An underage drinking game called Beer Pong took an ugly turn when Princeton High School students injected the Holocaust into a competition over alcohol consumption, then posted a photo of the contest on the Internet.
They gave their game two names, “Holocaust Pong” and “Alcoholocaust,” and dubbed their two teams “Jews” and “Nazis.” The object was to toss ping-pong balls into cups of beer arranged to form the shape of a swastika on one side of a table, and a star of David on the other. Once a ball lands in a cup, the game’s rules stipulate, one of the thrower’s opponents must drink the beer inside it.
Rules included the “Anne Frank” move, in which the “Jewish” team can hide one of their cups, and the “Auschwitz” move, in which the “Nazi” team can make one of their opponents sit out the game for a period of time.
When a photograph of the 17-year-old student players appeared on the social media site Snapchat, it triggered a storm of controversy and anger.
A PHS fellow student who was not at the party, Jamaica Ponder, condemned the incident on her personal blog and circulated the photo widely.
“Well, perhaps it is a joke,” she wrote. “But then I guess the punchline would be: genocide. Pardon me if I don’t find that to be hilarious. The real joke here is that these kids weren’t only insensitive enough to play the game, but also silly enough to post it on Snapchat and leave it there long enough for me, and several others, to take a screenshot.”
“Putting the picture on social media means that someone was proud enough of the game to want to show it off,” she added. “Meaning that they must be trapped in the delusional mindset that making a drinking game based off of the Holocaust is cool. Or funny. Or anything besides insane. Because that’s what this is: insanity.”
In an interview, Ponder, an African-American, told The New York Times, “I’m not even Jewish and I’m still offended.”
To the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Joshua Cohen, “it was a profoundly offensive incident that highlights a larger issue — trivialization of the Holocaust, Nazis, Hitler, and anti-Semitism.”
“It also underscores the critical need for Holocaust education,” Cohen told NJ Jewish News in an April 8 phone interview. “Schools must provide safe environments against racism and prejudice and facilitate understanding among students.”
Although the players have not been publicly identified, Jewish students were reported to have been among them. Cohen called that “really disturbing. It reinforces the need to educate Jewish students on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and give them constructive responses to anti-Semitism if they should encounter it.”
Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor agreed.
In an April 11 interview, he told NJJN he found the incident “very upsetting,” particularly the reports that Jewish students may have been involved in playing the game. “I hope they all receive sensitivity training. It has been 71 years since the end of the Holocaust, and still some people are insensitive” to its atrocities.
Princeton police are investigating the incident for a possible violation of the underage drinking law, which would apply if an adult provided alcohol to minors.
In a public statement issued April 8, Princeton school superintendent Steve Cochrane said he was “deeply upset that some of our students chose to engage in a drinking game with clearly anti-Semitic overtones and to broadcast their behavior over social media.”
Cochrane said he has spoken with the students and their parents and is using the incident as a teaching moment for his community.
“We all have a role in teaching our children to make good decisions, to be legally responsible, and to be respectful members of a diverse society,” said Cochrane. “An incident such as this one forces us to take a hard look at our efforts in educating our children in the values that may be most important to their success in life. I am hopeful that as a school district we can join with parents, with other agencies in our community, and with students themselves to elevate our efforts to prepare our children to be people of character.”
For the past week, Mark Merkovitz, executive director of the PMB federation, has spoken with dozens of people in the community to explore ways to make the incident “a teachable opportunity” and “to prepare Jewish kids to handle this type of situation.”
In an April 12 e-mail to NJJN, Merkovitz said as soon as he heard of the incident, he joined with Cohen of the ADL to draft a letter to Cochrane. “We received a positive response from the superintendent, thanking us,” Merkovitz said.
In addition, he spoke with Rabbi Adam Feldman of the Jewish Center in Princeton, “who informed us of the conversations he has had with school officials.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation,” Merkovitz wrote, “and make ourselves available for any positive assistance and/or resolution.”