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Madison Jewish community responds to controversial Baraboo photo

MADISON (WKOW) — Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El in Madison expressed his surprise Monday after seeing the photo that appears to show Baraboo High School students making a Nazi salute.

The viral photo shows the students dressed in suits, many with their right arm extended upward while posed on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse. The photo was taken last spring, but spread quickly on Twitter Sunday night and Monday morning with #barabooproud.

Biatch is dismayed by the notion that in this day and age, the students may not understand the meaning behind their action and how it can affect others.

After the shooting last month at a Pittsburgh synagogue, he says seeing something like this deepens the wound. He says we must dedicate ourselves to teach about prejudice and the dangers of bigotry.

“We should be able to move past this. Now that photograph again is six months old. So it’s not necessarily tied into Pittsburgh. But it think it’s tied into a larger, cultural atmosphere, climate that we’ve created in this country, of people who are siloed, who are nationalistic, who are in their tribal groups,” Biatch said.

Biatch says he presumes most of the students were not being intentionally malicious. He say he can’t believe the students would be proud of conjuring up a symbol that our country fought a war to try to destroy.

There is a growing sense of nationalism in the country, according to Biatch. He says when people draw together, they draw walls around themselves and shut out the possibility of any diversity in our culture.

A group of clergy of different faiths from around the state and Chicago issued a statement condemning the photo:

We are alarmed by the disturbing display of anti-Semitism by a group of Baraboo High School students. Though the incident apparently took place last May, it reflects a rising swell of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. We are particularly concerned with the prevalence of bigotry within schools; more than 25 percent of all the recorded anti-Semitic incidents in Wisconsin last year took place among students or on campus. We have witnessed numerous egregious incidents targeting African Americans, Latinos, and other minority groups.

We appreciate the school district’s comment and look forward to working with them to prevent any future such incidents. As we know, acts of hate begin with hateful expressions. Such expressions must be a call to action for schools and families to educate youth to respect diversity and to embrace difference. The values that will hold us together must be taught and reinforced, lest we see the continued rise of hate and its consequences.

The following organizations signed on to the statement:

Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation

Jewish Federation of Madison

Wisconsin Jewish Conference

ADL Midwest

Congregation Emanu El B’ne Jeshurun Social Action Committee

Congregation Shalom

Congregation Sinai

Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA, The Rev. Paul D. Erickson, Bishop

Just Be Hope United Methodist Center, Rev. Deborah Thompson

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Wisconsin

MA’RUF — Aamer Ahmed, President

Masjid Al Qur’an Milwaukee, Hafiz Muhammad Shafique

Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church, Rev. Tory V. Topjian, Senior Pastor

Milwaukee Zen Center, Rev. Tonen O’Connor, Resident Priest Emerita

Milwaukee Islamic Dawah Center

The Spark Wisconsin, Rabbi Moishe Steigmann

Wisconsin Conference, United Church of Christ, Rev. Franz Rigert, Conference Minister

Underwood Memorial Baptist Church, Rev. Kate Fields, Pastor

University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, Rabbi Bonnie Margolis

YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Rabbi Mordechai Cohen, Director of Religious Programming, Park Plaza Retirement Center, Chicago Rev. Dr. Steven Hecky, United Church of Christ – Wisconsin

Rev. Erik Koepnick

Tim McMurtry II, Associate Pastor, World Outreach Center and State Director, Christians United for Israel – Wisconsin

David Johnson

Reporter, WKOW

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