Simon Wiesenthal Center, IARSS Announce Suburban Students Win Intolerance Essay Contest

Simon Wiesenthal Center, IARSS Announce Suburban Students Win Intolerance Essay Contest


Simon Wiesenthal Center, IARSS Announce Suburban Students Win Intolerance Essay Contest (Springfield, IL) – One winning student helped us better understand how hate and fear makes monsters out of people. The other told the painful story of how one simple sentence can hurt the most.

In the end, dozens of Illinois students stepped up this spring to be part of the answer in the ongoing campaign against the spread of hate and intolerance through technology.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Mobile Museum of Tolerance and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools today announced two suburban Chicago students are the official winners of its Your Voice: Changing the World, One Speech at a Time statewide essay contest. The two organizations came together to ask students to share their personal experiences and insight into these powerful words from Simon Wiesenthal: “The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.”

Farah Albayati, a 17-year-old junior at Niles West High School, won the high school division of the contest with an entry on how hate is an outgrowth of fear, turning people into something they never were born to be. “It is so easy to make monsters out of people,” Albayati wrote in her essay opening. “To pick up a pen and write ‘THIS IS YOUR FAULT.’ It is easier to make yourself the monster, to snap and bite and run and hide. It is easy to bare teeth. It is harder to be honest. No one here has claws or sharp teeth. No one is born to hate.”

Jordan Gordon, a 12-year-old student at Barrington 220 Middle School Prairie Campus, used “One Sentence” to display the power of hatred online to hurt, through simple sentences, and win the middle school division:

“One sentence that hurt the most, ‘what’s wrong with you, Jew?’ Is this what our ancestors fought for? For a world where people forget the fight? A sentence so strong, yet so short. Hurt by the words of hatred and technology, I turn away,” the essay ends.

The two winning students were joined by other powerful entries also receiving attention for their work:

  • In the high school division: Areej Ibraheim of Niles West High School finished second, and Latrael Snyder of Fairfield Community High School finished third
  • In the middle school division: Isabelle Behnke of Pennoyer School finished second, and Annmarie Roth of Barrington Middle School Prairie Campus finished third

Winning students receive an Apple MacBook laptop. Second place earned an Apple IPad, and third place received a $250 gift card.

More than 120 participating students from across Illinois were asked to submit an essay of up to 450 words on the connection between hate and technology. Entries were pared down to the top five in each category, and those students submitted performances on video of their essays.

Judges were Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton, P.O.W.E.R Foundation Board of Directors Member Ava Carpenter-McPike, and WMAQ TV NBC Chicago Producer Franci Feirstein. They offered feedback in video submissions by each finalist on May 7 and then voted for the winners. A video of the final contestant presentations and judge feedback is here, and the judges noted they learned something from each presentation and were especially moved by the winning entries.


“It’s amazing how our young people are digesting this whole question. I’m proud of you guys,” Feirstein said.

IARSS, representing Regional Offices of Education and Intermediate Service Centers across Illinois, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have worked together for several years, including coordinating a highly successful visit in 2021 to the State Capitol by the Mobile Museum of Tolerance to show the power of the bus and its high-tech approach to education.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, headquartered in Los Angeles, runs a number of programs out of its Midwest Office in Chicago. The Midwest Office partners with law enforcement agents to educate officers about hate-based threats, coordinates visits to numerous school districts across the state where state legislators often attend to learn more about the MMOT, and runs a number of workshops designed to help students and adults better identify and stand up to hate, anti-Semitism, and intolerance in their communities.

The MMOT is a traveling human rights education center – the first of its kind in the United States – that visits school districts statewide, free of charge, to offer hands-on workshops for participating students. The workshops include an emphasis on our nation’s civil rights movement and history, the harrowing story of Nazi persecution through Anne Frank’s experience in World War II, the power of ordinary people to stand up against life-threatening hatred, and an introduction to digital media literacy.

Organizers of the contest say the tremendous turnout and powerful submissions are clear evidence Illinois youth recognize the hidden dangers of hate and intolerance.

“We work tirelessly to educate children and families about how hatred can seep through slowly and effectively – through social media, through apps, through online chat rooms,” said Alison Pure-Slovin, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Midwest Region. “All of these essay submissions help validate the progress we have made today and the work ahead tomorrow to root out evil, hatred, and fear that surrounds us. We thank every student who took time to share their work with us and look forward to growing next year.”

“We hope to prepare our youth to recognize evil and turn it away in our instruction. The tremendous results and participation we had this year is proof students can be the most effective voice for tolerance and understanding,” said Mark Klaisner, IARSS President and Executive Director of West40 Intermediate Service Center in Chicago’s near-western suburbs. “We will work closely with our partners at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the MMOT to build on this great start and help reach more schools and more students who can join us to promote love and kindness in the face of hatred. Together, we will do better.”

For more on the essay contest and the MMOT, visit the MMOT’s website at, or follow MMOT on social media.

Simon Wiesenthal Center, IARSS Announce Suburban Students Win Intolerance Essay Contest

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