It saddens me to write to you about antisemitism in our backyard. Last week a swastika was scrawled at the John Jay Middle School (JJMS). Since 2021, New York State Law prohibits the display of a swastika on public property. It is deemed a hate crime. To the credit of the school principal, the police were called immediately and the ADL was contacted for guidance. I have been in contact with families in our congregation who attend this school. They have expressed outrage and concern. They ask “How does this happen in a school where Holocaust education is a part of the curriculum?”
This past week the school engaged all of its students and staff in educational programs to learn about the history of the swastika and why it should never be used. The principal has informed me there is a zero-tolerance policy for Antisemitism, hate speech, hate acts or bullying of any kind to anyone.
Principal Jeffrey S. Swiatowicz wrote, “I want to be clear that the JJMS community does not tolerate the type of behavior we saw last week. I appreciate the students and families who have come forward over the last few days to share their thoughts with me. I have found each interaction to be helpful, thoughtful, and honest. Unfortunately, I still have not been able to identify the person(s) who is responsible for this terrible act. I am again encouraging anyone with information to come forward with information about the person(s) responsible. As I shared with students today, Antisemitism is unique since it targets Jewish people. Like other forms of hate, Antisemitism grows in silence. Know that if you have knowledge about this or other hateful incidents at JJMS and you are silent, you are part of the problem.”
In the coming days, I will be meeting with local Rabbis as well as the Anti-Defamation League. It is my hope that our school can learn from this incident so that if something like this happens again, we can better support the community members impacted by senseless actions like this.”
During the past week, I have been in on-going communication with Principal Swiatowicz. I have found him to be sincere and committed to creating a school environment that honors diversity and gives no oxygen to antisemitism.
In 2019, Bari Weiss, a NY Times journalist, wrote a powerful book about the rise of Antisemitism in America. She wrote “Antisemitism is the hatred that never dies. Violence that begins with the Jews never ends with them. All of this is true. What’s also true is that Antisemitism is the oldest hatred in the world because individual people have sustained it in every generation. It cannot be defeated until we look these people and their ideologies in the face.”
Here in Northern Westchester we are looking this problem squarely in the face. We have assembled a partnership of school administrators and teachers, law enforcement, the ADL and a committed group of local clergy.
John Jay, who the JJMS was named for, was appointed the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President George Washington. Washington fought Antisemitism and declared this country gives “To Bigotry, no sanction and to persecution, no assistance.” We will ensure that this legacy endures at John Jay Middle School and throughout our country.
Rabbi David Wilfond