Antisemitic graffiti in Bethesda sparks fear, conversation


Photo courtesy @KristinMink_ on Twitter

Antisemitic graffiti at Whitman prompted a walkout led by the school’s ‘Jews4Change’ club.

On Dec. 18, two days before Hanukkah, school officials found graffiti on the entrance sign to Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda reading “JEWS NOT WELCOME”. This came shortly after a school-wide lesson called OneWhitman, similar to this school’s advisory, on antisemitism and a month after antisemitic graffiti was discovered on the Bethesda Trolley Trail.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) antisemitism has only grown since the organization began tracking incidents, with 2021 reaching an all-time high. While the 2022 data has not been released, it is expected to follow the current trend of increased antisemitism across the world. English teacher Nicholas Confino previously taught at Whitman, and while he personally did not witness or experience antisemitism, he heard of instances of it across the school. “The graffiti didn’t come from nowhere, there is a history. I just don’t know how deep that goes,” Confino said.

It is easy to think that because Montgomery County has a sizable Jewish population, that members of this community won’t have to experience the kind of antisemitism that is seen on the news. After hearing about the graffiti at Whitman along with other recent incidents across the county, though, Jewish students and staff have felt increasingly upset and fearful. “It was really upsetting especially the timing of it because it happened in the midst of the whole Kanye scandal and the day after the Whitman JSU held a forum on combating anti semitism” senior and JSU co-president Lyndsie Lewis said.

Non-Jewish members of the community have also felt that it is important to stand with their Jewish peers during this time. “The graffiti incident also led me to ask myself, ‘What can I do to support the Jewish community’,” junior and leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Evan Bian said.

The identity of the person who vandalized the sign has not been made available to the public, but after repeated antisemtic instances, Confino said that “consequences should be severe so that kids think twice before doing it again.”

Officials across the county have responded to this, as superintendent Monifa McKnight said that MCPS was “deeply disturbed and saddened by the antisemitic graffiti.”

The Montgomery County Police Department was promptly informed of this incident. Chief of Police Marcus Jones said that the department is coordinating with the ADL and “is increasing patrols near the county’s community centers, schools and places of worship,” according to WTOP News.

Students and staff alike have found that it is important to unite during hateful events such as this one. Confino said that there should be inclusive events that celebrate cultures in this county. “So it’s not Jews feeling like [they] have to protect Jews, or Muslims feeling like they have to protect Muslims, it’s more the entire community wants to protect the community, no matter who you are or where you come from,” Confino said.