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Woodmere student's father: Competition judge made anti-Semitic remark

A judge at a Mineola robotics competition Sunday made an anti-Semitic remark during the event, according to a participating middle school student's father who said he recorded the woman as she uttered the slur. 

Yan Vilensky, the father of a Woodmere Middle School student who competed in the regional contest, said he recorded the remark on a cellphone. Vilensky described his shock when one of the two female judges turned to the other after a student mentioned the United Hebrew Community of New York, a Manhattan-based Jewish organization, and said, "Goddamned Jews."

Vilensky said his son, Ariel, 14, was one of 10 Woodmere Middle School students who attended the competition  He recorded their presentation on his cellphone simply "for the memories, for personal use."

"You want to, as a parent, have moments from your kid's life," Vilensky said Thursday, adding: "It was a very, very upsetting and derogatory comment. It's not what we teach our kids."

Hewlett-Woodmere district spokeswoman Barbara Giese said Thursday that the event organizer, FIRST Lego League of Manchester, New Hampshire, hired both judges. 

"We want to make it clear that neither of the adults in that video are [Hewlett-Woodmere] district employees," Giese said. "…We did speak with the organizer from Lego earlier [Thursday] and we were informed that the individual is not a teacher. But we don't know more than that at this time."

It was not immediately clear if either of the women on the video is from Long Island.

"Comments like this run counter to who we are as a district and the values we try to instill in our students," Giese said.

A FIRST Lego League spokesperson said in an email Thursday afternoon: "We are aware of the remark that was made at the event in Mineola. What was said on the video is disgraceful and has no place in society, let alone at a youth school event.

"As such, this volunteer will no longer be welcomed back as a volunteer in any capacity for any future FIRST events. We work hard to ensure an environment of respect and equity and comments such as this will never be tolerated."

Michael P. Nagler, superintendent of the Mineola school district, which hosted the event, condemned the judge's alleged remark.

"The district vehemently denounces the comments made during judging at the robotics event this past weekend," Nagler said in a statement. "The competition judges were not Mineola employees and no Mineola students were involved in the incident. FIRST Lego League is an islandwide organization that facilitates robotics tournaments and for this competition the district’s building served as a volunteer facility."

Vilensky said he avoided confronting the judges at the competition because he did not want the scores affected for his son's team and worried it could have created a scene in front of the students. Instead, Vilensky said, he told his wife, who promptly reached out to former Brooklyn Assemb. Dov Hikind, who founded the organization, Americans Against Antisemitism, as well as district officials in both Hewlett-Woodmere and Mineola, and the FIRST Lego League.

Vilensky, 48, said he was born in Minsk, Belarus, when it was part of the Soviet Union. His wife, Irina, was born in Ukraine. They emigrated to the United States, along with their family, seeking to avoid, among other things, religious persecution — a fact, he said, that made the entire situation even more alarming.

"We know how things were done in the old country, the persecutions, the pogroms," he said, "and we are very grateful to the nation since we're here and do everything to contribute to it that we can."