On October 27, 2018, 11 lives were taken as they gathered in a place that they felt was safe, where they completed some of life’s biggest milestones, and where they had found a community. This event occurred for one reason: they were Jewish.
In the past two years alone, hate crimes have increased by 17% according to Newsweek. Recently in Connecticut, there has been a spike in drawings of swastikas and anti-Semitic symbols, such as swastikas drawn on the outside of AITE in August 2017.
The increase in anti-Semitism has spiked fear in Jewish communities across America. Students from Amity High School in Woodbridge, Connecticut recently experienced multiple acts of anti-Semitism.
At Amity, Jews have been strictly targeted. People have had rocks and eggs thrown at their windows late at night, students have reported hearing things such as “kill the Jews” in the halls at school, and other non-disclosed anti-Semitic acts have occurred.
Saunder Saffran, a junior at Amity, was shaken by the acts.
“I would say that the last couple of days at Amity have been extremely emotionally draining for most kids. The group that spoke out about the anti-Semitism in our school has been in meetings throughout the last couple of days. We, as a group, are not necessarily trying to get these [people] in a lot of trouble, but instead, create a movement to show that our community is stronger than hate. This movement is not only about anti-Semitism, but also about the hate with race, sexuality, and gender. I strongly believe that my school is turning this awful action into positive reinforcements,” Saffran said.
Simon Flaherty, another junior at Amity, has taken matters into his own hands.
“I personally have been very upset with what has been going on in my school. The administration has been working tirelessly with the police and Board of Education to put an end to this situation. I cannot disclose what has happened at the moment, but I can tell you that action is being taken and we have made very large steps towards ending it here in our school. It has gone on for too long,” Flaherty said.
At Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, another act of anti-Semitism took place. Leah Jackson, a junior at Hall, personally experienced an act of hate. On November 13, 2018, Jackson was in chemistry class when another student created a swastika out of lab materials.
“I was just really angry and upset. I was like ‘Why did this just happen?’ I was really confused that someone [would] make [a swastika] on my desk and not know the effect it had on me. So this morning, [November 14th, 2018], [a group of my Jewish friends and I] went and met with two of our assistant principals in the office,” Jackson said.
“We talked about how we want to be proactive with the situation. We talked about the curriculum about how genocide and Holocaust education is mandatory, yet how Holocaust education is kind of just skimmed upon. If two kids do not know what the symbol of a swastika means to someone, especially one of Jewish heritage, how many other people do not? It is a really scary thought because if they meant it as a joke, it still is not something that should not be joked about,” Jackson said.
An international organization called the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) was established in 1924 to bring Jews together and unite them, regardless of distance. BBYO exists to teach Jews about their heritage and allow them to practice their religion in a safe place. Members throughout the BBYO community have responded to these acts of hate.
Regional Director of Connecticut Valley Region BBYO, Tyler Pepe, has also voiced his thoughts concerning the issue.
“The personal accounts of anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ and racist incidents at Amity High School are heartbreaking. I myself was a student-athlete at Amity a decade ago, this hit as close to home as possible for me. For all of the negativity that surrounds this, I have seen even more to counter it. The response by the administrators has been admirable. I do not envy the challenges they face, and I am proud to be at the community table. Amity and BBYO along with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the United Jewish Federation, and several interfaith clergies are working together to respond in the long, short, and immediate terms. I have confidence in our community and have already noticed a shift just hours after this all came to light,” Pepe said.
Although there has not been recent anti-Semitic activity in Stamford, the rise in this activity in Connecticut is alarming.