Pulling Back Curtain on Story of Anti-Semitism in Upstate New York Pine Bush Schools

The Essential Questions Not Asked or Answered

pine bush school district

By Gal Beckerman

Published November 14, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The first question is pretty easy to answer. The Anti-Defamation League keeps the most vigilant tallies on anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. It is, so to speak, the group’s bread and butter. And this summer, the ADL’s annual report showed that in 2012 there was a 14% decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, continuing a three-year downward trend. To quantify it further, they counted 927 incidents in 2012, which included 17 physical assaults on Jewish individuals, 470 cases of harassment and threats, and 440 cases of vandalism.

The 3,500-page deposition in the federal case against the Pine Bush school district contains the names of 35 students accused of engaging in dozens of acts that would fall in the categories of harassment and vandalism. This means that this small rural school district has a disproportionate number of the total anti-Semitic incidents in the country.

So what’s going on in this town? All we learn from the story is that in the 1970s a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon lived in Pine Bush, though this is quickly undercut by the ADL’s report that Klan activity in the region has been nonexistent for years. This is followed up with the reporter’s own anecdotal evidence: being yelled at by a mechanic in a pick up truck who opined that Jews don’t know how to drive and, “we don’t want them in our town.” That’s it by way of explanation.

What the article could use is a bit of sociology. Who are the families of these children that are learning to expertly draw swastikas or recount Holocaust jokes that sound passed down from a grandfather? When did Jews begin to settle in Pine Bush and has there been any conflict reported in the past? What kind of class issues are also at work in the town — do Jews represent an upper middle class whose children are sharing classrooms with the children of poor whites? If the Klan is really dead, are there other outlets for white power culture and do they exist in Pine Bush?

The questions could go on. I’m not expecting an academic survey of the region, but in lieu of any real explanations for this strange behavior, we are just presented with the story of an oddity. What ends up taking up much more of the reporter’s attention is the Jewish superintendent who keeps shoving his foot in his mouth, telling parents that “If you want your kids to hang out with more Jewish children or have more tolerance, why would you pick a community like Pine Bush?”

It’s a tired complaint to say a news article lacks context, but that’s what I want to say here. And without a bigger back story or some deeper investigation as to the source of this bubbling hate, all we have is an article that does one of two things: It either feeds an unwarranted hysteria about creeping anti-Semitism or just provides a titillating read about the strange doings upstate for the Upper West Siders who make up the Times core audience. What it does not do, and doesn’t seem concerned with doing, is get us any closer to understanding why those kids have found themselves in such a terrifying environment.

Gal Beckerman is the Forward’s opinion editor and writes a monthly column about the media. Contact him at beckerman@forward.com or on Twitter @galbeckerman


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.