Anti-Semitism, with swastikas playing a starring role, has been making news of late in Greater Boston. Newton, Marblehead, Swampscott, and Georgetown are among the communities where incidents have occurred of late; with the addition, last week, of Winthrop.
Two schools – Winthrop Middle School and Winthrop High School – were vandalized during the early morning hours of Thursday, May 12. Police, called to the high school by a custodian, reported finding what they estimated to be about $20,000 of damage, as well as swastikas scrawled on a white board. Later that morning, police arrested a 19-year-old man who once attended Winthrop High School, Ciaran Dillon, and charged him with vandalism, but the swastikas will likely lead to additional hate charges, police say.
A week earlier, on May 5, an open house with more than 80 people in attendance at Georgetown Middle High School focused on a swastika incident outside that school on April 28. Police decided not to file charges against a 13-year-old boy after he confessed, along with other, younger children, to having used his foot to draw vulgarities in the artificial turf. The 13-year-old’s handiwork included a swastika.
“A swastika is not okay,” implored Rabbi Avi Poupko at the Georgetown meeting while making clear that his words shouldn’t be interpreted as an attack on the 13-year-old, who received a five day suspension, but rather that he was drawing his own line in the sand. “I’m saying that that symbol is painful, it’s hurtful, it’s real… it’s unacceptable.”
The chief of police, Donald Cudmore, told the crowd that the boy was not being charged because he clearly lacked an understanding of the gravity of his misdeed, a potential hate crime. “I’m comfortable that we did the right thing as police,” Chief Cudmore said in defense of that decision. “Whether you’re 13 or 30, I think that society is complicated, these are complicated situations and we need to use common sense, and that’s what we did.”
Parent Joshua Block, who told the assembly that he’d previously faced insensitivity from the school department regarding a refusal to cancel a soccer game on Rosh Hashanah, felt the youngster was getting off too easily. “If this had happened in Newton, this would have been an expulsion, no question. And I want to know from the people in this room if (they think) a five-day suspension is adequate to teach other kids that this really was wrong. Really wrong. Regardless of how ignorant the child was to what he did.”
Despite Block’s assumptions about Newton, two incidents of anti-Semitism at the F.A. Day Middle School over this school year were, in fact, covered up by the Newton School Department and only became public after an anonymous letter containing photographs was sent to Combined Jewish Philanthropies. That letter, which referenced “hateful graffiti” in a bathroom (“Burn the Jews” was written on the wall) in October and a swastika in the snow near school grounds in January, was forwarded to Newton police. It wasn’t until police contacted the school department that Principal Brian Turner shared details of the events in a note to parents.
Another Georgetown parent, who said she has a daughter in eighth grade, complained that the students at the middle school hadn’t been called to a meeting by the administration, which she felt would have reduced the flow of gossip. “The students haven’t been pulled together into a group so there’s a lot of talking among themselves, which I don’t think is such a great thing.” The woman said her daughter told her that there’s a Twitter hashtag (a keyword system that sorts twitter postings) that says “#Free” followed by the name of the 13-year-old who made the swastika. “The kids are all joking about it now,” she added.
In addition, the mother relayed a story from her daughter about having been told an anti-Semitic joke at school. How do you get the number of a Jewish girl you want to date? “Read her wrist,” was the punch line. “Georgetown is not a diverse community, it just isn’t,” the woman also said.
A junior at the school, Shea McFadden, was among those who said that there’s a history of anti-Semitism running below the surface in Georgetown. “I don’t get why people are acting like this is the first time something like this has happened,” she told the group, adding, “We have to talk about it.”