Recent anti-Semitic incidents involving students at Newport Harbor High School and two other high schools has put the topic of racism and anti-Semitism squarely in Orange County communities.

From a young age, I’ve experienced anti-Semitic remarks and have been targeted because of my culture throughout my life.

I’ve said before that no one knows more Jew jokes than a Jewish person.

I know them all and have told them as a way to draw attention away from being targeted myself. As I grow older I realize that I have been complicit in my own oppression, and the commonality of this practice frightens me.

The issue of hate and groups espousing hate are not new, but are rising significantly.

Anti-Semitic incidents around the nation are up 56 percent.

In Orange County, anti-Semitic incidents among K-12 students is up 94 percent, according to Arlene Miller, CEO of Jewish Federation and Family Services.

The number of hate groups have risen to their highest levels in the US to 1,020 groups in 2018, according to reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

White supremacy propaganda has also increased 182 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“We normalize things by writing things off as jokes or that they’re not a big deal,” said Pete Simi, director of Chapman University’s Earl Babbie Research Center, which studies human rights and peaceful solutions to social conflicts.

Despite condemnation of anti-Semitism and hate incidents, many people call situations such as what happened with the Newport Harbor students simple, childish antics.

Yet if individuals using symbols of hate are doing so to antagonize others, they do it with knowledge that the symbols they select have racially charged meaning. The use of such symbolism emboldens hate groups and its members in their agenda to sow distrust and fear among ethnic populations.

Earlier this year, Democratic candidate in Florida’s gubernatorial race Andrew Gillum said, “Now, I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist,” in response to his opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis’ close association with hate groups.

In the same way, I’m not calling these students racist, but racist individuals see what they share and are emboldened in their hate of those they deem beneath them.

I’m an open person and share a lot about myself. For fear of retribution, the one thing I’m still hesitant to share is that I’m Jewish. I’ve been targeted over the pronunciation of my name and confronted with crude epithets about integrating or other racial tropes that put me on edge.

I was born in Israel and have been taught Jewish history from a young age. I’m not especially religious, but I respect and appreciate my heritage.

After photos of Newport Harbor students giggling and partying as they made Nazi salutes around an arrangement of red cups in the shape of a swastika went viral, students met with Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and step-sister to Anne Frank.

Schloss vividly described her ordeal of narrowly surviving the Holocaust while hers and other Jewish families were decimated.

According to reports, 10 posters with swastikas were plastered around Newport Harbor High School after the numerous discussions with students about the impact if the imagery.

There comes a point when it no longer seems like joking. It seems like a threat that Jewish Americans or other ethnic populations are not welcome in their communities.

When we shove the communication under the rug, calling it a joke or saying that “you need to lighten up,” it feels to me like the hateful glares or the remarks of contempt I’ve heard throughout my life.

With so many attacks on religious centers like that which took place at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburg where 11 people were murdered, or at the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand where at least 50 Muslims were murdered, we need to stop justifying racist remarks and incidents as simply jokes and start recognizing them for what they are — deadly serious.

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