Rabbis Leora Abelson and Joseph Meszler are undoubtedly speaking wisdom when they say that a swastika scratched in pencil outside a middle school in Foxboro, should not be greeted with panic.

But neither should it be passed over as a harmless prank

The discovery over the weekend of the hated symbol of the Nazi Party and white supremacy generally was met with dismay by local residents.

Students entering Ahern Middle School for a track practice session on Friday found the symbol on the pavement behind the building and alerted school officials. Administrators think it was drawn sometime after school was dismissed on Thursday.

School officials issued a stern response. “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Superintendent Amy Bedros told parents in a email. The matter has been turned over to Foxboro police for investigation.

Some parents interviewed at Ahern Middle School over the weekend, while decrying the incident, passed it off as a “stupid kid being a stupid kid.”

And, certainly, on some level, that may be true. A middle school student who etches the symbol of the the most hated regime in modern history on a sidewalk may have no more idea of its meaning than does one who scrawls an obscene word on a restroom wall. Their juvenile intent is to shock and appall whoever views their handiwork.

But, in a year that has seen a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, when gunmen in our own country have targeted Jewish congregations while they worship, this vandalism goes beyond mere obscenity.

The swastika is an ancient symbol, the use of which goes back millennia to China, India and which is even found in Native American iconography. It gained popularity as a token of various meanings with a hodgepodge of nationalist groups in early 20th century Europe and especially in Germany in the turmoil following World War I.

In the 1920s, Adolf Hitler declared that he, himself, had designed the emblem of the nascent National Socialist Party, using the red, white and black colors of the flag of the German Empire with a swastika in the center, a detail of his autobiography that, like most of the future fuhrer’s claims, historians now doubt.

Nevertheless, the Nazi state stamped nearly everything under its control — aircraft, flags, medals — with the Hakenkreuz, the hooked cross. It was a symbolism that would not die in 1945 along with Hitler and his murderous regime.

Now, nearly 75 years after the last swastika flag was hauled down in defeat and disgrace after symbolizing the very worst that human beings could do to one another, it’s emerged again for much the same reason: Frightened people lashing out in hate against anyone who seems different.

The person who scrawled the symbol at Ahern may, or may, not be aware of its tortured history. But, as Rabbi Abelson, of Attleboro’s Congregation Agudas Achim, pointed out, the students who found the swastika knew enough to report it. And Rabbi Meszler, of Sharon’s Temple Sinai reminds us that “every generation has to be taught.”

Let this be a teachable moment.

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