) who committed these heinous and cowardice acts, we challenge you to come forward and share why you feel the need to vandalize school property and attack members of your community.

Although it may be challenging at times, the responsibility lies with us, the students, to stand up to any forms of intolerance we encounter. Whether it is a joke or dismissal of the events in our school, they all hold a powerful and hurtful message that needs to be stopped. We have the power to change the culture. Let’s stand together.

With hope,

Hi’s Eye Staff