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Parents on the search for healing

Posted: November 13, 2008 10:08 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 4:59 a.m.

Rabbi Mark Blazer reacts during a parent-teacher conference held Thursday at Saugus High School to discuss anti-Semitic and anti-gay graffiti found scrawled on a gym locker Wednesday.

 
Marcia Davis said she wanted to steer away from controversy and toward healing Thursday.

But that was hard one day after her sons were the target of anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs tagged on a gym locker, Davis said.

Students and twins Alex and Todd Davis were the targets of the hateful expressions at Saugus High School on Wednesday.

The twin brothers walked into the gym locker room at the beginning of fourth period and discovered a swastika on Todd Davis' locker, along with anti-gay slurs. The boys immediately alerted school officials and their parents.

A day later, it was still difficult to shake the image from their heads, Alex Davis said.

"You're terrified. Now you feel over-protective," Alex Davis said at a meeting between concerned Jewish parents, students and Saugus school officials Thursday.

Marcia Davis said she is sure the swastikas and the anti-gay slurs were aimed at both of her sons.

"Someone is watching them and knows they're Jewish. The graffiti was meant for my boys," she said.

Bill Bolde, Saugus High School principal, stood before a packed classroom of students, teachers and parents, assuring them the school is not a place that tolerates hatred.

"Disrespect of any person - I don't care what it is - I don't stand for that, and my administration doesn't stand for it," he said.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami said the problem goes beyond the school.

"We have a problem and it is not breeding in the schools. It's coming from outside the school," Blazer said. "The problem is just expressed in school."

That expression didn't start Wednesday, parent Doreen Hawbecker said. Her daughter attended Arroyo Seco Junior High School and was often the target of anti-Semitic slurs. "She was called Christ-killer," Hawbecker said.

Elysa Kaswan, a parent of a Saugus student, said her daughter's Star of David was stolen and thrown away by another student who remarked, "It was a Jewish piece of junk."

Stories of hatred bounced around the room Thursday, and so did answers. One of those answers was the suggestion of forming a Jewish heritage club.

"It would be a safe place to express our heritage," said Seth Kaswan, a Saugus High student.
Alex Davis isn't so sure about a Jewish club. "It could be uncomfortable. You could be retaliated against," he said.

Bolde encouraged the students to start a Jewish club. He also encouraged the club to include students from all religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds as a way to teach Jewish culture.

But Bolde admitted forming such a club might not be easy.

"It takes challenges. It takes walking tall," he said.

Eileen Block walked tall for 34 years. She is a teacher at Saugus High School and said anti-Semitism is deeply rooted in the community.

"I've seen people not comfortable to declare they're Jewish," she said. Block fought back tears and released years of frustration based on trying to explain why students take school days off for the Jewish Holy Days in the fall and why some kids can't attend Friday night football games.

She was also frustrated about people using the word "tolerance," she said.

"The word ‘tolerance' means ‘I'll leave you alone, but I'm not sure I like you,'" she said.

Bolde assured parents the school is investigating the locker vandalism and perpetrators will be disciplined if caught.

"In our history, hate crimes have led to suspension or expulsion," he said.

Bolde also told parents that the conversation Thursday was the beginning of a longer conversation on diversity.

"We made a good start today," he said.

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