Manalapan police are still investigating an incident where anti-Semitic graffiti, including a swastika, was scrawled on the grounds of the Clark Mills elementary school.
“No one has been charged as of yet, but the investigation is ongoing,” said police Lt. Leonard Maltese. Surveillance video showed five unidentified youths leaving the building on April 13, the day the graffiti was discovered.
Manalapan Mayor Susan Cohen said the graffiti was written in chalk on the school’s playground and the swastika was drawn about 30 feet away on a paved driveway leading to the school. The offensive material — police have yet to release a detailed description of the content — was discovered by a mother and her daughter who then alerted principal Jayme Orlando. The principal took photos and called the police. Officer Anthony Cascella of the Manalapan police department responded to the Gordons Corner Road school at 6:41 p.m., at which time the graffiti was removed.
Cohen said that grainy security camera footage shows five youths leaving the scene. Police believe they are students between the ages of 12 and 17 because they were picked up from the school.
“Presumably, they were being picked up by their parents because they were too young to drive,” said Cohen, who added that authorities have no reason to suspect the parents were aware of what their children had allegedly done.
The graffiti was drawn during Passover and on Holy Thursday. Holy Week, which leads up to Easter, had traditionally been a time when Europe’s Jews were subjected to harassment, attacks, and pogroms blaming them for the death of Jesus.
“We don’t know if there’s any correlation,” said Cohen, who is Jewish and the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. “It’s very upsetting to me personally that kids are doing these things and haven’t learned to accept others.”
Last week the Anti-Defamation League released its quarterly report on April 24 showing an 86 percent jump in anti-Semitic incidents across the country in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the first quarter of 2016. That follows an increase of 34 percent in the number of anti-Semitic incidents from 2015 to 2016.
On its website, the ADL said, there has been a “massive increase in the amount of harassment of American Jews, particularly since November, and a doubling in the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”
The states with the largest Jewish populations had the most incidents with New Jersey ranking third after California and New York, with 157 reported incidents in New Jersey in 2016, and 24 in the first quarter of 2017.
Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey executive director Keith Krivitzky said Jewish leadership has been watching the growing uptick in in anti-Semitic incidents with rising concern.
“If you look at the comments aimed at Jewish reporters or those who are perceived as Jewish on newspaper blogs, it’s scary,” he said. “These types of things are more prominent than ever. To fight this we have to first recognize we have a problem. We’ve been very upfront and open calling out the problems we see and calling on people of good faith and conscience across the board to decry these incidents.”
Krivitzky said federation has been proactive in working with schools, community members, and law enforcement on security and education. They’ve also been cooperating with partners such as such as Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education (Chhange) at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, and the Daniel Pearl Education Center at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick to “look how we can leverage resources and reach a broader audience.” He said they are actively exploring funding sources to implement programs and security.
“These demonstrations of intolerance are always painful and upsetting,” said Andrew Boyarsky, chair of the Daniel Pearl Education Center. “Hate messages are an affront to all of us, regardless of religion or nationality, and we must stand shoulder to shoulder as a united community.” The Pearl center is a nonprofit committed to the ideals of understanding and community, part of the legacy of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and murdered by extremists in Pakistan in 2002.
Chhange executive director Dale Daniels said the center is working to combat incidents of hate and intolerance. Its Building Bridges program, implemented this year with the Rumson school district, sets up exhibits in the college and brings speakers, including Holocaust survivors, to speak to students.
Daniels said the program has proven so successful it plans to expand to four more districts. Rumson superintendent Dr. John Bormann reached out to the center, according to Daniels, and the program was developed for seventh and eighth graders at Forrestdale School.
“They have definitely seen a positive change in school culture,” said Daniels. “The superintendent has told us the conversations started have been amazing. I always say a preventive program is much better than responding to something that has already happened.”
The center’s signature program is an annual teen trip to the Holocaust museum in partnership with B’nai Shalom and St. Bartholomew School in East Brunswick. Other churches, schools, and religious and cultural institutions also send participants each year. The trip is followed up the next evening with a discussion at the synagogue for students and their parents featuring a Holocaust survivor or child of a survivor.
“Our vision always becomes more clear when we add the lenses of diverse experiences and perspectives,” said Boyarsky. “Watching diverse teens — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — experience the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum together is very powerful and uplifting. It is our hope that these teens will be more likely to be vigilant in preventing or at least challenging intolerance and hatred.”
Anyone with any information regarding the Clark Mills incident should call the Manalapan Township Police Department at 732-446-4300.