Cobb Middle School Students Get Holocaust Lesson
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Cobb Middle School Students Get Holocaust Lesson

It’s been a little over a month since Cobb County schools once again made headlines for incidents involving Nazi imagery.

Parents of the suspended students reached out to Chabad of Cobb Rabbi Ephraim Silverman.
Parents of the suspended students reached out to Chabad of Cobb Rabbi Ephraim Silverman.

Rabbi Ephraim Silverman of Chabad of Cobb likes to refer to the situation as turning “darkness into light.” Another way to express it might be “turning lemons into lemonade.”

It’s been a little over a month since Cobb County schools once again made headlines for incidents involving Nazi imagery. During last fall’s Jewish High Holy Days, swastikas and “Hail Hitler” were graffitied above urinals in bathrooms at Pope and Lassiter High Schools in Cobb County.

This time, five students at the East Cobb Middle School were involved in social media posts in which at least one student wore a swastika armband and imitated the Nazi salute. The five middle school students were suspended, but the story doesn’t end there, as parents soon reached out to Rabbi Silverman and asked for his help.

“I’m trying to turn this into something more positive,” Silverman acknowledged. In a statement he released, the rabbi noted that “our goal is neither anger nor vilification. Rather it is an opportunity to promote sensitivity and brighten students’ futures, to use this unfortunate saga as a springboard for personal growth and enlightenment. The children and their families involved in this incident have reached out to the Jewish community, expressing regret for the pain and suffering these despicable expressions of anti-Semitism have caused. In truth, such hurtful acts, as is often the case, were rooted in ignorance.”

East Cobb Middle School students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, formed a band to entertain seniors at assisted living facilities in Cobb County.

Silverman told the AJT that he met with the students and parents, showed them some “shocking documentaries” about the Holocaust and told them about the experience of his own grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor.

The children and parents were overwhelmed, he said. Comments made by the parents included, “I guess I always thought it was ancient history.” One father turned to his child and pointed out that the Holocaust didn’t start day one with gas chambers; it started with jokes and comments. Another father noted that the Holocaust could not have happened without millions of bystanders.

When Silverman learned that the students all played musical instruments, he had them join with a group of Jewish students to form a band that has started entertaining senior citizens at assisted living facilities in Cobb County. The Jewish students had already been visiting seniors on a regular basis. Now, those involved are speaking with the school’s band teacher to put together special songs to sing to the elderly.

“I’m trying to do something different,” said the rabbi. “The Jewish community is good at condemnation. I think we need to take the next step. This is an opportunity for growth.”

The students, he said, “need to learn that, though humor is an important part of life, there are certain things that no human being should ever joke about or make light of. They need to learn that the Holocaust and any other atrocity committed against any people is under no circumstance a joking matter.” Silverman also taught the students about forgiveness.

Immediately after the February incident, the rabbi said that he also feels “that it is important that we do not allow these isolated acts of stupidity and hate to change the way we see our community and society. I have personally been working in many of the local schools for 20 years, providing support for the schools’ Jewish clubs. And I will tell you that 99 percent are kind, tolerant and respectful. Let’s not allow a few juvenile idiots [to] change the way we view our neighbors.”

Silverman told the AJT that, at a prescheduled meeting of the Jewish Club at East Cobb Middle School on Feb. 18, many more Jewish students and non-Jewish students showed up to demonstrate their support, including the assistant principal.

“There was triple the attendance,” he said. “They wanted to make a statement of solidarity.”

“I am hopeful that our efforts to pursue a constructive dialogue, transforming this painful incident into a blessing, will inspire others in our community to transform darkness into light,” he added.

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