Students at Hillcrest High School undergo anti-hate program following anti-Semitic incidents

Hillcrest students at the Wiesenthal Center
Photo provided by the office of CM Gennaro

In an effort to combat hate, the students at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica underwent the Simon Wiesenthal Center‘s ‘Combat Digital Hate’ program in February—prompted, in part, by a series of anti-Semitic incidents at the school.

This initiative, funded by Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and spearheaded by Council Member James Gennaro, is part of a broader city-wide effort to educate young people about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate, leveraging the historical expertise and resources of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights NGO renowned for its educational programs. The program has been in existence for about four years but was brought to Hillcrest High in February.

The program was put together to provide students in grades 8 through 12 with the knowledge and tools necessary to recognize, understand, and combat hate, bigotry, and prejudice—particularly in online environments. Through interactive sessions, students are encouraged to share their experiences with social media, discuss offensive content they have encountered, and learn strategies for fostering respectful and inclusive online communities.

The decision to introduce the program at Hillcrest High comes after an alarming event on Nov. 20, when hundreds of students were filmed rioting in response to a photograph of the school’s 9th-grade health teacher at a pro-Israel rally found on Facebook. The teacher, who is Jewish, had also updated her social media profile picture in support of Israel following the terrorist attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, which resulted in the death of 1,200 Israelis. There have also been other bias incidents at Hillcrest High, such as swastikas scrawled on the walls inside the school building .

Gennaro, the driving force behind this important initiative stated, “The disturbing events that unfolded at Hillcrest High School highlight the essential role of education in combating hatred and discrimination. It is more important than ever to provide our students with the tools and knowledge to stand against prejudice.”

Adams stressed the urgency of such educational programs, stating, “The recent [November] incident at Hillcrest High School underscores the critical need for our youth to understand the dangers of hate and bigotry, including those proliferated online. Through our partnership with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we are taking significant steps towards creating a more inclusive and respectful community.”

Dept. of Education Chancellor David Banks expressed his support for the program.

“I look forward to seeing the impact of this collaboration as we at New York City Public Schools continue to advance a safer, more inclusive, more supportive school system for students and staff at Hillcrest and across the city.”
Banks said.

Meanwhile, Michael Cohen, Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, commended Adams and Gennaro for bringing the program to the school following the November incident.

“For years, the NY City Council has shown itself to be visionary in recognizing the devastating impact and influence of social media on our youth. Our children need the training to ensure that they are not susceptible to messages of anti- Semitism and hate while having the tools to do something about the offensive material they unfortunately come across all too regularly.