A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter Emma was in the middle-school cafeteria eating lunch with her gaggle of friends. Boys have started to loiter around the fringes. The dance has begun.
One of the boys lingered around Emma for a moment.
Then he said, “You’re Jewish, right?”
Emma said “Yes.”
The boy replied, “Well, you know…I’m German.”
Emma looked at him as he spoke to the rest of the table.
“She wouldn’t talk so much if we had another Holocaust.”
Emma came home after school and told me about the incident. I was apoplectic and stunned. I asked her if this was the first time the boy had made an anti-Semitic comment. She said no - there had been other instances.
I called the dean of the school the next morning. He acted swiftly. Within the hour the boy was in his office. The dean then called the boy’s mother, who, according to the dean, was aghast. The school officially disciplined the boy. The boy then wrote an apology letter to my daughter. According to Emma, the bullying has not recurred.
Last Monday, two of my nephews were in their classrooms at the Cherry Hill JCC in New Jersey. My nephews are five and two. That morning, a man called the JCC to inform them that he had planted a bomb in the building. My nephews were promptly evacuated, along with their classmates. They walked outside in single file, watching from the sidewalk as bomb-sniffing dogs were led into their classrooms.
The number of bomb threats against JCC’s and synagogues in 2017 is so numerous that I cannot put a definitive number on it. As I sit and write this now, it’s over 100. In addition, multiple Jewish cemeteries have been gruesomely defaced, anti-Semitic vandals have toppled and destroyed hundreds of Jewish gravestones.
The victims that these brave souls have chosen to intimidate are the children and the dead.
And then, last Sunday night, in Evansville, Indiana, someone walked up to the window of the Adath B’nai Israel Temple, pulled out a gun, and fired it through the window. Nobody heard the gunshot, or witnessed the crime. The bullet hole was not discovered until the next morning.
I’ve had this post written for a week now, wrestling with myself about whether or not to post it. I showed it to Emma, concerned that she might receive blowback. Emma said no: post it. In fact - here’s all you need to know about Emma - in the draft I showed her, I had left out the bully’s line about the Holocaust. It was simply too difficult for me to type. It was Emma who insisted that I put it in, and publish it.
So, here we are. This is 2017.
A close friend of mine from childhood, a much more devout Jew than I, insists that there is nothing new under the sun. He believes that anti-Semitic bullying and violence is not on the rise, but ever-present. It is only now, he argues, that the mainstream media, possessed by their fury against the current administration, are choosing to publicize American anti-Semitic activity, desperate for any weapon they can hurl at the White House.
I have no evidence to either confirm or refute his claim. But I would be interested in seeing some, if you, reader, are educated in this subject and would care to share.
It’s important that I stress unambiguously just how well Emma’s middle school has responded to this incident. Hers was not the only religion- and race-related bullying that has infected their hallways. Today, the school is hosting a Diversity Day, to help shine a light on the problem. I hope that those of you involved in the school will consider this blog post to be a part of, and in support of, your commendable efforts.
This marks the first time that I’ve felt a twinge of fear about posting something on this blog. I do not believe that I live in a community that will reward my words with a swastika painted on my door, or continued bullying against my children. Almost everything I’ve seen about the people of Fairfield leads me to believe otherwise: that increased awareness about a problem will lead to a group effort to illuminate and eradicate that problem. I love the people in my town. And I’m grateful to be a part of this community.
But if you have middle-school-aged kids, in Fairfield or anywhere else, I would definitely recommend having a chat with them about this subject. Words fly freely in school cafeterias, as we all know. And in spite of my devout friend’s sober caution to the contrary, I do believe something new has been loosed in the American casual. Call it a permissiveness, an emboldening, whatever you want to call it: something buried is bubbling up in the phrases and grudges we let slip around our dinner tables, in our overheard phone calls and spied-upon texts. Our children are watching, learning, and imitating, as they always have and always will. In this remarkable Trumpian environment, our children are becoming themselves.
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