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Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Jewish Scholastic Press Association

Milken Football Team Faces Anti-Semitism: The Path to Teshuvah

Richard Quinton
Milken football team and coaches line up for the American and Israeli national anthems at a Milken home game.

Note: This story includes anti-semitic and vulgar language directed at Milken students that may be upsetting to some readers. 

On October 19, the Milken high school football team prepared as they do for any away game against Noli Indian School. They traveled in their bus for three and a half hours to the Soboba Indian reservation in Hemet, California where Noli Indian is located. Milken’s team were greeted warmly by people in the reservation neighborhood, where many Noli students and residents waved to the players on the bus.

The game-ready Milken team then arrived at the Noli home stadium, stepped onto the field, shook hands with the opposing players, carried out the customary coin toss, and partook in the all-American sport of football.

Milken was able to win the game 53 to 0 during Noli Indian High School’s Homecoming where a large number of Noli students and residents of the reservation were in attendance. However, the victory was tainted with an old enemy of the Jewish people, one that has continued to threaten the right for Judaism to exist for countless generations; anti-semitism.

After the match, as Milken football players Eitan Newman ‘26 and Theo Fleischman ‘26 took pictures on the field, a Noli student and two parents were seen in the stands giving the Nazi salute and uttering the words, “Looks like Hitler missed a few. We wish he could be back.”

Although Newman was furious and wanted to retaliate, Fleischman advised him against it in fear of escalating the situation saying, “Leave it, let’s just go home.”

In the past, Milken students have faced anti-semitism during sports games multiple times, yet those incidents did not receive the same amount of attention from the Milken community as the incident at Noli has. However, the war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group beginning after October 7th has caused an increased amount of antisemitism taking place in Los Angeles. This has placed this specific incident in a new context as it shows that the war in Israel may be having a direct effect on the safety of Milken students.

The morning after the anti-semitic incident, Noli Indian School faculty reached out to Milken faculty and a Zoom meeting was held in which Noli made a genuine and whole-hearted effort to apologize and take accountability for the antisemitism the football team faced. Noli and Milken administrators have also planned an exchange of visits that will serve to mend the relationship between the two schools and educate one another on their unique cultures.

The night of the incident at Noli Indian school, Milken players and coaches gathered their equipment in the locker room and as they walked out as a team, were faced with approximately 10 more Noli Indian community members giving the Hitler salute. According to Newman, the group of 10 was made up of both “parents and kids.” Though disturbed and in shock, the team did their best to not react and continued cautiously leaving the Noli campus.

As Milken players made their way back to the bus, a black car filled with Noli Indian students approached them, rolled down their windows, and began to yell anti-semitic phrases such as “F*ck the Jews” and “this is not where you belong.” During these moments, Newman felt extremely worried for the team’s safety, especially because he estimated there were only 30 Milken football players and coaches. 300 Noli Indian students were at the game. He also felt that because they were on a private Indian reservation, if Noli students or parents began to take violent action against the Milken football team “no one would really know immediately.”

Finally, when Milken students finally boarded the bus and believed they could escape the antisemitism that surrounded them, they quickly realized that the team had left their water coolers on the Noli campus and players would need to return to Noli Indian and potentially face further harassment. However, the players on the bus did not realize that Milken head coach Elliot Turner was still in the Noli away team locker room gathering Milken equipment in preparation for the team’s departure.

Football players Akiva Mosse ‘24, Zachary Schwarz ‘26, and Brayden Mordkowitz ‘24 returned to the areas surrounding the Noli campus to retrieve the forgotten water coolers. When they did, a Noli Indian mom warned them that if they intended to return to the field, then she should escort them to prevent them from being “popped off” according to Mosse. The Milken students declined the offer and continued towards the locker room fearful of what could come.

Thankfully, the three students met with Coach Turner outside of the Noli campus. He had already picked up the water coolers himself. They all returned to the bus that would take them back to Milken.

Quarterback Gavin Vogel ’24 prepares to throw. (Richard Quinton)

The Milken football team had entered into Noli Indian School excited and ready to play the sport they work hard towards on a near daily basis and left with the same brutal image of anti-semitism seared in their minds that was seared in the memories of countless Jewish generations in the past as well.

As reports of the incident began to spread throughout the community, Milken administration informed parents of the anti-semitic events at Noli in an email sent out on October 21, stating that Milken students feeling unsafe is “unacceptable” and that they “have already and will continue to increase proactive security measures for our students both on-campus and at off-campus school activities.”

Later on, Milken was mentioned in relation to the incident at Noli Indian School on national news on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper as “a Jewish school whose football team experienced a variety of anti-semitic language and gestures including the Nazi salute.”

