Cindy Ruzicka: Swastika quiz question is troubling

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As I was reading Wednesday's paper, I happened upon the Weekly News Quiz. The question posed to readers was, "How many swastikas were reported at Steamboat Springs High School before winter break?"

Then the reader was provided with four multiple choice options: 3, 0, 1, 4. A multiple choice question about swastikas at our high school was posed just like a question about inches of snowfall might be asked.

But a question about swastikas is not just a question. The answer to this question should be, "the number doesn't matter." There were swastikas etched into lockers and cars. There were swastikas drawn on the property of Jewish youth. The number is not what is important.

In my opinion, to ask a seemingly benign question about "how many swastikas" is insincere and troubling. It makes a game out of a hate crime. It belittles the Jewish families, mine included, who had to grapple with this event and try to make sense of it.

I know I am sensitive to antisemitism. I was raised by a Jewish family in a predominantly Jewish community. I was raised to be proud of my Jewish heritage. Yet I was also taught to be keenly aware of antisemitism.

Were it not for the simple hand of fate, I would not be alive. My ancestors were spared during the Holocaust. As a descendant of those who survived, it is my responsibility to speak out.

As I stared at the Weekly News Quiz question, I wondered why it was so disturbing to me. After some thought, I realized it was the numbers. I grew up sitting in synagogue next to people with numbers tattooed to their skin. Those numbers were an attempt by a regime of people to strip them of their humanity, of their identity. 

Addressing this issue of swastikas at the high school is far from over. However, polling the community about the number of swastikas does little to enhance the conversation.

Cindy Ruzicka

Har Mishpacha, Steamboat Spring Jewish Community education director

Comments

Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

I agree. Having this issue as a weekly poll in the paper isn't pointing things in the right direction. And this issue isn't to be ignored but I question the source of the Swastika's and if the people committing these acts truly understand their actions. Because of their locations I feel these might be the actions of misguided youth acting on similar incidents we've seen in other regional communities. Either way it is sad to see in our community, or ANYWHERE in our country.

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Scott Wedel 1 month, 1 week ago

The question on the number of swastikas is a horrible question because the actual number is not relevant. What next? A news question asking how many times a murder victim was shot, stabbed or beaten? The duration of a sexual assault? A far more relevant question would have been when did the hate crime occur as the months between the crime and publicly acknowledging the crime should be a big part of the story.

As for whether the perpetrators understood what they were doing - many crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol in which the criminal did not thoughtfully consider the crime prior to committing it. It doesn't make the crime excusable. The perpetrator(s) cannot be excused as possible "misguided youths" any more than a violent murder committed by someone drunk at the time was committed by a "misguided drunk".

I will be very upset if the school responds to this by having some assembly on inclusiveness. This is not some students failing to be nice in which everyone could do better. A crime was committed, the school administration seems to have done their best to minimize it and did not disclose it for a couple of months. 99+% of students did nothing wrong. School administration did things wrong. It isn't students that need an assembly. It is school administration that needs to improve how they respond to a serious crime occurring on school grounds.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

The school did nothing. My son's Current Issues class went over the article in class yesterday. The incident actually occurred in December. I agree that school administration needs to step up their game on many levels. Parents should also take a look at their kids stuff, kids tend to doodle and share things they have done.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

The local schools also did the same thing with Obama - McCain. Everything my kids brought home favored Obama. I've noticed the schools/ teachers lean and teach ideals that favor the left. Instead of presenting both equally and letting kids decide for themselves. Not ALL schools and teachers just seems to be the majority of facility I have dealt with.

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Nancy Spillane 1 month, 1 week ago

From the highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center (dedicated to teaching tolerance): "In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K–12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools ... responded. ... Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families."

Highlights of the survey: 1. Although two-thirds report that administrators have been “responsive,” four out of 10 don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias. 2. Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence. The report ends with a series of recommendations that school leaders and administrators should take immediately. These include "making public statements that set expectations, establishing protocols to identify students who are being targeted or whose emotional needs have changed, doubling down on anti-bullying strategies and being alert to signs of a hostile environment. Most importantly, every school should have a crisis plan to respond to hate and bias incidents."

