Archer community discusses anti-Semitism, ‘combats hate with love’ in wake of viral Newport Harbor photo


Photo credit: Leslie Castaneda

On March 3, a photo surfaced of Newport Harbor teens doing the Nazi Salute behind red cups arranged in a swastika. The viral photo sparked a national conversation about anti-Semitism and the weight of silent symbols. Photo illustration by Leslie Castaneda ’20.

On March 3, images surfaced across social media platforms of Newport Harbor High School students performing a Nazi salute around red solo cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.

The photo was taken at an off-campus party, and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is investigating the images. This was not the only case of anti-Semitism at Newport Harbor, as junior Josdel Hernandez said students have doodled swastikas on desks

The incident at Newport Harbor High School is not the first act of anti-Semitism to surface in recent years. According to BBC News, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 57 percent in the US in 2017. This includes the October shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation that left 11 dead.

Counselor Patty Lancaster said that the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October was “very frightening” for Archer students.

“Jewish Student Community [(JSC)] and Peer Support did a lunchtime council [and] invited anyone that was impacted by the mass shooting,” Lancaster said.  “Students said things like, ‘I’m afraid to wear…jewelry that [identifies] me as Jewish.’ [And] ‘what if I go to a college where there’s…anti-Semitic views?’ [There was] a lot of fear and anger and sadness.”

Lancaster urged the community to respond to the incident at Newport Harbor High School by “combat[ing] hate with love.”

“[We could] send love and support to the Jewish community at [Newport Harbor High School],” Lancaster said. “Archer [could send something] saying, ‘Hey, we have a lot of Jewish students here — that must have been so painful for you. We feel your pain.'”

Junior Lena Jones tried to do something similar in her Interfaith club, which is no longer active. Former co-leader Jones, along with Jael Ellman ’18 and Iman Mohammed ’18, decided to start the club to spread what Jones describes as “love and devotion” to their different faiths and spread tolerance for the beliefs of another with the rest of Archer. Although the club has been inactive this year, Jones is thinking of starting it up again. 

“I believe that our school would benefit greatly from having a space that’s dedicated to exploring interfaith relations because it’s often an unspoken identifier at Archer,” Jones said.

People have begun to respond to acts of anti-Semitism. Following the incident, Newport Harbor students wore blue in solidarity with the Jewish community. In addition, Newport Harbor held a community meeting at the school with Costa Mesa high school principal Jacob Haley, Estancia High School principal Michael Halt and Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.

Some members of the community are calling for the students’ expulsion.

“Expelling the…children involved would push the issue away,” Jones said. “[As if saying] ‘It would be better if you had kept that to yourself’ rather than ‘It would be better if we fixed the situation, and help you switch your mindset.’ So punishment, yes. Expulsion, maybe not.” 

Co-founder of Jewish Student Community Club Rae Godfredsen said it should be the school’s decision if they should expel the students, but it is important for students to understand their actions. Further, Godfredsen said it is important to address this behavior so it does not become “normalized.”

“The fact that these kids are in high school is extremely disturbing because it reveals that, from a young age, they think that crimes of hate are acceptable and normalized, especially in a party setting. It makes me very sad that they turned a drinking game into a swastika, and on top of that are posing for a picture doing the Nazi salute,” Godfredsen said. “This behavior is so disgusting, and I hope ignorant crimes like these are addressed at school districts so that everyone knows it’s not acceptable.”