After Neo-Fascists Strike, BPC School Offers Solidarity with Jewish Museum

PS/IS 276 students, teachers and parents, as well as others, pause for a moment of silence in front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, across the street from their school, seen behind them. Principal Terri Ruyter asked the gathering to reflect "on what happened and what we hope for the world." Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 15, 2021

“I’m not usually at a loss for words,” Museum of Jewish Heritage President Jack Kliger said, his voice choked with emotion. “But I have to tell you this is a very moving moment.”

Kliger was addressing a gathering of students, parents and teachers from PS/IS 276, the school across the street that had organized a show of support for the Battery Park City museum on Thursday afternoon—a week after vandals tied a Confederate flag to the door of the institution. For all the many expressions of solidarity the museum received since then, Kliger told the assemblage, “when we got the call from PS 276 and [Principal] Terri Ruyter saying the school wanted to do something, it was the most impactful statement we had heard.”

Ruyter said the school staff had already begun to look for a way to respond to the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building when they heard about the anti-Semitic act against their neighbor. 

“I was deeply, deeply upset by it,” said kindergarten teacher Lucas Rotman. “We’re always trying to talk about how we treat each other kindly and with respect and with justice, and when we heard this happening to our brothers and sisters across the street, everybody wanted to take a stand and just sort of say, no, this is not ok.” 

Rotman added: “I said to my principal, wouldn’t it be a nice idea to have a little gathering. Maybe a vigil.”

Not so little, it turned out. The gathering drew not only dozens from the school community, many holding hand-drawn signs proclaiming peace and love, but a raft of elected officials—Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senators Brian Kavanaugh and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou—who along with school representatives spoke, condemning the act and offering their support for the museum.

Ruyter read a letter to the museum written by 7th-grade teacher Mary Valentine on behalf of the school. “While the act was directed at your institution,” she said, “as your neighbors, it is an attack on all of us. We stand for justice, peace and anti-violence.” 

In a brief interview with the Trib, Kliger revealed more about the incident than has been previously reported. He said the museum’s security cameras captured a truck pulling up at 2 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 8.  One of three men, he said, was then seen wrapping the Confederate flag around the museum’s front door.

“Afterwards, his two companions joined him and they stood in front of that car,” Kliger said, motioning to the freight car in front of the museum that was used to carry Jews to the Auschwitz death camp, “and unfurled another neo-fascist flag and gave a Heil Hitler salute. They photographed that and posted it on the web.” (The photo, he said, was later taken down.) From there, Kliger said, the men continued on to the Federal Reserve Building and to the Charging Bull statue to pose again. He said the men represented the fascist American Falangist Party.

“Police are doing their investigation and we’re waiting for them to report back,” he said.

The NYPD declined to comment on the progress of the investigation or Kliger’s account of the details of the incident.