Thank you, Ms. Ruzicka for your insightful and passionate letter regarding the Weekly News Quiz asking how many swastikas were reported. It is a wake up call that insensitivities abound in our little mountain town. As a retired educator, it is my hope that our local school administrators and teachers will embrace a teaching tolerance program to combat prejudice and bias. Prejudice and bias is in our local schools and the first step will be to identify it, and acknowledge that it has happened and is happening. It needs to be addressed NOW.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

Hi Nancy, I believe that the classroom setting has been affected by the tone set by the teachers. If they are pushing and teaching that one side is better and that if the other side wins things will be bad. Then when the other side wins all heck breaks loose and there is no hope. I watched my kids go through an election while attending public school and found it to be one sided. And again with high school aged kids with the current election. I appreciated that while my kids were under your direction that things were kept evenly balanced. But having high school aged kids now they are able to better communicate what is happening in the school. Teachers have lost all control on most levels, parent's side with their kids over the school if there's an issue, teachers can't discipline students. The biggest complaint I hear from one of my kids is that there isn't any focus in the classroom and it's hard for the teacher to teach because other kids are doing their own thing regardless of what is asked of the students. Also the number of kids who are obviously stoned/high in class is distracting. It's a failing system but everyone still gets a trophy.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 month, 1 week ago

"The highly respected Southern Poverty Law Center (dedicated to teaching tolerance). Nancy, thanks so much for my morning chuckle. Is that the same SPLC that put Aayan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz on their list of "15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists"?Good grief.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Speaking of tolerance - How about the kids that were teased, harassed and bullied in our schools for voicing support for Trump? Isn't all bullying based on a person's beliefs bad?

Where's the outrage over those kids being bullied everyday for weeks based on their ideas and beliefs?

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Jim Kelley 1 month, 1 week ago

Seriously Ken?? Equating the "suphering" of High Schoolers who "support " Trump to the pain inflicted by the single most searing symbol of pure hatred from the 20th century's most heinous crime on humanity?!? Your pivot from marginalyzing real anti-Semitism to Trump supporter rah rah perfectly reflects you I guess.

---Free to say what you like Ken, don't be surprised when we judge you harshly in this small town of ours. Thanks for expressing your view. Now we know. (Politicizing everything you see is a poor way to make a point.)

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

Kids today don't know the history of these events. They are either removed from the text books at skimmed over in class. All they seem to know is the 'here and now'. This recent election brought out the UGLY in a lot of people and kids pick up on it. Trump supporters were compared to Nazi's and Klan members and these symbols were being shown on the news daily. Who knows what popped into a kids head to prompt them to carry out these actions. So Ken is correct when bringing up the fact that Trump supporters were bullied in the schools since they were labeled as bigots and racist along with being compared to Nazi's. This incident took place after the election and before Christmas so who knows what the motivation was behind these acts. Either way it sucks.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Hi Jim - I have consistently and repeatedly expressed offense and disgust at the drawings you are focused on and the anti-semitism the symbol represents. It's unfortunate that you have missed those remarks.

I appreciate that you end with an acknowledgment that we're all free to say what we like, but that's not the point. Obviously, we're free to express ourselves with words. However, words can't do anything except change people's minds or excite their emotions.

The issue at hand is tolerance. Tolerance of people that you may disagree with. Tolerance of different religions. Tolerance of ideas that you may find offensive.

Now, after repeatedly expressing offense and disagreement with anyone that would draw a swastika on anything or expressing any anti-semitic views whatsoever, I simply point out that intolerance based on holding either religious or political animosity is bad. Your suggestion that intolerance is acceptable against those you disagree with politically is disgraceful.

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Brian Kotowski 1 month, 1 week ago

Given that A) the perpetrator(s) are unknown, and B) so many of these "hate crimes" turn out to be hoaxes, it might be a good idea to dial back the outrage, at least until the facts are in.

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Scott Wedel 1 month, 1 week ago

It is simply false that "so many" of hate crimes turn out to be hoaxes. Your link showing hoaxes compared to annual counts of hate crimes shows that hoaxes are about 1% of reported hate crimes.

