Local Jewish leaders speak out against anti-Semitism in Cobb County schools


Local Jewish leaders are calling on the Cobb County School District to do more in response to anti-Semitic hate speech in its schools.

On September 16 – during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur – Rabbi Spike Anderson of Temple Emanu-El in Sandy Springs used part of his sermon to comment on recent cases of hate speech and anti-Semitism at Pope High School. According to a Facebook post from Pope High School PTSA, some students have drawn swastikas and other anti-Semitic messages on the school walls.

“Their choice of what to graffiti was not a dirty word, but rather the words ‘Heil Hitler’,” said Anderson. “I’m not suggesting that these kids are neo-Nazi brains. I have no idea what ideologies they were exposed to. But sure, there is something in the air that made them write these words in particular.

Anderson then called on the school district’s decision not to allow critical race theory in its schools. The district voted to ban Critical Race Theory – which is a concept that seeks to show how racism and inequalities in history shape society, politics and other aspects of life – in June 2021.

“Pope High School is not allowed to use this incident to teach any history, values ​​or ethical lessons,” Anderson said. “It also means that schools like Pope are strongly discouraged from inviting organizations like the Anti-Defamation League to teach children and teachers how to deal with these incidents, or to create an atmosphere where children would… defend themselves. each other against hatred of any kind. ”

Senator Jon Ossoff also spoke at the Sandy Springs Temple on September 16.

“My generation was raised with the words ‘never forget’ stuck in our minds,” Ossoff said. “And so when in Pope High School … a swastika and a tribute to Adolf Hitler are scrawled on the school walls … it must ignite in us the same passion for the survival of our people that burned in the hearts of the generation. out of the Holocaust and built a future for the Jewish people here in America, in the world and in the Land of Israel.

Days after the Pope incident, someone drew anti-Semitic speech and symbols on the walls of Lassiter High School, also in the Cobb County School District.

“I am both angry and saddened by the appearance of symbols and words of hate in our school and our community,” Lassiter principal Chris Richie said in a letter posted to Facebook. “I think it’s important to let parents know what happened, name it and let our students know that we condemn it.”

In response to these two events, a group called the Atlanta Initiative Against Antisemitism (AIAAS) started a petition calling on the school board to act. The AIAAS launched the petition in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Union of Jewish Students, according to a press release.

“We call on the Cobb County School Board and its associated schools to recognize and condemn all forms of anti-Semitism occurring on campus and allow principals to condemn these acts and reinstate programs for proactively educate the student body and the community on anti-Semitism and to avoid further events, ”reads the petition, which as of September 22 had more than 3,900 signatures.

According to AIAAS, the Cobb County School District has not done enough to condemn these acts of anti-Semitism and hate speech.

“This is a good time to learn, and we have to seize it,” Lauren Menis, co-founder of AIAAS, said in the press release. “By not naming him and not allowing anti-hate education programs to address this problem in their schools, schools have denied a valuable opportunity to help students learn from these events.”

Menis said several synagogues and local organizations have supported AIAAS efforts, including Beth Tikvah Temple and Kehillat Chaim Temple in Roswell, and Kol Emeth Temple, Chabad of Cobb and Etz Chaim Congregation in Marietta. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta shared the petition on its Facebook page, and Menis said the Georgia State Holocaust Commission also supported the petition.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the school district said the school board has “zero tolerance” for these types of actions and “all applicable district policies and laws will be enforced.”

“On behalf of the chairman of the board and council, the district continues to condemn the recent disturbing social media trend involving hate speech, anti-Semitic references and abuse of school property,” the district spokesperson said. “Our principals have engaged and engage with students, teachers, parents and community members on how to prevent harmful and illegal behavior from happening… We encourage families to talk to their students about the impacts inappropriate and dangerous trends circulating on social networks. Parents, students, or staff can report safety concerns to the district hotline by call, text, or email.

AIAAS plans to share the petition at the Cobb County School Board meeting on September 23 at 7 p.m. at 514 Glover Street in Marietta.

“For us, this is much more than a Cobb County issue,” Menis said in an email. “It’s bigger with more far-reaching consequences.”

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