St. Louis area students punished for 'Hit a Jew Day'

ST. LOUIS | Four or five students from a suburban St. Louis middle school face punishment for allegedly hitting Jewish classmates during what the kids dubbed “Hit a Jew Day” at the school.

The incident happened last week at Parkway West Middle School in Chesterfield. It began with an unofficial “Spirit Week” among sixth-graders — first-year students at the school — that started harmlessly enough with a “Hug a Friend Day.” Then there was “High Five Day.”

Soon, though, the days moved from friendly to silly to, reportedly, hateful. Next there was “Hit a Tall Person Day” and, finally, “Hit a Jew Day.”

District spokesman Paul Tandy said Thursday that in most cases, some of the school’s approximately three dozen Jewish students were tapped on the shoulders or backs. But in one case, a student was allegedly slapped in the face.

District officials are still investigating but believe only a handful of children were directly involved. Those who actually struck classmates could face suspension and required counseling, Tandy said. Others who weren’t directly involved but taunted Jewish students or egged on classmates could face lesser penalties.

“There is a mix of sadness and outrage,” Tandy said. “The concern is a lot of kids knew about it and they didn’t take action or say anything.”

Principal Linda Lelonek learned Monday evening of the incidents. On Tuesday, she called an assembly of all sixth-graders and asked how many were aware of “Hit a Jew Day.” Several raised their hands.

“She said, ’Do you think that’s right?’” Tandy said. “We cannot as a school community be a bystander. We have to stand up for our friends.”

Officials from the St. Louis office of the Anti-Defamation League will meet with district leaders on Friday to discuss ways to address anti-Jewish behavior. Karen Aroesty, St. Louis regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said this was more than a case of school bullying.

“You wonder where a bunch of sixth-graders come up with this stuff,” Aroesty said. “The fact is it’s out there. There are probably parents talking, and things they see on the news, and even things they can pick up on the Internet.”

The incident comes at a time of increasing reports of anti-Jewish behavior in the region, Aroesty said. A hate crime is under investigation in another St. Louis suburb, University City, where someone threw eggs at families of Orthodox Jews, she said. She believes the economic crisis may be spurring anti-Jewish sentiments.

“When economic crisis hits, somebody has to be blamed, and historically, Jews get the brunt of this,” Aroesty said.