In May, I took part in a special hearing convened by the Nassau County Legislature’s Special Legislative Task Force to Combat Antisemitism in Nassau County. The hearing gave students, parents, rabbis and other interested members of the community the opportunity to share information about personal antisemitic experiences and incidents. I, and many of my task force colleagues, were horrified by some of the stories we heard.
I am so proud of the students who came and had the confidence to speak up, knowing that what they said would be entered into the public record. The hearing was also recorded and covered by a number of media outlets. We heard horrendous stories, which included accounts of swastikas found on school property (in some cases left unaddressed for weeks) and antisemitic comments directed at Jewish students, among other things.
What shocked me the most — and is truly concerning — is how normalized and “casual” the antisemitism seems to be. In all my years of working to fight antisemitism and hate, I knew students were facing antisemitic incidents, but never thought it would be considered so normal among students in our local schools.
Following the hearing, the task force convened a special meeting, which I had the honor to chair, consisting of superintendents and principals from a number of county school districts. This gave us an opportunity to learn what steps they are taking to combat antisemitism, both proactively and responsively. I heard many positive and encouraging remarks from the administrators in attendance, including two points that I believe we all must take to heart and implement.
First, whenever an antisemitic or hateful incident occurs, the school must not attempt to hide the matter out of a concern for negative publicity. The school should instead be transparent, and notify the school community about the situation and outline how the administration is addressing it. Schools need to identify both what the community can do to fight antisemitism and hate and outline concrete steps it is taking toward that end.
Unfortunately, antisemitic incidents, which can lead to physical altercations, are escalating due to Israel's fight to root out Hamas from Gaza after its horrendous attack on innocent civilians living in Israel's southern cities. They will escalate as the battle continues. It is incumbent on administrators to take strong stands against these attacks and appropriate action against the perpetrators. It is also incumbent for our educators to use appropriate resources and information when talking about the current situation.
There are educational materials, policy recommendations, and training for administrators, teachers and students that focus on how to identify antisemitism and ways to address antisemitic incidents.
As we continue the new school year, I hope our amazing schools in Nassau County, across Long Island and throughout the Northeast will take advantage of the resources being offered and commit to implementing best practices to ensure the safety, well-being, and equal educational opportunities for all students in these communities.
Avi Posnick is the executive director of StandWithUs Northeast & New England, and a member of the Special Legislative Task Force to Combat Antisemitism in Nassau County. StandWithUs is an international, nonpartisan education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.