Alison Feinberg and Aaron Shepherd

Alison Feinberg, left, and Aaron Shephard, right, both responded to an incident of vandalism at Desert Canyon Middle School.

Sunday evening, Feb. 26, after reading a disturbing email from his son’s seventh-grade history teacher concerning a vandalized Holocaust project, Aaron Shephard immediately felt he needed to act.

Brett Migliore, a history teacher at Desert Canyon Middle School in Scottsdale, sent an email to seventh-grade families about an act of “deliberate vandalism” to an “interactive learning museum based on the Holocaust.”

The letter outlined that “multiple unnamed students” drew swastikas “on the faces of deceased Holocaust victims” and ripped apart posters Migliore had made for the project.

Shephard, overwhelmed with anger and sadness upon reading the email, reached out to his friend Jason Barry, a Jewish reporter at AZ Family.

“I wanted (the information) out and I wanted everyone to know about this — I wanted the world to know right now,” Shephard told Jewish News.

“Antisemitism and racism have been amping up in the last few years and you wonder if it’s ever going to stop. This was a tipping point for me and hit way too close to home,” he said.

Before receiving the email, he wasn’t familiar with the Holocaust project and described himself as the kind of person who typically stays in the background. Learning of the students’ callous actions spurred him to act.

“There’s so much education and people know what they should and shouldn’t do — you don’t compare the Holocaust to anything. I can’t believe people still say that kind of stuff,” he said.

Though he knows it’s impossible to be sure of the kids’ motivation — “Were they just screwing around or were they getting radicalized on social media?” — he wanted someone “to get to the bottom of it.”

The vandalism is under investigation by the school and Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD), with the assistance of the school’s school resource officer (SRO), according to a statement released by Kristine Harrington, SUSD’s director of communications and marketing.

“Any student determined to have been involved will be held accountable, in accordance with the district’s Student Code of Conduct.”

Shephard and his wife, Anna, have been friends with Barry’s family for a decade. He was certain that Barry could get the information out in a respectful way.

Since the story ran, he’s heard from many people, both Jews and non-Jews, who have been supportive. “It’s good to know people care,” he said. His son felt supported by his dad’s action.

Alison Feinberg doesn’t have a child at the school but was made aware of the email by a friend who knew Feinberg has deep roots in the Jewish community.

“I’m vigilant about intolerance, and I was sick to my stomach that this is the climate that our children are being raised in,” she told Jewish News.

She reached out to ADL Arizona and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC).

“I was sure I was sending this to the right people,” she said.

Sarah Kader, ADL Arizona’s community manager, and Paul Rockower, JCRC’s executive director, reached out to the school and to the district to lend support and resources.

“We immediately reached out to the SUSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel and his office to find out more information. We appreciated the seriousness and gravity with which SUSD took the situation, and its desire to support students or families who felt traumatized by the incident,” Rockower told Jewish News.

“We know education is a major part of the answer to these incidents,” Kader said. The school previously participated in ADL’s “No Place for Hate” program, which works with educators and students across the country to promote respectful, inclusive and equitable school environments.

Kader is working to reinvigorate the program at the school since it lapsed and provide additional training to the staff.

“We want the faculty and staff to feel supported,” Kader said.

The Holocaust project was an example of a teacher going above and beyond, she said. In the email, Migliore said he would not be making any other immersive experiences due to the vandalism, but Kader is hopeful he won’t give up.

In his email, Migliore said he was “deeply saddened and disheartened” by what had happened and that it wasn’t “the only instance of students being disrespectful during our World War II unit.” He asked parents “to please discuss with your children why the Holocaust was such a terrible moment in our world’s history and why it is important for us to understand this history.”

The incident makes it “evident that there is more work to be done,” Harrington told Jewish News. However, this may end up being a teachable moment.

“Teachable moments are critical so students understand the power of words and emblems and the pain that they can cause,” she said.

Now that the vandalism is in the news, it’s important that those sharing details are sensitive to everyone impacted, students, teachers, parents and the Jewish community at large, Kader said.

“At ADL, we’re always trying to balance being truthful about the data around extremism without frightening folks. We try to be problem solvers and give individuals tools for healing and coming together as a community,” she said.

Shephard, who belongs to Temple Chai in Phoenix, referred to himself as a “Josh-go-to-temple-a-few-times-a-year” and said his friends are much more involved in the Jewish community.

“I didn’t even consider contacting ADL. It didn’t enter my mind. I would have called Paul (Rockower) if I knew about JCRC.”

But he doesn’t regret calling Barry, who he thinks did a good job with the story. Still, he wonders if there will be ramifications for going public.

“It starts creeping into your head that someone might target you after being on the news. But I don’t want to come off as complaining, either. I don’t want to sound like I’m the old man at the deli sending back the soup because it’s too cold,” he said.

Feinberg got involved because “our Jewish children should feel safe in their schools,” she said.

Congregation Or Tzion Rabbi Andy Green learned about the incident from Feinberg and a few other members of the synagogue, which is located about a mile from the school. Green reached out to anyone directly affected by the incident.

“Between the ‘Day of Hate’ mishegoss and all the other things happening in our world, this is deeply unsettling,” he told Jewish News.

“So much of offering support is letting vulnerable people know they are not alone,” he said.

This is the focus for ADL and JCRC, too.

“We have to play the long game. We know things like this will happen but how we learn and move forward is important,” Kader said. JN

For more information on the ADL’s “No Place for Hate” program, visit