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What I learned from witnessing my classmate wear a Nazi-esque Halloween costume by Gabi Josefson

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When I went to school on Halloween, I thought my biggest worry would be finishing up my college applications. Little did I know that the actions of one of my peers would lead to one of the most difficult times in my high school career.  

Witnessing a classmate walk around my school in an East German soldier Halloween costume, while goose-stepping on stage and giving a Nazi salute to the crowd was traumatizing.  

The question now: How do we prevent future acts of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry from occurring in my school? The answer, I believe, is through unity and education.  

As members of our school’s Jewish student group, Jewish Student Connection, we thought it important that our organization take the lead in advocating for improved Holocaust and genocide education at Jones. 

In the weeks since the incident, we—and our allies—have worked to pressure leadership to better comply with the law that made Holocaust education compulsory in public schools in Illinois, the first state in the country to mandate Holocaust education more than 30 years ago.   

In addition to genocide education, we’re also urging our teachers to consider ways they can weave Jewish education into other lesson plans. We also recommend that our peers do their own research, such as by visiting the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. We’re optimistic that the school will implement revised Holocaust curricula in the classroom as soon as next year.  

Our school has garnered a lot of negative attention in response to this incident. The administration’s handling of the event unleashed a firestorm that threatened to dilute the gravity of the student’s behavior in wearing the costume.  

It’s frustrating that over the past year, the portrayal of Jones has failed to highlight the warmth of teachers and students in the face of challenging events, as that is a part of our culture that I am incredibly proud of.  

I am uplifted by the way our school’s teachers and students have supported the Jewish community at Jones in the aftermath of this incident, striving to counter antisemitism at our school. I’m inspired to work toward building a curriculum at Jones that focuses on educating our students on subjects of critical importance. Education, after all, is the key to uplifting perspectives and combatting antisemitism, racism, and all forms of hate in our community. 

Chicago Public Schools ultimately suspended Jones College Prep Principal Joseph Powers for his handling of the Halloween costume incident and the school is pending an investigation.

Gabi Josefson

About the Author: Gabi Josefson is a senior at Jones College Prep, where he serves as co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, co-president of his school’s Jewish Student Connection, and a member of the tennis team. Outside of school, he is involved in BBYO and JUF Voices. Gabi belongs to Anshe Emet in Chicago.

Look out for Gabi's article about this expierence in the December/ January edition of Jewish Chicago. Watch the interview about the incident on WTTW news here