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Jim Kelley 1 month, 1 week ago

A hoax. ? Perhaps a teenager can get away with that defense. ---But not in every instance, and I would opine that this is one of those exceptions... Should the perpetrators get to define their act as a "hoax"? ----Or do some deeds get measured by their disgust by society or community? Swastika tagging is certainly one of those deeds, especially when specifically targeted.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

These incidents were mainly at the high school before Christmas. And as I don't want to dismiss them as a hoax they still could be misguided teens. So it was after the election and many on the left were tagging those who voted on the right as Nazi's, etc. So I wonder if this was election outcome angst from parents and teachers being channeled through some kids. It doesn't make it OK and parents need to have an open discussion with their kids. Everyone just needs to be nice, regardless.

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Scott Wedel 1 month, 1 week ago

Gaylan,

The term "misguided" is not a good excuse because all sorts of serious crimes are committed by people that could also be called "misguided".

This is not like a 5 year using offensive words without knowing their meaning, but just knowing that it provokes a strong reaction.

I suppose it could be someone intending to be offensive, but not intending to be so offensive. That isn't described as "misguided", but more along the lines of being wrong, not evil.

Nor is this a topic of parents needing an open discussion with their kids because nearly all kids immediately recognize it is very wrong and wouldn't consider doing anything like that. I suppose parents of a troubled angry teen might want to make the point that doing something like can have major consequences far beyond conflicts with parents.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

OK.... we can say a 'troubled youth'. And again I emphasize that not all kids have an understanding of the past. My kids come home and ask about certain events because the teacher just skimmed over them. Parents need to have an open dialog in general to know what their kids are up to. Whoever is responsible learned this behavior somewhere. I knew when this first happened because my son came home and told me. We talked about it and how unfortunate it was to see this behavior in Steamboat. I'm not sure what the right thing to do would be at this point or how to address the issue. Hopefully we have seen the last of it.

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Jim Kelley 1 month, 1 week ago

Gaylan, Agreed, everyone needs to be nice, regardless.

I don't know for sure why it's become acceptable to throw "Nazi" around so easily. Perhaps in "accepting" those who call Trump supporters "Trumpanzees" or "Trumptards" along with those who like to display "Trump that @itch!" on their vehicles we have become callused to crass behavior now. Politicizing everything that comes down the pike will not progress the discord.

Nevertheless, once you tag a Jewish students's car with a Swastika, a threshold has been crossed.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

It was one of my son's friends car that was involved. I think it's very sad. And yes,unfortunately these symbols are being used more often and it's acceptable. I don't believe the younger generations fully grasp what happened unless they are taught about it as part of their religion or heritage. And Ken - I said 'Be nice regardless'....... Be nice regardless of our differences. We are becoming too divided and need to get back to just being nice. Look out for your neighbor, your friends and your family. This is a small community and we are better than this.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Hi Gaylan - I agree and always try to interact without insults or name calling. There are two sayings from my childhood that seem to have been lost, that we would be well served to adapt again as a society:

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your Right to say it"
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

How many among us can honestly say that they live by these standards of tolerance and respect for others?

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Jim says "Agreed, everyone needs to be nice, regardless." "Regardless" of what? A couple of hours ago, Jim suggested that I should be judged harshly and presumably shunned in our community for expressing the idea that I also found bullying and harassment based on political animosity to be bad. That wasn't "being nice, regardless."

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Jim Kelley 1 month, 1 week ago

Ken, You may not realize it but comparing the Trump supporters "suffering" to the suffering experienced by the tagging of a symbol prominent to the extermination of millions of Jews, onto Jewish student's cars is not the same. You're off by a factor of millions. In the process, you marginalize the Haulocaust only to prop up your politics. ---This is what is disgusting, especially if you know survivors or have heard the stories from camp liberators. It certainly doesn't help convince us of your politics, valid or not. Further, it portrays you to others to be someone you may not actually be....

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Hi Jim, Your reply sounds like more judgement from the same person that encourages "harsh judgement" from others to me.

I'm probably the least anti-Semitic person you could ever meet and have many years of cherished Hanukkah memories with my family and friends. Certainly, you've heard what happens when you make assumptions about other people?

I recognize and can compartmentalize the difference between religious liberty and political liberty. The First Amendment doesn't provide any special protections to any religion. We have no Right whatsoever to not be offended by the thoughts or expressions of others. No matter how many years I've enjoyed hearing Grandma Rose explain the menorah to the children or how many times I've visited the Holocaust Museum, I would never, ever, assert that any religion enjoys some special protection from criticism in a free society. Think of me what you will.

