Eighth-grader Sam Naimi was visiting his grandparents in Boca Raton, Fla., when he wandered into a local Barnes & Noble. The 14-year-old from Closter, on a Thanksgiving break from Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, strolled over to a Chanukah display table where he saw something that looked out of place: "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."
Sam recognized the book from his Jewish history class, where he had learned about the book’s origins and how it is still circulated today, especially in the Arab world. He hadn’t expected to come across the book while shopping, though.
"I was really angry," Sam told The Jewish Standard this week. "My teacher has been teaching us about ‘The Protocols.’" After reading through a few pages, he realized the book was just as anti-Semitic as he had been taught.
Solomon Schechter Day School Jewish history teacher Mashie Kapelowitz, eighth-grader Sam Naimi, and head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh with a copy of "Fact or Fraud?" which the ADL presented to Sam.
He moved the book off the table and when he returned to SSDS he told his Jewish history teacher, Mashie Kapelowitz, what had happened. In response, Kapelowitz called up the south Florida bookstore on speakerphone during Naimi’s class. She questioned an assistant manager about how the book landed in the Chanukah display.
"Her answer was, ‘We don’t know the content of all the books in the store,’" Kapelowitz reported.
Dissatisfied, she turned to south Florida’s Jewish Community Relations Council, which directed her to the region’s Anti-Defamation League. The organization said it would look into the incident. The next day, A Jewish woman named Sarah Cohen called. Cohen was responsible for the Chanukah table but said she had not put the book on the display.
"She was upset also," Kapelowitz said.
While they waited for answers, Sam wrote a letter to Barnes & Noble, but decided not to send it, at the behest of the ADL. On the third day, Kapelowitz heard back from the ADL. Although the organization had no answers as to how the book ended up in the Chanukah display, it had discovered that the Barnes & Noble Website no longer bore a disclaimer about the book’s authenticity.
The Internet bookseller Amazon.com had begun selling "The Protocols" in ‘000, which resulted in threats of boycott from the Jewish community. Barnes & Noble had also begun carrying the book.
The ADL issued a statement that it would not demand the booksellers remove the title from its stock, as part of a policy not to censor literature. In response to ADL urgings, however, both booksellers decided to attach ADL disclaimers to all versions of the book on their Websites, attesting to the fraudulent nature of the text.
But, according to Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey ADL office, the organization recently found that the disclaimer was no longer to be found on Barnes & Noble’s Website. Neuer credited Sam’s actions for leading to the discovery of the missing disclaimer.
"What happened here is, through a computer glitch, the synopsis and message from ADL dropped off," Neuer said. "Immediately after we notified Barnes & Noble it was put back on."
Neuer had no explanation for how "The Protocols" ended up on the Chanukah table but he did not blame Barnes & Noble, which he said was one of the ADL’s first corporate partners. He praised the bookstore for its swift handling of the glitch and responding to the Florida incident.
"They’ve always demonstrated a commitment to respect and a recognition of the power of words," he said.
Although the incident turned out to be minor, it provided a valuable lesson on the need to speak out, Neuer said. He praised Sam for recognizing that something was wrong and taking action. His actions carried a positive consequence, which should encourage others to speak out as well, he said.
"One of the most important lessons is to speak up," he said. "If a kid gets it at age 14, that bodes very well for the future."
Sam, meanwhile, has earned admiration from the Schechter faculty and his classmates. He exemplified the school’s goal of turning students into advocates, Kapelowitz said. Although Schechter students live within "a cocoon" at the school, she continued, Sam showed how the students deal positively with the world around them.
"As the result of Sam’s actions, hopefully something has changed for the better," Kapelowitz said. "We’re very proud of him."
Schechter head of school Rabbi Stuart Saposh agreed. While he has heard people question why the school would highlight ugliness like "The Protocols" in its lessons, this incident supports the school’s approach to educating the children about anti-Semitism, Saposh said.
"This is an example of classroom instruction actually coming alive in the children’s lives and them acting upon it," Saposh said. "It provided a valuable real life experience that was only theoretical in the classroom."