Editor’s Note: At a party on March 2nd, in Newport Beach, California, a group of students from Newport Harbor High School did a Nazi salute while standing around a table of solo cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. While this action has been almost universally condemned since the incident, it highlights a much more prominent issue of antisemitism in our society. Far West USY’s Maya Galante, who goes to school in the same district as the students who took part in this horrific action, writes about how this incident has affected her, and what we ALL need to do going forward.
How do you define the word normal?
According to Google, normal means usual, typical, and/or expected. Still, what is normal? What describes something or someone as normal?
On Saturday, March 2nd, in Newport Beach, California, there was a party. It seemed like a “normal” party. It seemed like it was a “usual, typical, and expected” high school party, with drinking, music, games, and more. But was it “normal”? To the kids that participated in the building of a swastika made of red solo cups and snapchatted pictures of them doing the Nazi salute, yes. At the time, it was a normal party. They were having fun. It was only a joke. Kids from my city that are my age made the swastika. To them, the salute seemed “usual, typical, and expected.” They made the extremist, racist, anti-Semitic symbols from the Nazi Party seem normal.
But was it normal?
When I first saw these pictures going around social media, I was shocked. I would never have expected that my safe, supportive city would ever have experienced something like this occur. Our schools read many stories from the Holocaust and learn about the horrors of World War II in history classes. There’s a population of over 300 Holocaust survivors that live in our county. And yet, these high schoolers at that party made antisemitism seem… normal.
Ever since those teens’ actions were publicized, I’ve been doing whatever I can to let people know this had happened and that it’s not okay. Right when I saw these pictures and found out where these kids go to school, I emailed their principals about their behavior; I posted on social media about why this can’t be acceptable in our world today; I spoke at a town hall for my school’s administration and parents, which was on the news; I attended a March for our Lives Jewish solidarity rally on March 8th, as well. As a seventeen year old junior that attends a different school and has no direct affiliation with any of the teens, I feel that that’s all I could have done.
On Monday, March 11th, nine days after the incident, I got news that those students have been taken to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum twice, attended Friday night Shabbat services, and learned all about Judaism and its history from Jewish studies teachers and rabbis. This act of anti-Semitism has been addressed; these kids are now more educated and informed than ever before.
Why am I still upset? Because this didn’t just happen on Saturday, March 2nd, at a house party in Newport Beach. This happens every day, worldwide: in cemeteries, synagogues, high school and college campuses, airports, in government buildings, and so much more. These places have been the breeding grounds for racial and religious discrimination and violence, and have made the word “bigotry” seem, normal.
USY, how do we take a stand and make sure that this doesn’t happen again?
First of all, we’re all Jewish. We may all have different meanings of what Judaism means to us and how it plays out in our daily lives. Yet if we as a community of empowered, Jewish teens start small, whether that means shutting down an anti-Semitic joke or telling authorities when they see something, then that’s one step closer to making these acts seem less “normal”.
USY, if you see something, say something. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but trust me when I say that it is always the right thing to do. Don’t be afraid to post about it on social media. Nowadays, almost everyone is on Facebook or Instagram and can see that you are making a difference by spreading the word about injustices in our world. If you’re like me, someone who never stops talking about USY, then when people see you speaking out against anti-Semitism they will realize that they too need to be vocal and stand up to any form of hate. Friends, family, and even strangers that see someone that represents USY will now associate them with being able to combat hate and as a leader in the movement to make this world a nicer and more understanding place. We, as USYers, need to do this. We need to erase the idea of normalizing anti-Semitism, because, as a matter of fact, acts of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, et cetera, are not normal, and should never be deemed as normal.
The fight against anti-Semitism doesn’t stop with this incident. We need to keep standing up for injustices. We will be the change and we, as USY, will be the difference.
Maya Galante is a junior from Far West USY. She serves as the Social Action/Tikkun Olam Vice President for her chapter, Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI USY) in Tustin, California.
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