It’s apparently “a thing” at some high schools: Kids take Post-it Notes and stick them on their friends’ car windows.

But the prank took an ugly turn earlier this month at Irvine’s Woodbridge High when a student switched around the tiny yellow notes on another student’s car into the shape of two large swastikas, an ancient symbol that was appropriated by the Nazis and continues to represent hatred of Jews.

The student who drove the car is not Jewish, and the incident was not a targeted attack. In fact, the students involved are friends.

But it wasn’t funny, and others immediately took notice. School staff members removed the sticky notes and used the incident as an educational opportunity to teach the significance of the symbol “and to promote a greater understanding of the impact (the symbols) can have on others.”

“We do not condone the use of any symbols or language that is offensive or hurtful, regardless of intent,” said Annie Brown, a spokesperson for the Irvine Unified School District.

“We remain committed to fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect for all members of the Woodbridge High School and (Irvine Unified) communities,” Brown said.

Citing student privacy, Brown said she could not discuss what happened in the school’s parking lot on March 6, before school began that day. But “in situations such as this, staff will meet with the student and their family and utilize both a disciplinary and education-base approach,” she said.

Antisemitism is increasing across the country

In 2022, there were 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League’s latest report, a 36% increase from the previous year and the highest number ever recorded.

Most incidents, 2,298, were categorized as harassment, but the ADL also recorded 1,288 incidents of vandalism and 111 assault cases, including one death. (In November, a University of Arizona professor was fatally shot by a former student who may have believed the professor was Jewish, the report said.)

In the Orange County/Long Beach region, the annual audit counted 55 incidents: 35 of online and in-person harassment; 18 incidents of vandalism of businesses, places of worship, public spaces and schools; and two assaults.

“We all should be particularly disturbed by the sustained high level of incidents of bigotry and bullying in our schools,” said Rabbi Peter Levi, the regional director of ADL Orange County/Long Beach.

Incidents included swastikas and the words “Kanye West is right” and “Kill all Jews” on the wall of a high school bathroom in Newport Beach, and a swastika drawn on paper and attached to the classroom door of a Jewish teacher in a Lakewood school.

The two assaults involved one person in Long Beach hitting another with an object in June while saying he “cannot stand Jews,” and someone yelling antisemitic slurs while pushing and slapping a performer singing Hanukkah songs in Laguna Woods in December, according to the report.

Among other incidents, residents in several cities across Orange and Los Angeles counties saw antisemitic flyers distributed last year to their homes.

Related links

Rising antisemitism won’t dim Hanukkah’s light for Southern California’s Jewish community
Woman wearing Nazi symbol condemned by ADL, Laguna Woods mayor
Anti-semitic flyers thrown in Beverly Hills after banners, Nazi salutes seen on 405 Freeway overpass
Man arrested in anti-semitic vandalism in Beverly Hills
World remembers Holocaust as antisemitism rises in pandemic

What happened at Woodbridge High will be submitted as an antisemitic incident for this year, but a decision on whether it will be counted in the 2023 report has not been made yet, Levi said.

Woodbridge High has worked for years with a local rabbi to establish good relations, Brown said.  And Woodbridge High Principal Christopher Krebs is working with a group of high school students and UC Irvine’s Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Healing program to bring guest speakers to campus and organize an Intercultural Day that will include conversations about antisemitism, Brown said.

Last year, the district adopted a program developed by the ADL that offers students an online independent course called “Building insights to navigate antisemitism and hate.”  The course is used at Irvine Unified as one of the alternatives to suspending students, Brown said.

Acts or expressions of antisemitism can emanate from different places, Levi said, including ignorance.

“Sometimes, there’s just ignorance and complete unawareness and people end up saying something that is offensive, and they just don’t know,” Levi said. “Sometimes, there are biases that they grew up with. And then there are bigots.”

“If it’s someone who is unaware or someone who has a bias … those are people we can educate,” Levi said. “We can educate people about this language and these symbols that are hurtful and hateful.”

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