A map of the Middle East displayed at Autrey Mill Middle School’s annual Multicultural Night Thursday labeled a space that should have indicated Israel as Palestine. A photo of the map was originally posted to the Jewish Moms of Atlanta Facebook group, sparking outrage from parents and community members.
School Principal Trey Martin and Fulton County Schools condemned the “insensitive political and geographic” image.
The Johns Creek middle school is near several synagogues, including Chabad of North Fulton, and Congregations Gesher L’Torah and Dor Tamid.
Rabbi Michael Bernstein of Gesher L’Torah tried to get in touch with school leaders without success but shared his thoughts on the matter with the AJT.
“It’s a very difficult thing to see in your own school something that feels so disregarding of who you are,” he said. “It’s something that the community doesn’t take lightly. I hope it can lead to a conversation because it’s important to understand what’s at stake in how we talk about issues involving Israel, especially in a middle school setting.”
CDT Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein sent an email to the congregation addressing the incident today. In it he noted that many had already seen pictures of the display.
“For those who have not seen the pictures, there was a display set up on the table reserved for Palestinians that was grotesquely anti-Israel and even pro-Hamas,” his letter read.
He condemned the display, noting that CDT is opposed to any and all anti-Israel, anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic messages.
“These symbols of hate against the Jewish state and Jewish people have no place in our schools or communities,” stated Rabbi Ottenstein’s email. “Disagreements over policies and political differences must never succumb to this level of visceral hatred and it is so sad that a night devoted to the education of cultural differences was dragged to these depths.
“This Shabbat, we will finish reading the book of Exodus, and will chant the words, ‘chazak chazak v’nitchazek, be strong, be strong, let us strengthen one another.’ Let us continue to come together as one community and one Jewish people to strengthen one another as we confront this dark act.”
In addition, CDT President Dan Rosen went to the school today in the hopes of speaking with principal Martin.
Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz of Chabad of North Fulton said he’d be meeting with the principal next week.
“As difficult as it is to believe that this could happen right here in our backyard, it is easy to understand how it could happen again,” Minkowicz said in a letter to his congregation today. “If we remain silent and don’t tackle the issue, we invite more of it into our community. There is no place in our world for hatred and blatant anti-Semitism,” he said.
“Displaying a map where Israel does not exist supports the narrative of the terrorists. It is not just against Israel (which is bad enough), it is outright anti-Semitism.”
Martin also sent a letter to the parents of Autrey Mill students today. It read:
Dear Parents and Guardians,
As you may be aware, we held our annual Multicultural Night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. last evening. This important event is coordinated by a committee of diverse staff members who represent many nationalities and countries. The intent and spirit of Multicultural Night is to build understanding and knowledge of diverse countries, cultures, people, and food. Our families sign up in advance for space to display artifacts and serve food representing their culture. This allows all of us to enjoy and celebrate the students and families who make our community and school unique. We were pleased that more than 500 people and 15 different countries were represented.
However, I am extremely disappointed and disgusted with the individuals who presented an insensitive political and geographic representation. This display does not represent our school culture which is one that values inclusion and unity. Let me be clear, we condemn this attempt to use our Multicultural Night for one’s own political or religious agenda. Please know that this type of display is not acceptable nor supported by the faculty and staff of Autrey Mill Middle School. This school is here for kids, not politics.
I will be working closely with district leaders and others as we comprehensively investigate this incident and any necessary actions will be taken including accountability for those responsible. In addition, I will be meeting with various parent and community leaders to discuss plans to educate our parent community and to ensure that multiculturalism continues to be a valued foundation of our school community.
Please contact me at email@example.com with questions or concerns. I appreciate your understanding and continued support of our school.
J.E. Trey Martin, Principal
Autrey Mill Middle School
Fulton County Schools echoed Martin’s comments. In an email to the AJT, spokeswoman Susan Romanick relayed, “Fulton County Schools was made aware of an insensitive political and geographic display at Autrey Mill Middle School’s recent Multicultural Night. This event is hosted by families and staff with the intent of celebrating different cultures and nationalities. We condemn the negative and extreme political agendas these symbols represent. We are investigating this incident and will take all necessary actions to find the individual(s) responsible and hold them accountable.”
Minkowicz applauded the school principal and administration “for their swift condemnation and commitment to action.”
He urged congregants: “Be an ambassador for truth, positivity and peace. Talk to a friend or neighbor and educate them about the foundational values of Judaism and our holy land. Help dispel false notions they might have picked up in the news. Add more light to the world by lighting Shabbat candles and having a Shabbat dinner with your family tonight. Plan a trip to Israel this year. Most importantly, Stand up. Speak up. We banish darkness with light.”
- Rabbi Michael Bernstein
- Autrey Mill Middle School
- Congregations Gesher L’Torah
- Chabad of North Fulton
- dor tamid
- Rabbi Jordan Ottenstein
- President Dan Rosen
- Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz
- Trey Martin
- Susan Romanick
- Fulton County
- Fulton County School
- John's Creek