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Swastika

Swastikas and a racist message were spray-painted on the side of the Colonial Motel in Missoula.

A few months ago, in the middle of a spate of anti-Semitic propaganda and vandalism in Missoula, a friend of mine in the Jewish community I also belong to came to me to tell me she received a message from a professional who was in a meeting at Hellgate High School where it was revealed some sort of anti-Semitic drawing had happened and Hellgate administration was trying to keep it under wraps and not tell parents. After being pressured, the Hellgate principal finally released an ambiguous email to Hellgate parents but never mentioned the act was anti-Semitic in nature, only saying that it was some graffiti.

After some internal Jewish community discussion, many of us wrote or called Hellgate and the district offices and one of our rabbis went and spoke with Hellgate’s principal. Between the initial incident several months prior, and our visits and letters, no action on the part of Hellgate or the district took place. While we waited for a response, another anti-Semitic incident occurred at Hellgate High School.

And this last week the response came. Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Thane released a letter giving lip service to safety, concern and inclusivity, but no plan of action, no mention of a course to educate students further, and didn’t even include this statement to the district students. In fact, the only tangible action that we know will come of any of this is perhaps policy that give school administrators cover to keep further incidents under wraps; in other words, the school won’t even bother to tell us if this happens again. A nothing sandwich.

I guess doing absolutely nothing isn’t exactly like giving a green light to such behaviors and our public institutions are not here for us to shape public discourse and our social fabric, right? We shouldn’t count on our schools to help educate and broaden our children’s horizons and minds, right? It’s not like some drawings are going to lead to someone walking into a synagogue and shooting it up or anything, right?

I emerged from another Sabbath to read and learn about the murders in the synagogue in San Diego. The Third Reich happened because people in a position to do something did nothing. They made a lot of nothing sandwiches.

We have a Chabad center right here in Missoula. The only people who don’t think “It can’t happen here” are the Jewish community of Montana. We just read last week, in our three-thousandth or so Passover: “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” None of this is a surprise for me, even the school district blowing this off. I simply write so we are not lying to ourselves about who we are as a community and a society.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who is missing some fingers shot off by someone who likely first started drawing swastikas back in high school, has made his recommendation to our country: educate the hate.

The school district can do three things today: write a clear policy statement regarding zero tolerance to anti-Semitic remarks or graffiti in the schools and ensure the students are instructed in this policy, create some sort of educational program discussing hate of religions or people of minorities, make a policy statement that they recognize swastikas on walls is a warning sigh of something more insidious, is very alarming to the Jewish community, and see it as a potential danger for our children and those families will be notified when such anti-Semitic acts occur, instead of policy that hides those events.

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Robert Retallick is the father of students in the Missoula County Public Schools district, an activist and Sephardic Jew in Missoula.

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