On a cold December night, a quick glance at Snapchat changed our perception of our close-knit, safe community. There was no disputing what we saw: an image of pennies arranged in the shape of a swastika, taken at our high school. For hours we stared at this swastika, the undeniable symbol of hate from the Third Reich, ordering the murder of millions of innocent people, including six million Jews, our relatives among them.
How could our classmate create this vile symbol out of pennies during a chemistry lab at school and proudly post it on a popular site? This event triggered our memories of seemingly innocent comments that our peers have made to us over the years, such as, “Is your camp called Auschwitz?” and, “Do you live in ‘Little Israel’?” While these ignorant comments always bothered us, we stayed silent as we did not want to cause problems. However, this time was different. We knew we had to take action. This was more than one simple image. As young Jewish women, we felt personally attacked, and it was now our duty to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Closing our eyes to hate was as evil as spreading hate.
Undeniably nervous, we brought the heinous image to the attention of our high school administration. We wanted to educate our classmates on how poisonous and hurtful their comments about religion, race, social class, sexuality, and ethnicity could be and why they should no longer be tolerated. We understood that we were putting ourselves in a tenuous position and that our classmates might think we were making a big deal out of a simple image. We were stepping into a spotlight that may have made us unpopular or even look ridiculous in their eyes. But silence was not a possible response to hate.
Undaunted, we contacted the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) about teaching diversity to the student body. ADL informed us that they had a program called “A World of Difference.” This program trains faculty and students on how to combat racial and religious bigotry. We suggested implementing “A World of Difference” to our high school principal, and while he was incredibly supportive of the idea, he was unable to fund the program. We knew this was a mere obstacle that could be tackled. After contacting friends, family, neighbors, and clergy, we were able to raise the $8,000 needed to bring the program into our school.
Since the fall of 2016, over fifty students from Marblehead High School have received intensive training from “A World of Difference” on how to combat hate and bigotry in our high school and community. Using their skills learned during training, these students have conducted workshops with the entire classes of 2020 and 2021, and are now currently working with the Class of 2022. Recently, we have been asked to present to 6th graders in our district following an act of hate in their school. In the coming years, ADL will continue to train students, who will train their fellow classmates. We are proud to report that today, hundreds of students in Marblehead High School are equipped with viable strategies and techniques to combat hate.
Having been friends since infancy, we’ve shared all the typical major life milestones. This challenge was no exception. That cold, dark day in December 2016 changed us. We lost hope, then gained strength to become demonstrative and effective leaders. We became braver, stronger, and more courageous. We stood up and spoke out. Telling our story provided an example for classmates to follow. We became warriors that day. Our battle continues, but we feel confident that we can create change wherever we might be.
Olivia Schauer graduated from Marblehead High School with High Honors in 2018. Olivia just completed her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she intends to pursue a degree in business. At the University of Wisconsin, Olivia is a dedicated member of the Women in Business club.
Averi Kaplowitch graduated from Marblehead High School with High Honors in 2018. She currently attends Syracuse University, majoring in psychology. She continues to work with the Anti-Defamation League as a trained peer educator. This article originally appeared in Newsweek.