By Symi Rom-Rymer
Last week, The Desert Sun, the local newspaper of Palm Springs, CA, ran an article about teenagers from La Quinta High School playing a game they called, “Beat the Jew.” It involved one set of kids (the Nazis) in cars chasing another kid (the Jew) on foot down the street. The article had no interviews with the participants themselves, so I couldn’t get any sense of who they were, what their motivations were, their understanding of the Holocaust or how they came to invent the game in the first place.
However, the official response from the school district was surprisingly blasé. The school district superintendent, Sharon McGehee, was quoted as saying, “there was no threat; there was no crime. They just played a game that had an ugly, insensitive stupid game.” Moreover, McGehee and the policemen interviewed for the article seemed more concerned about the criminal implications of this game (none were found) then the more existential ones.
The comments that followed the article proved to be more revealing. A number of them focused on the idea of tolerance and how it should be taught. One commenter suggested that the school bring in a Holocaust survivor and have him speak to the student body about his experiences. To make distant history more personal. While bringing in a survivor is a good first step, it does not go far enough. Although this particular game may have been about Jews vs. Nazis, there’s no reason why it couldn’t just as easily been created around some other victim/perpetrator set-up. Instead of only bringing in a Holocaust survivor, the school should also bring in survivors of other ethnic and religious crimes in order to open up a larger discussion about the implications of hate crimes and speech and the seemingly innocuous games that encourage them.
Another commenter suggested that 16 or 17-years old is too old to learn tolerance, but no age is ever too old. As concerning as the game is, it is also the perfect opening for these students’ teachers to double their efforts when teaching the important lessons of religious and ethnic acceptance and empathy towards others. Despite McGehee’s protestations, the teenagers did commit a crime: the crime of ignorance. But ignorance does not have to be a permanent state. Hopefully, the educators at La Quinta HS agree.
Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.