The suburban Long Island town of Commack, N.Y., recently made headlines when a photograph of two teens at a drinking game wearing T-shirts with crudely drawn swastikas and the word “Auschwitz” went viral. Yet school and community leadership insist that they are looking forward to using the incident as a springboard for education, awareness and inclusivity.

Rabbi Mendel Teldon, director of Chabad of Mid Suffolk in Commack, joined a number of other leaders in the Jewish community and at Commack High School to discuss ways they can help foster a change in attitude.

One vehicle to do so is a Sunday-night meeting at 7 p.m. at the Chai Center in nearby Dix Hills, where Commack High School teenagers and their parents will join together for “A Night of Unity.”

The evening will begin with a presentation from the local law-enforcement officials on bias and Internet safety. Afterwards, a video presentation on the Holocaust will be shown, followed by a talk from a local Holocaust survivor Murray Miller. Ending on a high note, the program will conclude with a call to action. A new social-media campaign dubbed “#im4change” will serve as the public face of a collective push for young people to become a vehicle for understanding and respect.

Part of the problem, according to organizers, is that many students don’t realize why their actions hurt so many—in this case, people of all ages. Bringing past history to the present and explaining certain sensitivities can speak volumes for high-schoolers.

“Our goal,” explains Teldon, who says that several hundred students have participated in CTeen and other events at Chabad of Mid Suffolk and the Chai Center, “is that a student will be comfortable walking over to another teen who looks and acts differently, and sit next to him or her in the cafeteria and have an enriching conversation.”

Suggestion: Daily Moment of Reflection

A flier announces an April 19 evening meeting to address teen sensibilities and the Holocaust.
A flier announces an April 19 evening meeting to address teen sensibilities and the Holocaust.

Another suggestion floated at the discussion with Jewish leaders and Commack High School officials, which was also attended by Rabbi Yaakov Saacks, director of the Dix Hills Jewish Chai Center, was implementing a moment of silence at the start of the school day.

“Many parents may not feel equipped to discuss issues of morality with their children,” says Saacks, “and the schools aren’t authorized to impart religious values. Having a moment of reflection allows the children to contemplate these matters in light of their family traditions and can even spark meaningful conversations with their parents.”

“The school is on board with doing what they can,” affirms Teldon. “The community is looking forward to coming out ahead, and we are confident that this event will serve as a stepping stone to greater cultural understanding.”

In fact, change has already come to certain areas, adds Teldon, noting that the father of one of the teens in question already called up local rabbis to apologize.

“With this kind of dynamic,” he says, “this terrible incident may end up being a very healthy harbinger of change—not just for the wider community, but for the two teens who’ve learned the hard way how powerful our words and actions can be.”