Anti-Semitism and Swastikas: Meet the Pine Bush School District

There is a little town, about 90 minutes outside of New York City, where the public school district's unofficial mascot appears to be a swastika, and Jewish children are pelted with coins and insults, and no one seems to be doing a damn thing about it.

The New York Timeswhich reviewed more than 3,500 pages of deposition testimony — published an in-depth feature this week on the Pine Bush school district, which is being sued by three Jewish families who allege horrific anti-Semitism and total indifference from school administrators.

[Former Pine Bush School District superintendent Philip G. Steinberg, who is himself Jewish], in interviews, said he asked the parents who had sued why they chose Pine Bush. “I said to them, ‘If being Jewish is so important to you, why would you move into a community that does not have a synagogue?’ ”

“ ‘If you want your kids to hang out with more Jewish children or have more tolerance,’ ” he added, “ ‘why would you pick a community like Pine Bush?’ ”

The Pine Bush area has already had a long, uncomfortable history with racism — the town was even home to a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon in the 1970s. The Klan leader's wife was a member of the Pine Bush school board.

Although Anti-Defamation League says there's little evidence of Klan activity in the area these days, the Jewish families detail horrifying abuse, including Holocaust jokes, swastikas in an eighth-grade classroom that teachers won't take down, and bus rides where students chant, "White power."

The swastikas, they say, are everywhere — on walls and lockers, in bathrooms, carved onto school property like desks and wrestling mats, displayed on binders, twisted out of pipe cleaners, and sometimes accompanied by the words, "Die Jew."

One child even recalled seeing a seventh grade girl held down, a swastika forcibly drawn on her face by two students. The school says those students were disciplined.

Steinberg — who retired from the school district this summer — describes the suit as a "money grab" and told one parent who complained her daughter was being harassed, "Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”

"I actually started to hate myself for being Jewish,” D.C., a Pine Bush High School graduate who now attends college, said in an interview. He recalled that around the time of the Jewish holidays, teachers would ask if there were Jewish students in the class. “I learned very, very quickly not to raise my hand,” he said.

D.C. even stopped reporting the swastikas, because "nobody was doing anything about them."

But the most telling moment of the story comes as one middle school student explains to a reporter that it's just kids being kids.

At that point, a pickup truck pulled up nearby, and a man emerged. The man, John Barker, 42, a mechanic, cautioned that “everybody watches out for everybody.” When asked about the presence of Jewish families, he blurted out, “We don’t want them in our town.”

“They can’t drive, for number one — and they already have Sullivan County. Who really wants them here? They don’t belong here.”

In the days since the article came out, Governor Cuomo has launched a probe, directing state police and the State Division of Human Rights to investigate the allegations.

In a statement Friday, the school district said that they "certainly believe Pine Bush is a tolerant community," and "if a parent or student feels that they have either been bullied or the victim of discrimination they should bring that complaint to the District’s attention. This complaint will be promptly addressed."

[image via Wikipedia]