By Cindy Mindell
WEST HARTFORD — It’s been a busy first month for Steve Ginsburg, the newly appointed director of ADL’s Connecticut Regional Office.
Since his arrival from Chicago on Sept. 8, Ginsburg and his staff have responded to three reports of antisemitic graffiti, at Simsbury High School, Yale, and Southern Connecticut State University; and reached out to Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford (SSDS) after a threatening phone call sent the school into its first-ever lockdown.
Located in West Hartford, SSDS was one of at least two schools to receive the automated call that warned of an armed intruder on campus, along with an elementary school in Amherst, Mass. On the same day, news reports indicated that an elementary school in West Coventry, R.I. also received an automated call, traced to the Hamilton College emergency-alert system. The West Hartford Police Department is investigating the incident.
“Things are completely back to normal. Our kids came in happy and ready for their day and we are happy to be back in our routine and into a five-day week after all of the chagim (holidays),” says Andrea Kasper, head of SSDS. “There is no indication that we were a target.”
Two mental health professionals (one on SSDS staff) were on hand after the lockdown, to speak with students and families. Kasper says that staff members continue to observe students and offer support where needed.
“It is clear that we were never in danger and that our children were and are safe,” she says. “We followed all protocols. The police were very satisfied with the security of our building and satisfied with what they saw when they came in, so that was good feedback to hear.”
Ginsburg says that ADL has not been asked to get involved in the SSDS incident. The anti-bias organization is, however, engaged on the other three campuses.
At Simsbury High School, in September, antisemitic graffiti was discovered in several locations and a student used an antisemitic phrase as a computer screen name. ADL was contacted and met with Principal Andrew O’Brien and several concerned community members.
“At that time and now, we feel pretty confident that the school is taking many reasonable steps to address the issue and is not shrugging it off,” Ginsburg says.
ADL’s “Truth about Hate” freshman-assembly program, planned well in advance of the antisemitic incidents, will be held as scheduled this month. The school has worked with ADL on a similar program for incoming freshmen almost every year for the last decade, Ginsburg says.
ADL is also working with officials at Yale University, where anti-Jewish graffiti was discovered on a sign, and at Southern Connecticut State University, where a door in a women’s bathroom was defaced with several swastikas.
“People in educational institutions across the country are really nervous right now, regardless of whether they’re Jewish,” Ginsburg says. “There seems to be an additional type of concern for the safety and security of Jewish people, and it’s unfortunately hitting our schools.”
Ginsburg says that, while he does not know what has motivated the perpetrators of the recent incidents, there have been no directly stated links to the current spate of terror attacks in Israel.
He commends Simsbury High School administration and the school district’s Superintendent Matthew T. Curtis for their prompt and clear response to the entire school community. “You need to ensure that you’re doing everything you can so that the students in the school feel comfortable and safe, and that the school is an environment for learning, as opposed to a place to worry whether something bad will happen,” he says. “Principal O’Brien sent a video message to the school community and Superintendent Curtis made a very strong statement saying that this would not be tolerated.”