The Symbols and Ideology of Hatred and Racism Have No Place in Irvine or Any Civilized Society. Update: An Open Letter from Rabbi Richard Steinberg

Recent articles in the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times have reported on images posted on social media that show a group of partying young people — arms outstretched in a Nazi salute — gathered around red plastic cups arranged in the form of a Nazi swastika.

The young people in the photos are believed to be students or recent graduates of Newport Harbor High School and other local high schools.

School district officials have met to discuss the incident and are working with law enforcement officials and others to determine appropriate disciplinary action.

Sadly, this is not the only recent incident of the use of Nazi symbols in Orange County.

In October 2018,  Irvine Police officers were called to a local synagogue where anti-Semitic graffiti was spray painted on an exterior wall.

That same month, restrooms at Irvine Valley College were marked with swastikas and fliers for a Muslim group were defaced.

I am appalled by these acts of hatred and use of these symbols of murder and barbarism by young people in Orange County.

We must do a better job of teaching the fundamental American principle that all are created equal and that the symbols and ideology of Nazism have no place in any civilized society.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I want to assure residents acts of racism and bigotry have no place in Irvine.

I know I speak for the entire Irvine City Council and our Police Chief when I say that Irvine will always stand strong against intolerance and hatred.

Rabbi Richard Steinberg of Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine has allowed me to share his open letter to all high school students (and everyone else) about this most recent incident:

“Last night at a high school party in Orange County, students aligned plastic cups in an elaborate swastika formation and stood around the table giving the “Heil Hitler” salute. I don’t know the religious backgrounds of these students or their feelings about Jewish people.

Whether a joke, a deliberate anti-Semitic act or simply an idiotic, insensitive and naïve action on behalf of these teenagers, what is clear to me as history has proven over and over again is that for bad things to happen, good people must do nothing. I can’t believe there was not one person in that group of students who did not know that what was taking place was highly offensive and would cause an appropriate uproar from concerned people of all backgrounds. Is the power of following the group so strong that standing up against a symbol that represents the death of 6 million Jews would be too much for a teenager to do?

After the horrors of Pittsburgh, I asked all the 10-12 graders at my synagogue whether they had experienced any form of anti-Semitism…100% said yes. From name calling, to walking in the school hall and someone rolling a penny next to them, to blatant anti-Semitism on the sports field from the referees to the opposing players; these acts were met with silence by the bystanders.

What I know as a rabbi and in my work as Commissioner and Chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission is that hate always begins with words. Then words un-responded to will always lead to hate action. And hate action un-responded to will always lead to hate violence.

Let us be people who respond. If we lose friendships over our responses, so be it. If we are not part of the group because of our righteous response, then so be it. The alternative of not responding at the very least is re-wounding those who have been literally scared by violence rooted in hate. The very most that can happen if we respond is that we might change someone’s heart from hate to love, from ignorance to knowledge, from foe to friend.”

— Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Shir Ha-Ma’alot, Irvine. March 3, 2019.