HomeFebruary 2012Anti-Semitism, Hate Crimes and Bullying: Part One of Three

Anti-Semitism, Hate Crimes and Bullying: Part One of Three

Saturday, January 7, we took down the blue and white lights and Chanukah decorations that adorned the outside of our house from Thanksgiving until New Year’s.  Sometime that evening, an ignorant, despicable person desecrated our home by writing foul language with a swastika symbol on our garage door.  We were shocked that such a thing would happen in our protected, cohesive, culturally diverse community of Irvine, and astounded that such hate and lack of acceptance is prevalent even in today’s world.
We have been extremely impressed with how quickly the Irvine Police responded and how thoroughly they have been investigating, advising us that they take hate crimes extremely seriously.  It is unlikely that the culprit will be found.  Since no one in our family has problems of any kind with anyone, we (and the police) assume that it was an isolated instance, most likely a response to how clearly proud we are of being Jewish.
This experience has been a real eye-opener.  Unfortunately, we are not the only family that has experienced recent anti-Semitism.  Others have experienced even worse.  The son of one family at an OC high school has been bullied terribly by a group of other students, because he is Jewish.  He has been called horrible names, excluded and even physically assaulted.  The family has avoided bringing in the authorities because of the fear of retaliation.
Last night, attorneys from the Anti-Defamation league came to Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine to moderate an interactive discussion about anti-Semitism with the 10th to 12th graders and their parents.  While I was impressed with the mature way these teens discussed the topic, I was shocked by what they said.  Almost all the teens reported that swastikas show up repeatedly at their schools, etched into trash cans and people’s shoes.  It is almost as if the ignorant kids writing them don’t even realize their significance or how bad they are.  One person shared that she had a swastika etched into her music stand, which she knew was personally directed at her, one of the few Jewish students in the whole school.  Another shared that someone stuffed a piece of paper with a swastika into his locker.  Most admitted to feeling uncomfortable wearing Jewish jewelry at school, because they’d rather not draw attention to being Jewish.  The majority agreed that Jewish jokes and “Jew comments” are commonplace.  The kids sharing these stories are good students, outgoing kids, who are well liked and involved.
We learned that hate starts with just one word – a seemingly innocent joke or nickname can go way beyond how it was intended and can escalate into individual acts of prejudice (bullying), outright discrimination (segregation, exclusion), bias-motivated violence (threats, assault, vandalism) and ultimately to genocide.  Many of the teens indicated that they don’t take offense at the Jewish jokes because “they don’t mean anything,” and, a lot of them (my son included) admitted that they regularly tell such jokes themselves.  What we need to realize is that when jokes, insensitive remarks and stereotyping are allowed to exist and go unchecked or, worse, when we participate in them, especially with our non-Jewish friends, people think it is okay and they can lead to other acts of hate and discrimination.
The hurtful words and symbol on our garage were wiped away easily, but what remains in our hearts is sadness.  It makes me so angry that today’s youth still has to worry about hate and bullying.  It is upsetting that there are still people who attack not just Jews, but so many different groups of people who are perceived as being different. We need to join together to focus on the positive, inclusive, respectful, kind and tolerant people in our communities, our schools, our synagogues, our activities and our lives.  Together we can prevail against bullies!
Next month will focus on other types of hate and bullying (including cyberbullying) that are rampant in our schools and among our children, and the final column in the series will address the resources available to us and the many ways to take a stand against anti-Semitism and other hate crimes and protect ourselves and our communities.

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  1. Very sorry about what happened….and what continues to occur on a daily basis somewhere in the world. Intolerance and injustice to ONE, is intolerance and injustice to ALL. Very Best Wishes….

  2. Shocking, absolutely shocking that this is going on right under our noses and in Irvine too! If this type of behaviour is prevelant in Irvine, than how bad must it be in other neighborhoods with less educated people and less financially secure people? It is important that we give our children a strong belief system in themselves as well as G-d. It is important that we teach our children how wrong it is to hurt others with prejudgess and ungly remarks. It is important that we teach our children to be strong and proud and to ignore the derogatory remarks made about them and to understand there is nothing wrong with them or their religion.

  3. The Orange County chapter of the Zionist Organization of America is hosting a discussion on “Combatting Anti-Semitism on College Campuses” on Sunday, March 11, 2012, from 3 -5 pm, at the Merage JCC in Irvine. This program should be of interest to the general community and especially to teens about to enter college and their parents.

    For more information contact:
    (323) 424-4435
    From the flyer for this event:

    Join us for a timely discussion geared to students, parents and educators on how to recognize and respond effectively to anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campus, featuring:
    Susan Tuchman, Esq.
    Director, ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice

    Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
    Lecturer, UC Santa Cruz

    Dr. Leila Beckwith
    Professor Emerita in Pediatrics, UCLA


    Extent of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses, including Cal State and University of California systems as well as private colleges
    Where and how anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are most often encountered (e.g. classrooms, anti-Israel rallies, campus clubs, actions and inaction by administrators)
    How to recognize anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment and harassment
    How to tell the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism
    Rights of Jewish students under United States law and available legal tools
    Steps students should take if they fall victim to anti-Semitism


    Susan Tuchman is the director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice. Named in 2006 by the Forward newspaper as one of 50 most influential members of the Jewish community, Ms. Tuchman has effectively advocated for Jewish students facing anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on their college campuses. Under her leadership, the ZOA filed a landmark civil rights complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine who had been subjected to years of anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation. Largely due to the ZOA’s efforts, the U.S. Department of Education issued a new policy in October 2010, making it clear that Jewish students at federally-funded schools are protected from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation under federal law.

    Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz, writes and lectures on academic anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and on the growing threat to the safety of Jewish college students. She co-chaired a 2010 scholarly workshop at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. entitled “Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Higher Education.” Her complaint under Title VI of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Law, alleging harassment and intimidation of Jewish students at UC Santa Cruz, is currently under investigation by the Department of Education.

    Dr. Leila Beckwith, Professor Emerita in Pediatrics at UCLA, is a developmental psychologist who has taught and conducted research for more than 30 years. The Second Intifada and the 9-11 assault against America led her to become politically active within the University of California system. Ms. Rossman-Benjamin and Dr. Beckwith recently founded the AMCHA Initiative, a grass-roots advocacy coalition dedicated to protecting Jewish students on campuses within California. They also co-founded the Investigative Taskforce on Campus Antisemitism, which investigates and reports on campus incidents throughout the entire U.S. and makes recommendations for improvement.

  4. I suggest the writer contact Rusty Kennedy at the OC Human Relations Commission. They get $300,000 a year tax-payer money to deal with these issues. Of course, don’t expect much if anything. I wrote to Kennedy a couple of years back about anti-Semitism at UCI and all I got back was a nasty-gram excoriating me for daring to criticize the university for their lack of action. Anti-Semitism issues are not high on Rusty’s plate especially since his resume includes attendance at the Durban Conference that singled out Israel as THE violator of human rights in the world. He also reportedly had time to attend an event honoring Yasser Arafat on the occasion of his Noble “peace” prize.


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