Anti-Semitic graffiti defaced two yeshivas on Staten Island.
Religious and political leaders quickly painted over the hateful words, but the vandalism has had a lasting impact.
“We want a different image for Staten Island. We want you to help us create a Staten Island with a reputation as a borough of empathy and kindness. We need your ideas about how that can happen,” said Lori Weintrob, Wagner College Holocaust Center.
Lori Weintrob is a history professor at Wagner College and the founding director of Wagner's Holocaust Center.
She joined the Staten Island District Attorney and other borough leaders Friday to bring a message of tolerance to students at IS 2 in New Dorp.
The program, called “Youth Stand Up to Hate: Anti-Semitism, Racism, Islamophobia," is expected to be presented in Middle Schools across the borough.
The effort follows a 20 percent increase in hate crimes across the city last year and a 26 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents.
“On a basic level it’s bullying and on a much more complex and harmful effect on the society it is hate crimes and its hatred. And if you think about it, you can make that connection. So what does that mean for us every day? Let’s be kind to each other,” said Michael McMahon, Staten Island District Attorney.
The program at IS 2 featured the daughter of a black World War Two veteran, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, religious leaders and Wagner college students, all recounting their experiences dealing with bigotry and hate.
“I know what it means when people are complacent I know what can happen when people don’t take action when people don’t step up,” said Fern Zagor, whose parents survived the holocaust.
When asked if they experienced any incidents of racism or bullying, every single one of the 300 students in this room raised his or her hand.
"My race is different from everyone else’s and they will make jokes about it so that’s difficult,” said one student.
"I actually experienced bullying like not a long time ago and that all was because of my nose and I actually didn’t feel good about it and it makes me feel like that’s not the right thing to do," said another student.
Speakers encouraged students to be an "up-stander" rather than a bystander if they see someone being victimized. But the speakers say they hope programs like this will reduce the chance of bias incidents from even happening.