Hills students make change with community awareness project battling anti-Semitism

Photo by Ms. Gamgort.

Pascack Hills juniors Mackenzie Blowers, Alec Boyajian, and Liz Mashini embarked on a mission this past fall to change the community through a business club’s writing prompt for a paper known as the “Community Awareness Project.” Over the last few months, the trio created and established what is now known as the “Pyramid of Hope Project,” which directly tackles and combats anti-Semitism at its core. 

The Pyramid of Hope Project, as told by the group, began with the need for a plan to respond to anti-Semitic incidents in the community. Just last year, Pascack Hills was the home of an anti-Semitic incident when a swastika was found on a bathroom stall in the boy’s bathroom. Quite literally the issue had hit close to home and the students wanted to create a way for something like this to never happen again. 

“We knew we wanted to tackle anti-Semitism in the community, but a large problem was that there was really no outline for us or others to know how to do it. So, we made the outline ourselves,” stated Mackenzie Blowers, co-founder of the project. 

The three took a large source of their inspiration from the Anti-Defamation League’s “Pyramid of Hate,” a pyramid illustrating how hate grows and escalates. Blowers described how in their planning sessions for the project, it all clicked as they began talking about finding a way to combat the Pyramid of Hate. Before, the group did not know what the name or center of their project would be.

 “We began saying things about finding a way to tackle the ADL’s Pyramid of Hate and then it went quiet. Suddenly we all were like ‘wait, let’s make our own pyramid, and it felt that we had found the thing we had been searching for the entire time,” explained Blowers. 

Dubbed the Pyramid of Hope, the orange pyramid diagram has five sections that indicate the steps for everyone to be able to get involved to combat anti-Semitism. The pyramid can be seen in the picture to the right. The steps to combat the issue grow more difficult as you climb the pyramid and as the sections decrease in size; however, no matter the difficulty of the step each one is just as important as the last. As you make your way up the pyramid the steps, in order, are: Recognize, Understand, Advocate, Educate, and Act.

The bottom of the Pyramid begins with recognition, which Liz Mashini describes as the most important part. 

“Everything builds off of recognizing that the problem is there and that what is occurring is wrong. Recognition is by far the most important part of combatting anti-Semitism,” co-founder, Liz Mashini, said.

As you escalate up the Pyramid of Hope, the steps upwards become slightly more difficult. Understanding means comprehending the impact of the event that just occurred and the history behind hate symbols used in anti-Semitic incidents. Advocating means voicing that what occurred is wrong while educating means teaching others about the history behind anti-Semitism, the swastika, and how to respond to certain situations where anti-Semitic incidents may occur. 

Alec Boyajian, a co-founder of the project, pointed out that the action section is so ambiguous because there are many ways in which acting against anti-Semitism can take form; it could mean talking to local government or using hashtags on social media to stand against hate and anti-Semitism.

On January 13, 2020, the trio brought their Pyramid of Hate campaign to the eighth-graders at Fieldstone Middle School, where the group focused on combating anti-Semitism in the community. The presentation focused on the origins of anti-Semitism, incidents in the present time, the importance it had in the community, and using the Pyramid of Hope to move forward. The eighth-graders were given an informative brochure and a sticker, of the Pyramid of Hope image while leaving the presentation to keep with them in order to use what they had learned in the future. 

“I think the presentation was a total success because the audience stayed engaged and cared about the issue as much as we did. It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to present to other students who will be coming to Hills in the next year and connect with them on an issue that is so important to us,” Blowers stated,

Alec, Liz, and Mackenzie will present their Community Awareness Project at a business competition known as DECA at the state level in March, but they hope to continue the project for the rest of their time at Hills and hopefully, the program will continue even after their graduation in 2021. The trio has several other plans on how to spread the idea of the Pyramid of Hope throughout the Pascack Hills community and unite everyone in the battle against anti-Semitism.