By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires
Anti-Semitism existed when I was growing up in the Berkshires and it still exists here.
A few weeks ago, Jewish students in the Monument Valley Middle School in Great Barrington were targeted by a student, who said he was going to “nuke the Jews” and was purported to have a list with the names of Jewish students on it. A police investigation followed and disciplinary action was taken by the school.
People often think that in this bucolic bubble of the Berkshires, the disease of anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hate and bigotry do not exist. But they do exist and the reality is that they will most likely always exist.
The question is, what do we do about it?
We don’t remain silent.
We raise our voices together, to speak out and work towards something better for our children and our community.
Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed the power of our community. I saw our rabbinic leaders Rabbi Neil P.G. Hirsch and Rabbi Jodie Gordon of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire lean in, providing a steady and sacred embrace of support for the kids and their families as they processed and continue to process what has happened.
I sat with the families, our rabbis, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as we forged a path forward in partnership with school administrators, who listened deeply and then committed to take meaningful action to address the seriousness of the incident and send a strong message that anti-Semitism, and hate in any form, will not be tolerated.
In a letter sent to families of Monument Valley Middle School, Principal Ben Doren wrote that the school will be redoubling their efforts with the A World Of Difference® program, which Federation launched in 2018-2019 together with the ADL and the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable, with additional financial support from private donors and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Berkshire County.
Doren indicated that Monument Valley is using A World Of Difference to mobilize its response within the school. Peer leaders, who were trained last year, are working with groups of students on topics of bias and difference, Additional trainings are scheduled for new students, as is a professional development workshop for school staff and faculty.
A World of Difference, which in the 2019-2020 school year was expanded to 17 local middle and high schools, continues to be funded by a partnership of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and the Berkshire United Way.
We know anti-Semitism does not happen in a vacuum. It lives hand-in-hand with the virus of racism and hate that targets many marginalized groups. We all have a responsibility for speaking out against this hate, whether it targets us personally, or it targets the “other.”
It takes hard work to bring about the change we need to diminish the voices of hate and raise the voices of respect, tolerance and love. It takes allies across the spectrum of our broader community to join us in saying loudly and clearly that there is no place for hate in the Berkshires or anywhere else. This is a conversation that our Jewish community, interfaith leaders, and community partners are continuing to have.
Jodie Friedman, a program associate at Hevreh and herself a victim of anti-Semitism in her youth, said it best in a recent Facebook post in response to this incident. Jodie wrote:
“It means something that our Jewish institutions and leaders are working in partnership with school administrators to teach anti-racist inclusion. It gives us hope that there can be a systemic change in the landscape for marginalized students here that can send a ripple throughout our region. It shows our young people that we see them, we hear them, and in their name we are taking real action to protect all who are part of vulnerable groups in society and heal those who have been hurt.”
I truly believe that we are stronger together. I invite you to think about how you can add your voice in speaking out against anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of hate and bigotry.
Dara Kaufman is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires