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Dix Hills rabbi emphasizes unity and understanding after students' anti-Semitic T-shirts

Superintendent of Commack Schools Donald James speaks at

Superintendent of Commack Schools Donald James speaks at the Chai Center in Dix Hills during their Night of Unity on the evening of April 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A Dix Hills rabbi urged Suffolk's Jewish community Sunday night to spread a positive message in response to two Commack students who recently wore T-shirts emblazoned with swastikas while on spring break.

Rabbi Yackov Saacks told more than 320 people gathered for "A Night of Unity" at the Chai Center in Dix Hills that the swastika is a symbol of hate and should be shown only in a museum and never on a T-shirt.

The event followed the surfacing of pictures last week showing Commack school district students in the anti-Semitic T-shirts.

One photo shows two students wearing red T-shirts with swastikas drawn in black marker with the word "Auschwitz."

Saacks said the incident was an act of stupidity, not malice, but that isn't an excuse.

"Ignorance is a crime but you can't get arrested for that crime," he said.

He said the parents of the students wearing the T-shirts apologized to him. He also said he plans to meet with one of the students to educate and "hopefully turn him into an ambassador for the Jewish community."

Commack school district Superintendent Donald James also spoke during Sunday night's's gathering.

"The moment I became aware of the picture I had a knot in my stomach," James said, adding he didn't know how he would handle the situation or face his neighbors.

"I felt shame," he said, before deciding the best option was to simply "have a conversation" with people in the community.

East Northport resident Linda Hametz said at the event that when she heard about what the students wore it "struck me like a knife."

Hametz, a schoolteacher in Manhattan with three children who graduated from the Commack school district, said she wanted to help draw attention to the matter.

"It's easy to be a part of the silent majority," Hametz said.

Commack resident Debbie Saltzman, who also had three children graduate from the Commack school district, said she was surprised when she heard about the T-shirts.

But she said it reminded her "it's very important for the Jewish community to stick together."

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