A peace sign with watermelons was removed near Philly's Germantown Friends School after parents objected. That was just the start of the debate.

Max Marin and Maddie Hanna, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Religious News

PHILADELPHIA — Quaker community members hung a “peace” sign on the campus of Germantown Friends School in the fall. It was a message everyone seemed to agree on.

But outrage ensued in late February after they added a series of cloth watermelons next to the simple five-letter message.

The watermelon imagery — an unofficial symbol of Palestinian solidarity — upset a number of the Jewish families whose children attend school on the campus. School leaders intervened, and within days, Germantown Friends head of school Dana Weeks told parents in a March email that “the inappropriate and offensive signage has been removed.”

It was one of several flashpoints over the war in Gaza that the elite private school has sought to defuse since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. But unlike the turmoil facing other schools and institutions, the Germantown Friends community has faced a reckoning of faith as its members debate the Quaker commitment to nonviolence.

Over the last six months, several incidents have unnerved some students and led parents to organize a WhatsApp group chat amid fears of antisemitism, while others have grown increasingly critical of school leaders who they say haven’t shown equal support to pro-Palestinian community members.

In April, about 400 parents, alumni, and faculty signed an open letter to school leaders decrying a series of perceived pro-Israel biases — from canceling a Muslim author’s visit to opposing a “cease-fire” banner — and calling on school leaders to adopt an antiwar stance in line with its Quaker mission.


The school’s “actions read as anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic, and racist, and they have created a climate of fear,” the letter reads. It accused leaders of abandoning a “simple framework for decision-making. Is an action in line with Quaker values, or not?”

Most parents have avoided talking openly about the disagreement even as it has spilled into public view. After The Philadelphia Inquirer contacted a parent supportive of the open letter, all signatures disappeared from the online document. Meanwhile, two parents active in the Jewish families’ WhatsApp group said they were satisfied with the school’s direction and referred questions to administrators.

About 150 Jewish parents sent the school a letter in November, asking Germantown Friends to remain a safe space for Jewish students, reinvigorate its curriculum about World War II and the Holocaust, and provide antisemitism training for students and staff, Richard Stern, a parent at the school, said in a statement.

He said that many Jewish families “fell into despair” about the open letter, “which was laden with antisemitic tropes” and falsehoods — adding that he wasn’t aware of any Jewish families who had asked the school to take a “pro-Israel” position.


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