By Moriah Seyman (‘19) and Joseph Vilenski (‘19)
On Saturday, March 2, a group of high school students gathered for a party in Newport Beach, California where they played a popular drinking game called “rage cage,” except with a slight, disturbing modification: for this version the teens set up their cups in the form of a Nazi swastika.
Unbeknownst to them, their actions would soon spread through social media across the country, highlighting the growing problem, in the United States and elsewhere, of ignorance about the Holocaust and Jewish struggles throughout history. Although these teenagers claimed in their apology letters that they had no intention of reviving Nazi culture or Hitler’s ideals, they, and their peers, as the last generation within living memory of the Shoah, still have the responsibility to ensure that the world never forgets this atrocity. They should also try to prevent insensitivity to racial, cultural, religious, and ethnic bias by spreading knowledge and awareness of the persecution that the Jewish people have suffered for so long.
The morning after the incident, Ava Ganz, a senior at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine, California, re-posted a photo she saw on social media. “Scrolling through Snapchat and see this from a Newport high school party. Absolutely disgusting,” tweeted Ganz. The post garnered national attention after a few hours.
The picture shows the high schoolers playing the aforementioned game, the revelers all standing with their right arms raised to resemble the Nazi salute.
Various students at San Diego Jewish Academy offered their opinions on the matter. Kayla Swartzberg (‘21), believes that “our mission should be to educate and give ignorant people like these the knowledge to make decisions that everyone is proud of.” To Ariella Markus (‘19), it is “hurtful” to use the Holocaust as a joke. “It’s horrible because the Nazis killed so many people,” Markus says. “However, compared to all the other acts of antisemitism going on in the world, this one is not as big but I still think it’s bad.” Evan Levine (‘19) agrees, adding, “I don’t think it is acceptable for anyone to make light of what the Nazis did.” Gil Zucker-Abudi (‘22) acknowledges this, but adds that “what they did was wrong, but I don’t think they deserve to have any long-lasting repercussions.” Nonetheless, some of the photographed students reportedly lost college scholarships and admissions. Daniel Acks (‘19) says, “It was an awful, ignorant thing to do, but the rest of their lives shouldn’t be ruined. I feel as if it’s a poor reflection on how they teach about the Holocaust at other schools.”
Madeline Ramirez (‘21) points out how these partygoers failed to consider that if these pictures spread across the Internet, it would give the world a platform to respond. “They thought it was funny and did not think about the consequences,” she says. “They should have known it was going to backfire on them especially with it being posting on social media and should’ve never even thought about doing it in the first place.”
While most responses to Ganz’s post voiced support for the Jewish communities, some, unfortunately, were directly opposed to Jewish culture. Most troubling, however, were the many statements of indifference. Some people posted truly tone-deaf comments on social media like, “It’s literally a party, if you are going to get your panties in a twist then you can just leave.” Kayla Swartzberg agrees that “those kids revealed the true power of ignorance and that it is NOT, in fact, bliss.”
Sadly, people who are openly anti-semitic do exist in the United States today and it’s nearly impossible to convince them to think otherwise. However, the ones who are indifferent to such acts are possibly the most dangerous. Their apathy could lead to more acts of ignorance. Other posted remarks such as “jokes are jokes” and “if these kids were actual Nazis they wouldn’t be making a swastika out of plastic cups, they’d be beating people in the streets” dismiss the fact that anti-semitism is not a “joke,” especially when it comes to the Holocaust. It is impossible to eliminate all bad elements from society. However, if no one cares enough to stop them, people’s actions can only get worse.
Luckily some teenagers are willing to take a stand. Joey Sable, a Jewish senior at Orange County School of Arts, posted a lengthy reply to the partygoers on his Instagram. His post spread to places like Miami, Mexico, England, Israel, and even Australia. Sable wrote about his experience with anti-semitism and questioned the supposed comedy of such an act, asking “Why is it hard for people to understand that the death of millions of people at the hands of Nazis is nothing close to a comedic joke? It is still felt generationally, and will continue to regress society.” At the end of his post, Sable invited his “non-Jewish peers” to “Saturday morning service,” to “attend Shabbat dinner,” to a “Challah bake,” and most importantly to take action by using social media and conversation, instead of resorting to hate. The next week, Sable and Kaitlyn Turner, a senior at Tarbut V’Torah appeared on CBS’s “Inside Edition” to speak about the situation. Turner emphasized the fact that “it’s our job to educate [the students at the party] and help them realize how hurtful their actions were that night”
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel once said, “to forget the Holocaust is to kill twice.” Swartzberg (‘21) says that anti-semitism can’t stop until people “open their eyes to the truth of the Holocaust.” Indifference to ignorant acts could cause people to overlook the gravity of truly anti-semitic acts of violence done by those who genuinely hate the Jewish people. In September 2018, America saw the reality of hatred and antisemitism in the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. While the recent party in Newport Beach showed some disturbing ignorance, it also proved that most Americans fully support their Jewish communities and refuse to let casual bigotry go unnoticed.