By Jawad Hossain, Caitlyn McDuffee and McKenzi Thi Murphy
The Holocaust Memorial Center will hold assemblies on Feb. 15th for students at Mattituck High School, in response to a rise in anti-Semitic activities at the high school, and on Long Island.
The assembly titled “Understanding Impact Deconstructing Symbols of Hate,” intends to teach the history behind hate symbols, hate speech and what makes them offensive. The assembly will also encourage students to intervene when they detect any instance of hate and disrespect, but some are skeptical of the outcome.
“Maybe a few people [will listen], but I feel like after an assembly people are always like ‘that’s stupid, that’s dumb, nobody cares’,” Mia-Xing Berninger, a 10th grade student at Mattituck High School, said. I don’t think the people who need to hear it are going to pay any attention.”
Berninger is among the school’s small population of color and says there is not enough emphasis on diversity.
“The purpose of this letter is to share with you concern over several incidents that have occurred this year in regard to individual students joking about their support and admiration of Nazism and Adolf Hitler,” Principal Shawn Petretti in a letter sent out to parents, said.
He also referred to language and acts associated with anti-Semitism and them taking place primarily within the 7th through 10th grade student population but did not disclose any specifics regarding the incidents or perpetrators.
K-12 schools saw an increase of 94 percent with 457 incidents being reported as opposed to 235 incidents only a year earlier in 2016, revealed the 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, published by the Anti-Defamation League.
“There were swastika drawings on bathroom walls [as well as]…incidents of targeting individuals with hate speech. Sadly, this is nothing new,” Kathleen Galvin, a Spanish teacher at the school, said.
The upcoming assembly at the high school will be hosted by Helen Turner, the Holocaust Memorial Center’s youth education director.
“I really hope that students can understand the power that they have to make a change.” Turner, said. “They are going to see something or hear something that is prejudice or hate related in the future.” Turner’s goal is for students to recognize that they can prevent hate to circulate.
Suffolk County has the lowest level of Jewish connections among the eight counties in and around New York City; its Jewish engagement has weakened since 2002. There are approximately 86,000 Jews in the county as opposed to 229,900 Jews in Nassau County and 197,800 Jews in Queens, revealed the most recent Jewish Community Study of New York in 2011, published by the UJA-Federation of New York.
“School officials are reacting so strongly just to cover their [expletive] because they don’t do anything for diversity,” Sara Kaypak, a former Mattituck student and recipient of the Jewish War Veterans award through NJROTC, said.
Kaypak is not Jewish herself but was one of the few non-white students at the time. She called the diversity and acceptance at Mattituck terrible.
“Kids are clout chasers and just want to be talked about or seem like they are cool when they are not,” Kaypak said. “Because if you act like this and say these nasty hateful things it’s just really bad in my eyes.”
“Jewish people are used to being called names, our history shows that,” Ellen Zimmerman, a member of the Board of Trustees and Chair of Religious Practices at North Fork Reform Synagogue, said.
North Fork Reform Synagogue has no permanent staff, so it consists solely of volunteers, including many young people. They recently hosted an event with the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force to celebrate and reflect on the life, work and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. for MLK Day.
“Social media is a place where people who are intolerant of others can read inflammatory words and can be harmful especially for kids because they don’t know what is true or not.” Zimmerman explained. “Teenagers have to follow the golden rule – treat people the way you want to be treated.”
“I think that there are a lot of ignorant people whose parents tell them that Jews are Christ killers, they can’t be trusted, they’re greedy. They don’t know many Jewish people, so they think [Jewish people] are different…the really dangerous ones hide it,” Howard Brodis, a Jewish resident in Mattituck whose children attended Mattituck High School many years ago, said.
Brodis attributes much of the intolerance to the current political climate. “It’s what a tyrant does. They scapegoat, they try to make you hate people. It’s pathetic.”