Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Stopping hate by changing minds 

When the crime is ignorance, sometimes the punishment that fits is education.

That is what a group of Spring Valley teens will get, including one who pleaded guilty Friday in Rockland County Court to felony menacing as a hate crime. He was among four teens who confronted Orthodox Jews last April in Ramapo with a profanity-laced tirade and death threats. Two of the teens brandished a baseball bat during the confrontation, police said, but there was no physical contact. Two others had already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Ramapo Town Court. A fourth teen, who was 15 at the time of the incident, was referred to Rockland Family Court.

The teen in court Friday, who was 16 at the time of the incident, admitted his role; the judge has indicated that the April 25 sentencing will include five years' probation, work release with the Rockland County Sheriff's Department, and community service. That service will be spent at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley — 200 hours' worth. This is not light duty, in subject matter or in time. The two sentenced in Ramapo Town Court will also fill their community service — 75 hours apiece — at the Holocaust Center.

Tanja Sarett, executive director of the Holocaust Museum & Study Center in Spring Valley, called the sentence a "special opportunity." And it is. For the youths, it will be an opportunity for them to meet people as individuals, not see them merely as part of a group; to dispel stereotypes; and to build connections among a diverse community. "We want to give him a second chance," Sarett told the Editorial Board, commenting on the youth in court Friday. Sarett said she hopes his time at the center will teach him that "we are people who are caring, caring about his community and hopefully him caring about ours."
Teaching respect

The Holocaust Center teaches about the suffering and systematic killing that took place in Nazi Germany. It features museum displays, education programs, teacher training, community lectures and visits by Holocaust survivors. According to its mission statement, it aims to ensure that "the Holocaust will not be forgotten, and will not be repeated ... the lessons of cultural diversity, mutual respect and understanding of the other are emphasized."

Mutual respect is sorely needed in a community as diverse as Ramapo's. In the East Ramapo school district, which the teens attend, school board meetings often erupt in heated arguments among parents of public school children and Orthodox Jewish members of the school board whose families use the private yeshiva school system. That area of Ramapo, including Spring Valley, is home to large Haitian and Orthodox Jewish communities, as well as a growing Latino presence. It is not always a peaceful co-existence.

That is why the Holocaust Center "sentence" is not just a punishment to fit the crime, but an opportunity to stem future, hate-fueled confrontations. "Hate crimes, that's learned behavior. You have to protect your future victims by addressing that behavior," Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe told the Editorial Board. "You have to make sure it doesn't happen again. Simply punishing doesn't change a mindset."

Zugibe called the community service portion of the sentence "restorative justice" that the victims of the anti-Semitic incident supported. Let's hope, for these first-time offenders and the wider community, justice has been served.


How would we handle these situations, if the holocaust would have never happened.
I think that the better approach, is, to start teaching our children, to care and feel for, all of mankind, for real.
Then, HKB"H, will, never-again, instill any hate into anyone, directed at us.


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