Many players remained upset and in shock about the incident in the days after and also began giving testimonies to Milken faculty. In the practices after the game at Noli, Head Coach Turner spoke multiple times with the Milken football team regarding the incident and tried to convey the message that “you can’t control everything around you” but the “one thing you can control is how you perceive things, how you perceive yourself, and how you help others.”

Coach Turner added that he has made it clear to the team that they must maintain an “open line of communication” so that every player can receive the support they may need from the community. Offensive coordinator and coach Jason Welsh added that the incident “brought the team together” and that they feel comfortable supporting one another through these more difficult times.

Unfortunately, this has not been the first time Milken athletes have had to face anti-semitism when playing away games against other high schools. When a Milken basketball team was playing an away game during last school year, coins were thrown onto the court to reference anti-semitic Jewish stereotypes. This incident did not receive the same amount of attention from parents and faculty school wide, though.

Football player Eitan Newman stated that what made the Noli event at an athletic match different from the rest was the “Holocaust aspect” of Nazi salutes and references to Hitler that were made to insult and degrade the Milken football team. His teammate Mosse added that this event was different because of the degree of anger he saw in the Noli community and the “imminent threat of danger” he felt. Coach Welsh also said that this incident of anti-semitism may have been different because of “the involvement of adults that were present.” He stated that “when an adult is saying something anti-semitic to an adolescent; it changes the dynamic and the seriousness of what is happening.”

Newman also said the incident at Noli Indian was “placed under a microscope because of what is happening in Israel right now”, referring to the war beginning on October 7 between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group. According to NBC, the amount of anti-semitic Jewish hate crimes reported by police in Los Angeles from October 6 to October 30 were at a 140% increase, over the same period in 2022. Coach Welsh spoke to this statistic as well, stating “what happens in Israel will always affect Jewish people across the entire world.” This anti-semitic incident may have specifically been given more attention by Milken faculty and parents as it shows the direct effect the war between Israel and Hamas has on the safety of Milken students.

Coach Turner also described the Jewish people and Native Americans as “two different tribes that have been treated unfairly and have been disrespected in the past.” He added that the harassment that his players faced “stung more” because of the “common ground” he feels they should have had with the Noli community.

Milken football team gathered in a huddle. (Richard Quinton)

For the Milken Football team, it was particularly surprising to face anti-semitism from Noli Indian School specifically. In the past, Native Americans were discriminated against, murdered, and displaced from their land unfairly for many generations. Similarly, Jewish people have also experienced mass genocide and prejudice throughout their history as well. Newman says that Native Americans are also “a minority that has had the same things [historical murder and displacement] happen to them” and described the anti-semitism he encountered after the football match as “almost like friendly fire.”

However, Milken Division 11-12 head Beau Lindsay, who was present at the Zoom meeting that took place the day after the incident between Milken and Noli administration, characterized Noli as having “a real desire to apologize, to take ownership of  what happened, and to take steps to repair the damage.”

Milken and Noli staff also had a second Zoom meeting that Mr. Lindsay says also focused on “possibilities for both communities to connect and learn from each other.” This conversation then led to plans regarding the Noli principal, two Noli math teachers, and a Noli reading specialist visiting Milken on December 8 to learn more about Milken’s school mission, directly apologize to the football team, and gain more knowledge about the religion and culture of Judaism.

According to Mr. Lindsay, Noli Indian has also “extended an offer to Milken students and faculty to visit the Noli Indian campus” after their visit to Milken. This visit will involve Milken students and faculty learning more about Native American culture and hopefully regaining a sense of trust.

Mr. Lindsay made it clear though that this exchange of visits between Noli and Milken will first serve the goal of Noli apologizing to Milken for the anti-semtism the football team faced and then will work towards forming a connection between the unique cultures present at both Milken and Noli Indian School.

In Judaism, the idea of Teshuvah (which means repentance in Hebrew) is an essential value in the religion and is one of Milken’s stated core values that encourages us to forgive others and to “reflect and repair with integrity.” For many in the Milken community, it may be impossible to forgive anti-semitism and some Milken students and parents may never fully trust Noli Indian School again. Nevertheless, as Milken continues to communicate with Noli Indian School and educates on Jewish culture and the importance of Israel in the world, relationships could be slowly mended and forgiveness could be found.

In the future, preventing 100 percent of the anti-semitism that Milken students will face may be an unattainable goal. Even during Milken’s Homecoming, anti-semitic language was used by an opposing player to insult a Milken athlete. However, as Coach Turner put it, Milken students must continue to be “the bigger person, the light, and the example” and stand up to anti-semitism in the “right way without throwing a punch” in order to continue in the long lasting tradition of Jewish unity, survival, and salvation.

Additional Reporting by Tevelle Bitton

This story appeared in the Milken Roar on Dec. 6, 2023.

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