Community working together to solve Summit swastika scourge

Community working together to solve Summit swastika scourge

Sixth Nazi symbol found in school in district strong in Shoah education

Anti-Semitic slurs and other offensive graffiti found outside Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in October last year. Photo via Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ
Anti-Semitic slurs and other offensive graffiti found outside Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in October last year. Photo via Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

DURING LAST WEEK’S New Jersey Labor Seder in Newark, Rabbi Avi Friedman of Conservative Congregation Ohr Shalom in Summit expressed frustration as swastikas continued to be found in schools in the Union County town of 22,000.

“I appreciate what everyone is doing, the school district, the police, all involved,” he said. “I just wish we can find the perpetrators. We all are aware we can’t put surveillance cameras in bathrooms, where [the swastikas] have been found.”

Six swastikas, the largest the size of a silver dollar, have been found since November in both Summit High School and the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School, the latest reported in a girls’ bathroom at the middle school
April 19.

“The fact that this involves young people is really troubling,” said Summit superintendent of schools and CEO June Chang. “It’s also troubling to me personally because, before my position here at Summit, I was heavily involved in Holocaust education programs.”

Chang said when the swastikas started, the district, after the second occurrence, engaged the services of Alexander Rosemberg, director of community affairs and associate director of New York/New Jersey Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who is working with Jennifer McCann, the district’s director of education and chief academic officer, and the Summit Interfaith Council “to create educational programs that will provide the message we need.”

The ADL, in a statement issued April 17, acknowledged its concern about the incidents in the Summit district, which is two-thirds white with a sizeable Jewish population, and seems to have been hit hardest by racist graffiti during a recent outbreak of acts of hatred and bias in New Jersey.

“This a trend that we have been following for two years,” said Rosemberg. “We have engaged with the [Summit] school district and have had assemblies on the subject and are at their disposal with anything they might need. Hate symbols in any school can be traumatic to students, teachers, parents, and the community.”

The ADL also offers Holocaust education curriculum to schools.

As curriculum supervisor for the Jersey City Public Schools district (2007-11), Chang created what was termed a unique Holocaust education program, which included contemporary video software, allowing students to document and share the history of the Shoah in what was designed as new and compelling ways. He was also involved in the Holocaust Study Tour program, which takes students to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic to visit museums and Holocaust sites, with the aim of inculcating in the young people increased understanding of the enormity of the Nazi genocide and the value of human life.

Chang and McCann have installed a Holocaust Education Curriculum in the Summit district that begins in the elementary schools and which is designed to encourage students to stand up for each other and value diversity. A comprehensive study of the Holocaust spans reading and writing in the fifth grade, according to the curriculum’s syllabus.

The education continues in middle school, covering the rise of Nazi Germany and such readings as Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” and the stories of German boxer Max Schmeling and Nobel Laureate Elie
Wiesel, the survivor and prolific chronicler of his Shoah experiences, who died in 2016.

Out of this a collection of student journal entries is given to the Holocaust Council of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ for a program called “Survivors Speak.”

In high school, all juniors attend an assembly that features Holocaust survivors, a program coordinated by federation, which honored Summit High School for consistently featuring this event.

“The swastikas, certainly, are not what we want in our schools and our community,” said Chang. “We are working with the authorities and all involved. We feel education is a key factor here.”

Related Articles: Labor Seder brings diverse communities together

read more: