Don’t Call It a Misprint

A New Jersey high school is trying to unpack how a page in its 2024 yearbook highlighting a Jewish student group got hijacked by Muslim classmates on its way to the printer
June 12, 2024
The yearbook page with the Jewish students’ photos and names removed.

I’ve always given credit to East Brunswick, New Jersey. Though I lived there for less than a decade, it was a formative time — grade school through college (at nearby Rutgers University) — that truly shaped my identity and led me to a career in music and entertainment journalism.

I attended East Brunswick High School, which today is ground zero for an unsolved mystery straight out of Nancy Drew. In the yearbook that arrived in students’ hands last week, a photograph of the Jewish Student Union was inexplicably swapped out for a group of Muslim classmates. The participating Jewish students’ names were also deleted from the page. No one — not the superintendent, principal or mayor — seems to know how the image got there. As of this writing, the contracted printer, based in Minnesota, had yet to comment. 

In the yearbook that arrived in students’ hands last week, a photograph of the Jewish Student Union was inexplicably swapped out for a group of Muslim classmates. The participating Jewish students’ names were also deleted from the page.

It is not an isolated incident. High schools in California, Texas and Illinois have also printed politically charged statements authored by students related to the current crisis in Gaza, and to the October 7 attacks on Israel during which Hamas terrorists massacred over 1,200 people — some citizens of the U.S. — and took hostage several hundred, half of whose fates are still undetermined.   

Having worked in print publications for the last 30 years, I can say with some confidence that the cost to correct and re-print the EBHS yearbook is probably not exorbitant. As it is, the school has opted to reproduce the page, collect all the yearbooks from students and replace each individually with the corrected page. It will cost only $1,000, but the damage caused by this, let’s call it disprint, the town may never recover from.

I don’t recall such ethno-religious strife when I lived in East Brunswick. Having immigrated from Israel, my family was active in Jewish life but hardly devout. I didn’t even have a bat mitzvah, though the calendar was full with invitations. Still, my parents chose central New Jersey in part for its robust Jewish community. Another key factor was its proximity to New York City (an hour’s drive) and, of course, the blue-ribbon public schools. 

I’m sure my mom, a professor, had some concern about my education and vetted my future alma mater. There was no cause for worry. Our teachers opened our eyes to different cultures and art, to injustices throughout history, to works of great writers that today would undoubtedly end up on a red state list of books to ban. There was a program called IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where we learned to debate difficult issues of civics and law — spurring us to introspection and helping set a moral compass that we’d carry well into adulthood. 

These debates, which would determine participation in regional competitions like Model Congress, sometimes got heated. They revealed a lot about the debater and their views: where they came from and how their positions evolved. You were left to make your case in front of the classroom with nothing to shield you but a weathered podium and a piece of paper folded in half that bore your last name in Sharpie. They were spirited conversations, but rarely nasty. Students, seated in a semicircle, were passionate about their cause — pro or con — and the class served its learning purpose: mutual respect in the form of the age-old guidepost to “try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

My time at East Brunswick prepared me for real life. The school was probably mostly white back then, but it didn’t feel that way. I had friends of all colors, religions and socio-economic backgrounds — whose photos and life goals I looked forward to perusing in the almighty yearbook. 

You might be thinking: Who cares about a printed book when we all have Instagram accounts with pictures and videos that present how we want to be seen? And that’s just it: the yearbook is the official record of your school years — curated, yes, but also meant to accurately reflect the shared experience. As my fellow Gen Xers on the internet have jousted, we blocked people we didn’t like by literally cutting them out of the page (X-Acto knife recommended), or, say, drawing a booger on their photo. Whatever the motivation, it was a solitary act.   

Putting together a yearbook is not unlike a magazine. The student members of the yearbook committee — editors, writers, photographers — assemble the content over many weeks, presumably with a teacher or advisor overseeing the process. Photos are sized, formatted to the correct printing resolution, and sometimes separated into color files. Text and art are put into layouts so as to fit the page and avoid blank white space (like the missing Jewish Students Union caption). Every page gets copy-edited for grammar and spelling and looked over by multiple pairs of eyes with the editor-in-chief presumably giving the final OK. The students are likely working on a lead time of four to five months. If the printed product reached the school on June 1, the files were probably sent in March. 

Somehow, in the short window between final sign-off and going to press, someone (a student? a supervisor?) had to go into the digital files, access the layout, delete and insert a photo and pretend (or forge?) that all was approved for printing. Did the subterfuge come from the printer’s end, as EB Mayor Brad Cohen asked in a press release following what he called a “blatant anti-Semitic act,” or was it a shit-stirring prank by kids who may or may not have a horse in the race? Like many of the masked protesters setting up camp on U.S. college campuses and blocking access to Jewish students, these agitators’ identities are unknown.  

“Regardless of the ‘who,’ the ‘what’ is bad enough!” wrote one of my peers on Facebook. She’s right. The “what” will be remembered. The “who” is more likely to get erased with time. The “how” — as in, how can this happen in my hometown in 2024? — has alums livid. 

“I’ve always felt proud to call East Brunswick my hometown … and I never thought something like this antisemitic incident could happen at my alma mater,” says class of 1998 graduate Brett Gursky, who also served as the editor of the yearbook. “This could never just happen by accident. It’s shocking and heartbreaking. Whoever is responsible for this obvious hate crime should face consequences like not getting their diploma, not graduating from high school, not going to prom, and having their college acceptances rescinded. The only way to combat real-life hate is with real-life consequences.”

Other EBHS graduates have taken to social media and letter-writing campaigns. One note circulating lays blame on the adults in the room. “The inclusion of such hateful material in an official school publication raises serious questions about the moral character of the students involved in this act, as well as the supervision and involvement of the faculty members responsible for overseeing the yearbook’s production,” it reads. “It is unfathomable that such content could have slipped through without the explicit or implicit approval of those in charge.”

One of my most beloved former teachers, the late John Calimano, taught us there’s space for everyone. What happened to that kind of education?

Shirley Halperin is the editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Magazine and has held senior editorial positions at Variety, Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter. She graduated from East Brunswick High School in 1990.

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