“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel
I was more than incensed when a teacher at our public elementary school in Southern California decided to have her second grade students color paper Easter eggs and hang them in the hallway outside the classroom. The large sign that was attached read, “Happy Easter.” How appropriate this would be in a private religious school, but not in a setting where everyone does not celebrate Easter. I was so tempted to have my students paint matzos and hang them in the hallway with a sign that read, “Happy Passover.” I was even more tempted to ask her what kind of curricular connection she was making. How did this fare at our school site? Nobody even batted an eyelash. People walked up and down that hallway for weeks and it seemed like her display was commonplace to most. Of course, I would not classify this as an act of antisemitism just an act of insensitivity.
This is the world we live in as public school educators in the United States. We are to treat all holidays equally and not focus on one at the expense of another. We must always consider “separation of church and state.” But this is a huge misnomer! It is 2015 and, during my last 16 years of teaching in the district, meetings have consistently been scheduled during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. Am I to believe that this is just a simple mistake? After so many mistakes, I don’t think so. My only other Jewish colleague on campus suggested we not acknowledge this issue. According to her, it would “open up a big can of worms.” I said, “ It is indeed time to let the worms run wild!”
I think of all the public schools, colleges and universities that have recently been confronted by some terrible acts of antisemitism. Perhaps it’s naiveté on my part, perhaps I’m thinking that Jews and non-Jews have forged harmonious relationships with one another over the years, perhaps I am entirely wrong.
I am given shocking reminders of what it was like growing up in the mid-sixties and seventies. I was frequently called a “dirty Jew,” knowing full well that I had bathed before coming to school that day. During Yom Kippur, the administration at school did not acknowledge that this was a significant holiday and wanted to count it as a sick day. My mother fought a good fight but to no avail. Furthermore, tests were given during the High Holidays when the Jewish students were not there to take them.
I was a member of the speaker’s bureau in college. It was our job to bring to campus a good cross-section of individuals with varying viewpoints. To think that Yitzhak Rabin could not even speak that day over the chanting, booing and epithets being thrown his way by some students. It took an inordinate amount of security to stop this from getting really ugly. That incident is still engrained in my mind. I thought that something like this could never have happened on our campus. I was indeed wrong.
Some 50 years later, and I literally feel sick to my stomach knowing how Rachel Beyda, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, running for a seat on the judicial council, was treated or, shall we say, mistreated. To think that her Jewish background would have been considered a “conflict of interest.” Is this a return to Nazi Germany, where Jews can be interrogated? Poor Rachel Beyda had to endure at least four hours’ worth. No matter the response from the chancellor’s office or the public and private apologies, a fellow Jew had been mistreated in the worst way.
I didn’t believe things could get worse until I recently visited my parents in Vancouver. Alas, a referendum vote at the University of British Columbia among the student population: “Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?” What an absolutely frightening proposition. How fortunate the majority of students had the decency and intelligence to not vote for this most disturbing proposal.
When antisemitism hits your backyard, it’s time to bring in all the “heavy hitters” you possibly can and appeal to the members of one’s community. Unfortunately, this antisemitism is so deeply entrenched it may never go away. What a frightening phenomenon.
Linda Raphael Young was born and raised in Vancouver. She lives in Pasadena with her husband, Mel, a retired educator, and their 5-year-old Havanese, Dudley.