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Teens push back on school mascots that celebrate persecutors of Jews



This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with teens across the world to report on issues that impact their lives.

(JTA) — The New Braunfels Unicorns. The Gabbs Tarantulas. The Fisher Bunnies. High school mascots like these may encourage spirit and community, but other schools’ mascots have been called out in recent years for being racist and insensitive, especially to Native Americans and the descendants of the enslaved. 

And some mascots can be perceived as antisemitic as well. In 2018, the name of the student publication at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Center Valley, New York was changed from “The Crusader” to “The Wire” when its editorial staff spoke up against what had been the public school’s long-time mascot.

For many Christians, the medieval crusades are associated with European armies’ attempts to recapture the Holy Land and ensure safety for Christian pilgrims visiting sacred sites. And yet they were also occasions for massive outbreaks of antisemitism, like the 1190 massacre of Jews in Norwich near England’s eastern coast. Muslims have complained that glorifying crusaders is Islamophobic. 

In their letter to the principal at Monroe-Woodbury High asking for a change, students also noted that the Ku Klux Klan’s official publication is known as “The Crusader.” 

“The Ku Klux Klan is a white supremacist organization that uses fear, hatred and violence to achieve its goals; we do not wish to be associated with this group in any way,” the students wrote. “We want our school’s student publication to be a place where all students will feel comfortable sharing their ideas and we would like our publication to be a place where all students feel comfortable reading those ideas.” 

Hailey Lanari, a junior at Monroe-Woodbury, says fellow students are ignorant of how Crusaders might be seen as antisemitic. “I don’t think that people are really aware of it,” she said. “I think it kind of just normalizes certain things. I think it just makes it normal for us to be like, ‘Yeah, it was this really bad thing, but it’s ok cause it’s just our school’s mascot.’”

She doesn’t trust that the school would take public steps to address any complaints, and suggests that is why “The Wire” hasn’t written about the mascot in the context of the school. There was, however, a statement released when the paper changed its name.

Out of 231 high schools with “Crusaders” as their mascots, 208 of them are Catholic with little to no Jewish populations, according to MasseyRatings, a mascots database. 

Other schools, like the Latin School of Chicago, use “Roman” as their mascot, a reference to the glories of the Roman Empire. But that same empire targeted Jews and destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. “As someone who finds themselves very involved with the community and plays a lot of sports, it is just something I have come to not enjoy so much,” said Lauren Altman, a student at Latin School and a head of the Jewish Student Connection club.

“Latin School was created to follow this Latin model which is very much about celebrating what is referred to as a Western Civilization,” Latin history teacher Dr. Matthew June said. He argues that the mascot isn’t problematic from a religious standpoint because the two groups clashed politically, not necessarily relating to religion. The destruction of the Second Temple predates the empire’s embrace of Christianity, when attitudes towards Judaism itself became more hostile.

In the past 12 years, 79 schools with Native American mascots across the country changed their mascots, according to The National Congress of American Indians. The NCAI says Native American mascots “remind Native youth of the limited ways in which others see them” and “undermine the ability of Native nations and people to portray themselves accurately as distinct and diverse cultures.”

The mascot of the Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago was the “Indian” for over a century before the local school council voted unanimously to change it in the summer of 2020 because of its stereotyping of Native Americans. Prior to the start of the current school year, the school officially rebranded to the Champions.

The Latin School of Chicago adopted its mascot, the Roman, in 1950 based on the suggestion of a sports writer from the Chicago Daily News, according to the school’s archivist, Teresa Sutter. Since then, one of the few conversations about the term occurred nine years ago, when some complained that the symbol was white and gendered.

But those aren’t the only issues with the Roman. The Romans are accused of crucifying Jesus, destroying the Second Temple and turning from a republic to an empire, said Dr. Jeffrey Ellison, a teacher of the Holocaust and the history of antisemitism at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago and a former teacher at Latin School. He suggests schools ask themselves, “Is this the symbol that we want to be using to represent us? [The Romans] were just brutal.”

Some mascots, like the Trevians of New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Il., aren’t seen as obviously offensive, and are not being discussed in schools. The mascot wears the Roman-era costume of a soldier from Trier, a town in present-day Germany where Jews were persecuted by crusaders and ostracized repeatedly beginning as early as the third century

The mascot and logo of New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Il., is based on a soldier from Trier, a town in present-day Germany.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever made that connection before,” said Kimberly Hafron, the Hebrew teacher at New Trier. “They’re just this weird mascot.” 

Hafron was hesitant to bring the issue to students, because she didn’t want to cause commotion in the community. “I think it would cause one of those ruckus’ where people are like, ‘Oh my God, is there latent antisemitism that we don’t know about?’” she said. “If the people who they could potentially offend don’t have any idea they’re being offended, then the question is, is it offensive?”

For Stella Dale, a Hebrew student at New Trier, the answer is no. “As a Jewish woman, I do not condone antisemitism in any form, but I do think that the mascot itself is not an antisemitic” symbol, Dale, 17, said. “I think that this extension of the Romans destroying the temple is obviously inappropriate, but in my day-to-day life, I really have no hate with the Trevian.”

Overall, because so few students at schools like Monroe-Woodbury and New Trier are aware of the significance of their schools’ mascots, it rarely affects feelings of inclusion at school.

At Latin, however, the Roman mascot does impact a sense of belonging at the school for some Jewish students. Altman said, “If you say you are a Latin Roman, and the Romans did try to kill the Jews, that is going against yourself — saying I am representing somebody who tried to kill my group.”

The Anti-Defamation League has not gotten any reports of discomfort regarding these types of mascots, according to Midwest Regional Director David Goldenberg. “We have spoken out in support of fighting prejudice and discrimination and hurtful stereotypes particularly in the professional sports arena,” Goldenberg said. “We do think it’s important to move away from the use of hurtful and offensive names, mascots and logos.” 

The ADL has not, however, taken action regarding mascots like the Crusaders, the Romans, or the Trevians. Because no complaints have been filed on this subject, the ADL has not acted on the matter.

Goldenberg added, “I think one of the things that we are looking [at is] not necessarily the name of a mascot, but we would look at how certain images are adopted by extremist groups or that become extremist symbols.”

“I think there is a real good opportunity to think about what it is that we want to bind us together.” Dr. Ellison said. “What’s that symbol?” 

The post Teens push back on school mascots that celebrate persecutors of Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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