To the Editor:

I read Andrew Leven’s opinion piece about the Riverhead High School student who scrawled a swastika and it was brought to the attention of the school board. Without specifying the context, he attributed it to a harmless prank, saying, “The root cause of this situation is probably not malevolence by an aspiring neo Nazi. It is probably ignorance, and ignorance does not merit this level of response. Which will then be misused by inserting it into the ‘Riverhead is racist’ narrative.”

I also grew up experiencing occasional instances of anti-Semitism and apparently for the past 80 years, the universal hate symbol of choice for anti-Semites and white supremacists has been the swastika.  My father survived the Warsaw Ghetto and lost his parents and many family members during the Holocaust. During his lifetime, seeing swastikas scrawled on synagogues in NYC brought back horrible memories and feelings of disgust.

Mr. Leven could be right that in Riverhead’s case, it was ignorance and should not be a narrative for the whole town,  but he can equally be wrong. I would rather err on the side of caution and call out the student for his deed just as I would call out a person who hangs a noose on a black person’s lawn. If it is simple ignorance, then let the person be taught about the pain he or she caused. If it is actually an action fueled by hate, then let that person deal with the consequences of the action and let others know that these actions, whether from ignorance or hate will not be tolerated. 

To assume that it is a harmless prank gives the perpetrator a pass and sets a terrible example, and that is the last thing we should be doing.

Steve Fox

President, Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck

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