Here is a statement from Pelham Jewish Center Rabbi Alex Salzberg on News od Three Swastikas Found at Middle School:

Dear Friends,

I appreciate the response of Dr. Champ and the talented educators at the helm of our school district to the discovery of three swastikas in Pelham Middle School. I value that they made this incident an opportunity for our students to gather and learn together. I am grateful, as both the rabbi of Pelham Jewish Center and the parent of three children, one of whom is in currently enrolled in first grade at Siwanoy, that there are district-wide curricular objectives which include the historical trajectory of antisemitism.

I am terribly saddened that this is the first piece of community news that I encountered in the new Jewish year. I am saddened, but not entirely surprised. This is not the first incident of swastikas being discovered in Pelham, and despite the efforts in our schools, I doubt that it will be the last. Overall, hate crimes have increased 64% in New York over the past year; antisemitic crimes have nearly doubled in the same amount of time. Nationwide, religiously motivated hate crimes overwhelmingly target Jews; two violent attacks on synagogues killed 12 Jews, in America, in the last year. It would be naïve to hope that our quiet corner of America would be immune to overt hate.

While I am not equating swastikas on the wall with murder, it is nauseating to think that they were defacing the school that many of our children attend as we gathered in synagogues this week to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – is one of our holiest days; the subject of my sermon on Tuesday was antisemitism and the need for everyone to push back against it, no matter how “innocuous” it might seem.

Before I began, I reminded members of the congregation to thank Office Murphy of the Pelham Manor Police Department for protecting us during our High Holiday prayers; his presence and vigilance ensured our safety and enabled us to breathe more easily and focus on prayer. That a uniformed police car was a necessary security measure for our synagogue – and for synagogues around the world - speaks volumes.

Over the summer, concerns were raised about the Historical Cabinet maintained by the Pelham’s American Legion Post 50. Among the various artifacts housed in this Cabinet were several pieces of Nazi paraphernalia, captured by American soldiers during World War II. As Joe Durnin, a past commander of the Post, explained to me, those artifacts are preserved and displayed in order to serve as a reminder of what our veterans fought against and the ideology of hatred that our nation opposes. We are working together to plan a community-wide program which incorporates both American and Jewish perspectives in the fight against antisemitism; if you're interested in being a part of this, please contact me.

The swastikas in our school are qualitatively different. While I am hopeful that this was an individual child acting out without malicious or violent intent, we must state unequivocally that this is an act of hate speech that frightens and isolates the Jewish members of the Pelham community. We must amplify the words of Dr. Champs letter: “These symbols of hate have no place in our society and especially within our schools.” These symbol may have defaced the walls of the middle school, but they were carved into the hearts of anyone who was a target of the Nazi genocide.

I appreciate the swift and unequivocal condemnation of this act by the other faith communities in Pelham. It is only through a true communal effort that we can fight antisemitism and other forms of hatred. It requires the educational work that our schools our doing and the moral leadership of all religious and community organizations. Most of all, it requires clear conversations at home that such hatred can never be accepted or justified.

Antisemitism – and all forms of hatred – demean us all and are an insult to the ideals to which we, as a nation, aspire. Let us resolve to fight such hatred, together.

Rabbi Alex Salzberg

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