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Meeting aims to mend rifts caused by Commack high schoolers' anti-Semitic shirts

The Commack School District said it's looking into

The Commack School District said it's looking into photos taken off campus and posted on social media of students on spring break reportedly wearing anti-Semitic T-shirts. This photo has been edited to blur the students' faces. Credit: News 12 Long Island

Jewish leaders invited the Commack community to a meeting Sunday in an effort to mend the rifts caused by students who posted pictures of themselves in anti-Semitic T-shirts.

The "Night of Unity" was organized "to bring healing, to bring forgiveness," Rabbi Mendel Teldon of the Chabad of Mid-Suffolk told News 12 Long Island.

It sprang out of a meeting Friday between schools Superintendent Donald James, six rabbis and two Jewish leaders. James was not immediately available Saturday.

"We all recognize that this is not an isolated incident; it is a symptom of a larger need to address issues of diversity and inclusion," the religious leaders said in a statement after Friday's meeting.

One of them, Rabbi Beth H. Klafter of Temple Beth David, said she doubted the high schoolers who donned T-shirts with swastikas for a drinking game grasped the significance of their actions.

"I think it showed a level of ignorance and a lack of sensitivity -- I don't think these kids intended it as a hate crime at all," she said. "I just think they don't have an awareness or understanding or empathy of the real meaning of those symbols."

The Jewish leaders hope this galvanizes the community to "look carefully at how we are teaching our kids, not just academically [but] to have a sense of morality and decency and to truly accept people who are different," she said.

Rob Greenberger, executive director of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, who also attended Friday's meeting, put the incident in context.

"I think that is very important to always be aware that anti-Semitism as well as anti-tolerance of many other racial and ethnic groups continues to be prevalent in the country and it's particularly saddening to us on Long Island when this is so close to home."

The timing of the students' decision to party in their red T-shirts just days before the world observed Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly hurtful, the leaders said.

The tristate area has about 60,000 survivors, and Sunday's speakers will include one. Det. Sandford Shulder from the Suffolk Police Department Bias Crimes Unit and Suffolk Sheriff Vincent F. DeMarco also will speak at the 7 p.m. meeting at the Chai Center, 501 Vanderbilt Pkwy., Dix Hills.

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