72 years later
History faced its worst of hate in the 1940's during the Holocaust, a time in which Jews, gypsies, the LGBTQ+ community, and the disabled were victims of hateful sentiments gone to an extreme. Have we learned our lesson?
April 6, 2017
Someone had broken into the dorm room of Avi Shaver, HHS alumnus, at the University of Minnesota on Feb. 8 and scrawled that message on his whiteboard, along with a graphic illustration of a swastika and a concentration camp.
That night, Shaver was hit with a harsh reality: anti-Semitism is appearing more and more on high school and college campuses nationwide. He never thought it would happen to him on such a personal level.
“I was expecting to find it, hear about it, perhaps experience it in a large group setting but never as a personal attack,” Shaver said.
The Jewish community isn’t alone in its recent experiences with hate crimes and intolerance. With the current political climate, hateful sentiments have transformed into actions— 1,094 bias-related incidents were reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the mere month after the 2016 presidential election.
In such a hateful environment, Abdi Isse, sophomore, feels the immense social pressure placed on him because of his religion.
“Honestly, I don’t feel very safe here at the moment for many different reasons. I feel harassed and I don’t feel comfortable being a Muslim in this school,” Isse said.
Beginning in January, Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in Minnesota and nationwide have been the target of a series of bomb threats. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), since January, over 161 bomb threats have been called against Jewish Community Centers in the United States, including the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park on Jan. 18.
As a parent of a young child on the campus on the day of the bomb threat in St. Louis Park, Laurence White, Chief Counsel for the Sabes JCC, felt a similar emotion as many of the other parents did.
“It’s jarring and extraordinarily upsetting,” White said. “At the same time, as a security professional who has advised the Sabes JCC for many years, I know it’s a contingency the staff has trained and prepared for, which was a major contributing factor in the success of our response.”
Abigail Yousha, junior, along with other Jewish students at HHS, felt a direct hit from such a local incident.
“My reaction when I first heard about the bomb threats to the JCCs in Minnesota and across the country was surprise and shock,” Yousha said. “Although I fully understand the extent of anti-Semitism in this country, I was surprised about the reality of threats to the Jewish community across the US.”
Because Yousha attended the Minneapolis Jewish Day School for eight years, she feels a strong personal connection to the attacks.
“The building and the Jewish community itself is close to me, and there’s a huge likelihood that I could be in the JCC during a bomb threat. These threats directly impact my community and a place where I have spent 12 years,” Yousha said.
The ADL, whose mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” has been combatting anti-Semitism for 104 years. Jacob Warsaw, Regional Operations Coordinator for the ADL, explained why they believe anti-Semitism is on the rise.
“Statistically, hate crimes have targeted Jews more than any other religious minority group consistently for years. However, since the election season, we have seen a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks,” Warsaw said. “We believe that this is partially the result of a presidential election charged by sensitive subjects ranging from immigration from South America as well as refugees fleeing violence in Syria.”
Sam Clague, senior, attributes the rise in hate to ignorance and a lack of understanding. Despite these occurrences, he’s confident in HHS’ accommodations to the LGBTQ+ community.
“There have been incidences where some school students don’t really understand these issue and take out that ignorance on the students, but that’s pretty rare, so I’d say [our environment is] pretty good,” Clague said.
Ariel Shaver, junior, was saddened upon hearing about the anti-Semitic acts inflicted on her brother.
“It’s hurtful that someone would target someone I know, and also that people would act that way at all and would make decisions like that to hurt other people purposefully,” Ariel said.
With anti-Semitic threats still prevalent in Minnesota and across the nation, legislators and communities are beginning to take action.
The day after the bomb threat, White convened his leadership team to conduct a review of the evacuation. The team identified many successes, including the evacuation of more than 500 people from the ages of 3 months to 100 years old.
“At the same time, we also focused on examining areas in which we could improve our preparedness, response, and recovery effort. We’ve identified 15 core areas we want to improve upon, which the team is now working on,” White said.
On March 23, Michael Kaydar, a 19-year-old Jew and dual American-Israeli citizen, was arrested in Israel for perpetrating more than 100 of the bomb threats. Although much of the Jewish community is relieved that Kaydar has been caught, they’re also troubled by these anti-Semitic acts coming within the community,
Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with local leaders at the St. Paul JCC on Mar. 19 to discuss security measures. Klobuchar is currently co-sponsoring the Faith-Based Community Center Protection Act, and supports a federal bill that would allot $20 million in increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
To address the rise of anti-Semitism on campuses across the nation, Ariel believes that schools need to face the issue head-on.
“They need to talk about it and educate students about what it means historically, and what it means to be tolerant of others and accepting of all religions,” Ariel said.
While Avi faces anti-Semitism in the greater world, he is comforted by the environment that HHS creates for Jewish students like his sister.
“HHS was a wonderful environment for being Jewish,” Avi said. “Being allowed to openly express my faith opened up the dialogue which is really the most important component of going to a public school; meeting people of different cultures and learning from them.”
Isse, however, believes that HHS’ commitment to diversity is extremely limited, and that it’s on students to create a more accepting environment.
“It’s not a very great environment; they don’t represent anybody but black and white,” Isse said.
But as students exit the haven of HHS, Avi urges them to stand up for their beliefs, regardless of the intolerance they may receive.
“In the greater world, one should fight hate, intolerance, and bigotry by continuing to take pride in whatever makes you, you. Do not cower in fear, and say, ‘I won’t act like this anymore.’ Do the opposite: stand strong and be proud of who you are,” Avi said.