Massachusetts students shaken by Catholic school's anti-Semitic chant

The latest in a string of anti-Semitic incidents in Newton, Mass., a group of Catholic Memorial students at a high school basketball game incited anger Friday night when they chanted, 'You killed Jesus!'

Taylor Weidman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Students at Newton North High School in Newton, Mass., in April 2010.

It wasn’t exactly unprovoked, but fans of a suburban Boston high school boys basketball team crossed several lines of civility Friday night by chanting an anti-Semitic phrase to the opposing school.

The incident took place before the division title game started, between the all-boys Catholic Memorial School and Newton North High School, where many students are Jewish. The latter group initiated a playful rivalry by teasing the Catholic Memorial base of fewer than 100 young men over their lack of female students. They shouted, “Where are your girls?”

To which, the Catholic Memorial students replied in chanting, “You killed Jesus, you killed Jesus!”

As Evan Allen from the Boston Globe reports, the Newton crowd fell silent, appearing surprised and angry.

Newton North a public high school with a student population of more than 1,700, lies in an affluent suburb west of Boston, just six miles away from West Roxbury, the home of Catholic Memorial. Friday's game took place at Newton South High School.

“I found it chilling,” Newton Superintendent David Fleishman told the Globe. He arrived 20 minutes after the chanting took place.

“In my mind, this is incredibly upsetting and troubling, and they have a lot of work to do at Catholic Memorial,” he said.

As soon as the chanting began, Mr. Fleishman said, Catholic Memorial administrators put an end to it immediately.

“Catholic Memorial School is deeply disturbed by the behavior of a group of student spectators who made an unacceptable chant Friday night while playing Newton North High School,” said Catholic Memorial President Peter F. Folan in a statement Saturday. “Catholic Memorial School believes deeply that intolerance, of any kind, is unacceptable. We apologize for the actions of our students and we will continue to strenuously address this issue within our community.”

Mr. Folan and Fleishman said that all of the participating students apologized and shook hands with the Newton principal. But to many Newton students and those in their community, the incident was a jarring – and unprecedented – experience.

“They might not have meant it so personally, but you should think about things before you speak,” 18-year-old Nate Hollenberg, senior captain of the Newton North basketball team, told the Globe. “That hurts. They’re coming at my religion, at who I am, a big part of me. That’s just not right.”

Fleishman said he contacted the Anti-Defamation League about Friday’s episode and will organize a discussion about it with Newton students on Monday. The town of Newton has witnessed several anti-Semitic incidents in recent months. Just two weeks ago, graffiti that says “Burn the Jews” was found on the wall of a boys’ bathroom at F.A. Day Middle School.

The unfortunate string of events at Newton may be indicative of a broader problem at large. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US increased by 21 percent in 2014, possibly spiked by the war in Gaza.

“The reported increase in US anti-Semitic incidents coincided with a huge upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere around the globe,” Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL National Chair, said in a statement.

Around the same time, the National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students conducted a survey of its own, finding that that 54 percent of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism on campus in the first six months of the previous school year.

All the while, hate speech in general may be on the rise in America. According to the civil rights advocacy group, Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups increased from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015. The SPLC has been criticized for targeting conservative groups, though its definition for “hate” group is any organization that fosters discrimination based on attributes such as race, sexual orientation, and religion, including black separatist groups.

Like many liberal pundits, SPLC officials attribute the rising tide of hate speech in America at least in part to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who they say has built his campaign on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition in a December speech, however, the business magnate was reported to draw smirks and laughter for jokes that pointed to Jewish stereotypes.

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