Day schools respond to racist remarks in election’s aftermath
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Day schools respond to racist remarks in election’s aftermath

What can and should be done?

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood says that the election catalyzed a number of negative feelings and brought them to the fore. But will they remain or fade away? And in either case, should schools act to counteract racism or mount a pre-emptive attack?

Rabbi Yosef Adler of Torah Academy of Bergen County said that “if I don’t see anything further I don’t know if [any action] will be necessary. Teachers have been advised to pick up on this and make [students] sensitive to it, constantly.” He said that the teachers have been told, “when you discuss certain issues, try to point out African-American accomplishments.”

Teachers know, he continued, that “they cannot allow any type of racism to appear and to react strongly and insist students have a modicum of respect. That goes a long way in setting a standard.”

But in Dr. Elliot Prager’s view, “Jewish day schools and yeshivot need to do more about integrating a greater degree of exposure to multiculturalism. More needs to be done,” the Moriah School principal feels, “about [teaching] respect and toleration for people who don’t look like us and may not be like us.”

Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey Region of the Anti-Defamation League, strongly agrees.

The principals’ reports are “a sobering reminder,” he said, “that our community is not free of bigotry.”

But while the ADL has been invited to bring its anti-bias programs into many non-Jewish schools, day schools have generally not taken advantage of what the organization has to offer – unless an issue of anti-Semitism arises.

Day school administrators, Neuer noted, “consider their student body to be homogeneous” and therefore not vulnerable to bias in the way students at a multicultural school may be.

Administrators “feel they don’t need it.” But, he continued, the reported comments show that they do. And some of them are waking up to that. “A teacher at one of the schools has already reached out to us,” he said, declining to name the person and the school.

Also, Neuer said, schools that might be inclined to enlist the ADL’s help “very often feel that students are already overtaxed” with a dual curriculum and other demands on them. Anti-bias programming is “yet another piece that has to be introduced.”

The fact that many of these programs come at a cost, Neuer said, because presenters usually must be trained and paid, is a further inhibiting factor.

But, he said, the ADL is prepared to work with any school that wants to address this, and he himself is willing to work with schools concerned about how to fund such a program.

He pointed out that parents, as well as schools, can address bias. He said that parents should not be afraid to have discussions about race with their children, which can begin at a very young age.

“There are wonderful age-appropriate materials at local bookstores,” he noted, and the ADL has free resources, and suggestions for books, to guide such discussions. “There are even some free exercises that parents can do at home with kids.”

For information, go to www.adl.org. To reach Neuer, call (973) 669-9700.

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