NOVEMBER 15, 2018 – As anti-Semitic incidents have continued to soar across the country, Jews across Greater Boston expressed shock and frustration after swastikas were found in schools in Reading, Malden and Melrose earlier this month. And in Cambridge, a man was arrested after police said he pushed a 66-year-old woman against a wall and placed his fist against her throat while repeatedly making anti-Semitic statements.
“Incidents continue their upward trend alongside the normalization of anti-Semitism in daily life. Stopping the trend starts with people, organizations and leaders mobilizing to oppose all forms of hate becoming mainstream,” said Anti-Defamation League New England Director Robert Trestan. According to Trestan, the ADL tracked an 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts’ schools in 2017.
In the town of Reading, where an estimated 200 Jewish families live, school officials have discovered more than 30 swastikas in public schools over the last 18 months. Last month, over 200 people attended a vigil against anti-Semitism in the Reading Town Common. Still, in the weeks following the vigil, educators have found a slew of swastikas in schools, including two that were discovered last week in separate bathrooms at Reading Memorial High School.
“The incidents continue to occur and with increased frequency. After each incident our frustration, and the frustration of this community grows,” said Reading Town Manager Robert LeLacheur, Superintendent of Schools John Doherty and Reading Police Department Deputy Chief David Clark in a joint statement.
To date, there have been no arrests relating to the swastikas. Police and school officials are “aggressively reviewing camera footage and interviewing potential witnesses,” town leaders said.
“I am obviously really upset, and I am worried that town residents are getting tired of hearing about this,” said Rebecca Liberman, who grew up in Minnesota and has lived in Reading for 18 years. Her father was able to escape Germany in the 1930s. Still, many of her relatives perished at the hands of Nazis during World War II.
In Melrose, swastikas were discovered in separate boy’s bathrooms at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School on Nov. 2 and 5. Following the incidents, the school scheduled a class for all students on Nov. 13 to discuss discrimination and harassment.
In a letter to the community, the school’s interim principal Jaime Parsons implored parents to speak to their children about hate speech. “Please talk with your children and assure them that we do not tolerate any hateful speech or imagery and that MVMMS is a school where everyone belongs. We are a community that is inclusive and supportive of one another and we will not tolerate any hateful or hurtful words and/or symbols. We expect that every person at MVMMS feels safe, supported, and respected,” said Parsons.
Also on Nov. 5, Malden educators discovered a swastika etched into an elevator at the city’s high school. Malden Superintendent John Oteri said the Malden Police are investigating the incident. He also said that the school is working with the ADL and to incorporate curricula and discussions to promote tolerance and respect. “It is extremely troubling and highly inconsistent with the inclusive culture that we are committed to at Malden High School, where there is absolutely no place for hate,” said Oteri.
The discovery of swastikas in the Reading, Melrose and Malden schools followed the Nov. 1 incident in Cambridge, where police arrested Jarrett Harris, 62, of Cambridge, and charged him with assault and battery on a person over 60 and assault and battery to intimidate – which is a hate crime.
According to a police report, Cambridge Police were called to the area of Inman and Harvard Streets where they found the suspect and victim at the scene. According to police, the suspect, Harris, physically assaulted the 66-year-old woman while repeatedly making anti-Semitic statements directed at the victim. According to police, “the suspect reportedly pushed the victim against a wall and placed his fist against her throat.” Police said the victim declined to receive medical attention.