This past Wednesday morning Andover High School announced that there had been multiple swastikas carved into desks in a classroom. These swastikas raise the larger question of how accepting the AHS community is of different races and religions and leaves students and faculty wondering how many people resort to the use of these explicit symbols of hate.

AHS Principal Conrad involved the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and the Andover Police Department in the crisis. Conrad stated that his “hope is that they can help us as we move forward with programs that would be beneficial to students, teachers, parents and for the community at large.”

In a Boston Herald article published December 13 it emphasized the police department’s decision to label the incident as a hate crime due to the swastikas being found in the classroom of a Jewish educator. Principal Conrad explained the two differing objectives of the Andover Police Department and AHS. The goal of the police department in their investigation is to find out who drew these swastikas and prosecute them. The school has a different goal, hoping to find the perpetrator and help them understand the effect of the hateful nature of their actions on the fabric of the Andover community in combination with presenting them with consequences.

This incident is not the first of its kind and sheds a light on the very big problem Massachusetts is facing with these acts of bigotry. According to a Nov. 15 article on the Jerusalem Post the ADL, a national Organization that, as they say in their mission statement, “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” In the beginning of the year, they stated that there had been 53 anti-semitic incidents in Massachusetts K-12 schools, an increase of more than 60 percent over the 33 school-based incidents they logged over the same period in 2016.

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ADL statistics highlighting rise of anti-Semitic incidents from 2015 to 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

Rabbi Goldstein, head Rabbi at Temple Emanuel Andover, wrote a response to the hate crime expressing that, “Given our history, the swastika is particularly harmful to those in the Jewish community. But this ugly symbol is an attack on every minority, every group that has felt the sting of narrow-mindedness and disrespect.”

After this incident, Andover High School aspires to begin, with the help of the ADL and Andover’s cultural leaders, to change the curriculum to help students become more culturally aware. Ms. Pina, a history teacher at AHS advises that “there needs to be more education on modern day anti-semitism; much like racism people assume it’s a thing of the past, it was really bad back then and somehow it has magically disapeared now, when actually if you really look deeper at human interactions and at inequalities in society you can see that more subtle examples happen all the time.”

Avery Kaplowitch, a senior at Marblehead High School, worked with the ADL when she and her friend were sent Snapchats of peers creating swastikas in their classes. Through her involvement with the ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute she “has learned more about educating and effectively working with others in order to promote a healthy, positive and safe environment in her school” and has been able to help her community in its journey to rid itself of discrimination.

AHS wants to begin its own journey to heal and improve in the wake of this incident. In Conrad’s email to AHS parents he reminded them to “please know that we are deeply committed to the goals that all students are safe, that all students develop empathy and respect for others as well as reject hate and intolerance.”

Education on the subjects of racism, genocide and ignorance is the root of the solution to this problem. In his Aug. 15 op-ed to the Boston Globe Steve Wessler discusses what happens to  those who never learn the consequences of their cultural ignorance. He worries “that years of hearing degrading language and stereotypes about Jews will infect them with bias. How will they react as adults if anti-Semitism rises significantly across the United States? Will they join the anti-Semites? Will they stay quiet, thinking that those stereotypes may be accurate?”

Some teachers at AHS have been conducting in-depth conversations with students to evoke more awareness in the school about racism and antisemitism. After having conversations with her classes Ms. Pina reflected, “I felt good about conversations that I had with students in my classes because I think not only were people horrified about what happened when they talked about it, but horrified that they weren’t horrified to begin with.”

The school plans to move forward with their programs with the ADL and religious leaders after the new year. Until then Rabbi Goldstein wants the Jewish student community of Andover to know that “a) they are safe, and b) that there are unfortunately always going to be people in the world who engage in this type of, possibly anti semitic, behavior.”

By Sydney Bergan