Watching the Newport Beach “swastika” incident play out was very troubling to me. As a mother of grown children myself, I totally understand that sometimes teenagers do stupid things, get carried away, and follow the crowd without thinking, and that high school children’s brains are not fully developed. However, the fact that so many high schoolers feel that this type of behavior has become the new norm and is socially acceptable, makes me pay attention.
I attended one of the two town hall meetings, held by the responsive Newport Mesa Unified School District. At the meeting four high school students spoke. They described a culture where intolerance of any type of difference was rife. Their class mates made Jewish, Muslim, gay, racial and ethnic jokes. Slurs based on differences were part of their daily lives. There were swastikas drawn on bathroom stalls and carved into desks. Each of these students had experienced and witnessed Anti-semitic incidents.
Our Passover Hagaddah continually reminds us that, “once we were slaves and now we are free.” Are we truly free? Do we live in a society where we can play, pray, love, and dress in a way that reflects who we are? The Torah tells us that we were all created “Betsellim Elohim” (“in the image of G-d”). Each one of us has some godliness inside, every one of us matters. Surely we can do better. We can work to ensure that racial, religious, ethnic or sexual intolerance does not become normalized behavior. We can stand up for injustice of any kind.
To paraphrase one of the eloquent high schoolers who spoke, let’s embrace kindness and move forward in a more positive direction building a better tomorrow.
SUE PENN, the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, is known for being an innovative and creative educator. Sue sits on the Board of Directors for JFFSOC and Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. Sue is committed to providing opportunities which allow every individual to learn and engage in community.