Editorial: Strong message needed from Fairfield Prep on anti-Semitism

We live in an increasingly anti-Semitic society. The Anti-Defamation League last year identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, an increase of 57 percent over 2016.

Also in 2017, the ADL examined Twitter to ascertain the prevalence of anti-Semitism. Analysts determined roughly 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were posted and reposted by an estimated three million users.

Given the prevalence of anti-Semitism in America, it’s not surprising that it would also surface in our schools. They are, after all, a microcosm of the society we live in.

That didn’t make it any less horrifying when, during a May 30 lacrosse playoff game between Fairfield Preparatory School and Staples High School in Westport, Fairfield fans taunted the Jewish players who make up about a third of the Staples team.

The fans, collectively known as the “Bomb Squad,” chanted “Happy Hanukkah,” “We have Christmas,” and “the Dreidel Song” whenever a Jewish player had the ball. Witnesses said they also held up vulgar signs and urinated on parked cars and on the school building.

It was but the latest — though perhaps most egregious — in a series of ugly incidents by Fairfield County students. In 2016, Greenwich High School’s football team made headlines for shouting “Hitler” as they took the field, a reference to an inappropriately named play they were about to run.

Also in 2016, Wilton High School students chanted “build the wall” at Danbury High School’s diverse student body during a game. That same year, a Fairfield Ludlowe student was captured on Snapchat directing a racial slur at African-American students from cross-town rival Warde High School.

In 2017, a sixth-grader at Wilton’s Middlebrook School found a sticky note on her locker reading “Jews will burn.” It was the third incidence of hate speech at Middlebrook in three weeks.

At Fairfield Prep’s graduation on Sunday, school President the Rev. Thomas M. Simisky expressed disappointment “that a few students led such cheers…that more students followed their lead…That no one stopped this behavior was unthinkable.” Absolutely.

To be fair, the problem is bigger than any one county, as Andy Friedland, assistant director of the ADL’s Connecticut Regional Office, pointed out, adding, “It’s not a question of something like this is going to happen, it’s a question of how do you respond when it does.”

Zero tolerance should be a given. Rather than microcosms of the society we have, schools should be microcosms of the society we want. For that to happen, teachable moments need to be seized.

Staples lost the May 30th game in overtime by a goal. Prep should have forfeited the win. Instead, the Southern Connecticut Conference, the interscholastic league in which Prep plays, opted — incorrectly — to take no action.

The kids who chanted at Jewish players did so from the safety of the stands, in numbers strong enough for their voices to carry to the field. Whatever corrective measures Fairfield Prep chooses to take need to come through every bit as loud and as clear.