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Hate in t​he Headlines

December 24, 2009
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Is it a mere coincidence that in one week's time, the infamous sign over Auschwitz was stolen, destroyed and retrieved; a Las Vegas teacher was sent home for allegedly spewing Holocaust denial in her classroom; and Jewish basketball players and their families from Lower Merion High School were subjected to anti-Semitic taunts?

That the spate of incidents occurred so close together is, of course, happenstance. But the sheer fact of these occurrences must give us pause. Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without some anti-Jewish act occurring somewhere around the world. Consider these other headlines during the last month alone: "Demjanjuk Attorney Belittles Survivors' Testimony" and "Ten Students Suspended for Kick a Jew Day."

It wasn't so long ago that anti-Semitism, particularly in this country, was considered mostly a non-issue. Even as recently as two decades ago, those who tabulated and tracked the incidents were considered alarmists.

Certainly, we've come a long way since the days when Jewish schoolchildren were subject to regular beatings and harassment, when quotas limited the number of Jewish students admitted to Ivy League colleges, and top graduates were barred from law firms.

Yet we now know that acts of violence against Jews still abound, as evidenced by the horrific shooting at the Seattle federation building in 2006. Just last week, the perpetrator, Naveed Haq, was convicted at his second trial of killing one woman and wounding five others.

More common are the less violent but no less disturbing expressions of discrimination and intolerance.

These incidents -- like the well-publicized "kick a Jew" day in Naples, Fla., and much closer to home, the "warm up the ovens" and other Holocaust-related chants directed at the Lower Merion High School basketball team at its game against Upper Darby -- are often rooted in ignorance and intolerance more than outright anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately, it's not so uncommon for middle- and high-schoolers to use discriminatory language, often blurring the line between jest and maliciousness.

The question is what adults do to condemn these instances and use them as teachable moments.

Publicity and public education helps. In the Naples incident, the superintendent of schools has been lauded for devoting an entire school board meeting to the issue. In Upper Darby, some students were reportedly suspended for their actions, and the head of the Upper Darby police has said he would speak to the student body about the dangers of anti-Semitism and hate speech.

We might have come far, but not so far that we can let complacency prevail. Education against intolerance never ends. 

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