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Jim Kelley 1 month, 1 week ago

Ken, I don't know you anymore than you know me. In this instance, I can only judge you based on your words and your opinions conveyed in those words. Here, you take the current heated politics of our times and project these into local anti-semitic crimes. If you do not see this as politicizing the issue, then yes, I will judge accordingly just as you can judge me for my words and opinions. I'm not calling you names or labeling you, and yes assumptions yield an ass of of u & me but wouldn't it be great to have serious dialogue without mentioning Trump, Hil, Benghazzi, or Putin everytime an issue hits this forum?

For many, anti semitism is perhaps the most volatile subject for emotions to get heated. For this reason I apologize for assuming you to be someone other than you actually are.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month, 1 week ago

Hi Jim - Thanks for your reply. Consider that as I was reading the story and subsequent comments that the tone of the messages went in a direction of tolerance, with Nancy going so far as to suggest a specific program be introduced that is designed to address intolerance and bias. After contemplating the idea of introducing a tolerance program in the school, I recalled that two of my three sons came home from school almost every day for several weeks straight claiming they had been harassed at school for having expressed support for Trump. It was a natural segue in my mind to suggest that if we're going to put effort into teaching our children tolerance, that we should really teach tolerance. Not a narrow, watered-down version of tolerance, but real tolerance. While I seriously doubt that teachers would tolerate a student being openly harassed or teased for religion, there didn't seem to be any such standard of tolerance for different political views. In fact, one of our sons came home after the election and said his teacher cried in front of the class over the results of the election. When I asked if she teared-up a little or really cried, he said "she cried hard, Daddy." Now, after my son had expressed support for the candidate of his (family's) choice, he was exposed to a grown woman, in a position of authority and influence, that sobbed as a result of his family's preferred candidate winning the election. So, yes, while we're talking about tolerance in our schools and the impact that intolerance has on our students, I think we should add political tolerance to the conversation.

As for your suggestion that we have a meaningful discussion without mention of Trump, Hillary, Putin, et al; I think that would be nice when it happens organically. However, I'm sure you've noticed that I appreciate a spirited exchange of ideas and believe that making certain items/people/issues off-limits wouldn't allow for the most vigorous exchange of ideas.

I appreciate your sentiments about your past comments directed at me and you shouldn't give it any more thought. No harm, no foul. They're only words.

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Scott Wedel 1 month, 1 week ago

Gaylan,

Obviously, having good communications with your kid is good. I just don't accept that a swastika on a Jewish student's car and near her locker has any moral ambiguity of being wrong. There is certainly grounds for a discussion on why it is an emotionally charged wrong.

I think the next step regarding students is a short simple reminder of what on school grounds should be expected to result in expulsion If anyone wants to question that or learn more about why some things are so offensive then they are welcome to have that conversation with their parents and/or school counselors.

The bigger next step should be from the school administration stating how they will better handle a similar sort of issue next time. Should be easy enough to say how long they can confidentially investigate and how it will be announced to the public.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

For the record, the incident included more than one student. And with all the camera's around campus you would think they could go and look at the surveillance footage. Or are all these camera's for show? Perhaps the schools need to step up their surveillance with all that goes on out in the parking lot. And within the schools. Either way this is a very sad event and I hope the person responsible is found.

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Scott Wedel 1 month, 1 week ago

Gaylan,

School earlier said that they didn't get even a clear day of when swastika appeared on locker so looking at video probably shows a lot of people near locker, but not able to see their hands.

I just got an email letter from the school administration that yet again has no explanation of how it took two months to report it to parents, but promises to apparently punish everyone with a mandatory event. Mandatory events are such a show to please some people that are so good at repeating the already known obvious. They should have students take a quiz before and after the event to see what, if anything, is learned.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

I knew the day it appeared on the vehicle and the locker incident was close to that time. They could have taken a look. And again.......It's very unsettling that we are seeing incidents like this in Steamboat. Hopefully this recent coverage won't spark copy-cat's. Someone has to know something. They just need to speak up. Kids always share with someone.

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Gaylan Hellyer 1 month, 1 week ago

Apparently the locker marking has been there for a few years. Only brought to light with the recent car incidents. And two cars were involved. So I misspoke above about the incidents being close to each other. It's amazing the info you can get from your own kids when you show them the letter sent out from the school.

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