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Originally published September 16, 2009 at 4:42 PM | Page modified September 16, 2009 at 6:46 PM

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Swastikas painted on Seattle synagogues highlight need for education, tolerance

The swastikas painted on two synagogues in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood are a stark reminder that hate and prejudice live. Guest columnists Laurie Cohen and Delila Simon say the vandalism is a reminder that people must denounce hatred when they see it.

Special to The Times

WITH a splash of paint, in the dark of night, some youngsters in Seattle have reminded us that hate crimes, ignorance and intolerance are ever-present, even in our own backyard. Swastikas painted on two synagogues recently in Seward Park are a stark reminder that each of us has the responsibility to shine a light on prejudice and hate whenever and wherever we encounter it.

The swastika graffiti drawn on the synagogues in one of our own Seattle neighborhoods challenges us as a community and as individuals to confront the roots of hate crimes such as this one. It is not enough to tolerate our differences; we must learn to respect our diversity. We must learn to be the ones who stand up to hate and to violence.

Sad to say, the experience of such intolerance can be found every day in almost every area of our lives. Students come up against bullying in our schools. The Muslim community has suffered a narrow-minded anger and prejudice since the tragedy of 9/11. In recent news reports, we see instances of intolerance with anger and hateful speech drowning out thoughtful and reasoned disagreement or discussion.

Whether in the blatant form of swastikas or the more subtle offensive comment, the origin is the same: intolerance. And if we do not stand up when we see it, and teach our children how unacceptable it is, we all remain in the dark.

Since the Holocaust, the swastika has become a symbol of what could happen if hatred is fostered and left unchecked. No matter who painted the swastikas — no matter what motive — they picked this symbol and they selected synagogues to display it. Symbols are powerful in our culture. This one has tragic historical meaning for humanity, but especially for Holocaust survivors who witnessed swastikas scribbled on the shops owned by their parents in Germany on Kristallacht — November 9-10, 1938.

After the recent shooting of Stephen Tyrone Johns at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., museum director Sara J. Bloomfield made the following statement: "The Holocaust did not begin with mass murder. It began with hate. The Holocaust reminds us of the dangers of indifference and unchecked hate — and that each of us has a responsibility to stand up to it."

We all know the tragic consequences of bigotry, prejudice and hatred. The Washington State Holocaust Education Center's mission of teaching and learning for humanity puts it on the front lines of educating our young people. With a multipronged approach, we help students study the Holocaust in the context of human rights and genocide.

As an outcome of our educational efforts we have witnessed students saying they will no longer accept bullying in their classes. They know the difference one person can make. A Lynnwood High School student stated, "After studying the Holocaust and hearing a Holocaust survivor speak, I feel it is my job to help others. I can't just let things happen anymore."

Teaching about the Holocaust is a springboard for connecting lessons of the past to current issues of intolerance in our classrooms. Learning about prejudice and the roots of genocide are other important lessons. Our children will inherit a more diverse world. They are depending on us to create pathways toward a more inclusive society. At the Holocaust Center, we know this can be done through education.

We know that the slogan "Never Again" has fallen short of reality as we are living in an age of modern genocide. We should have learned by now that we cannot wait as bystanders or victims, we must act. We must teach our children to stand up for what is right, for the betterment of our community, our region and our world. We must denounce hatred when we see it and embrace the diversity of our fellow human beings with whom we share this planet.

Laurie Warshal Cohen, left, and Delila Simon are co-executive directors, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center.

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