When “Dan”, a 16-year-old boy from the center of Israel left for school on Tuesday morning, he told his mother that everything was fine and he was okay. That afternoon, Dan committed suicide.
Dan’s mother had no idea how bad his situation had become, she told the Army Radio in an interview last week. The most significant clue into Dan’s state of mind was the computer screen that Dan left on. It showed his Facebook page, which contained some of the taunting messages that his friends had sent him that day. “I’d kill you,” one message read, “but it’s wrong to be cruel to animals”.
Reports emerging from the school — an elite institution that is most actively recruited by the Air Force — paint a horrifying portrait. According to YNet, Dan was mocked, humiliated, beaten and turned into a regular object of scorn. While many students are claiming that it was all “nothing,” that the media is blowing events out of proportion, some other students have expressed deep shame. “Everyone picked on him because he was small”, a girl told reporters.
Meanwhile, while Dan’s distraught mother blames the school for not intervening, most of the parents and staff deny wrongdoing, and the school has been sending psychologists into the classrooms to help the students cope with their feelings. “Our feelings are not the problem,” the girl said. “The problem is how all the kids treated him.”
Bullying among teens seems to be on the rise, and now includes a new category of cyber-bullying. Kids who want to be cruel thus have new some frightening new tools at their disposal to destroy one another’s lives. This issue has come to the fore recently with a recent spate of bullying incidents and suicides among gay and lesbian Jewish youth that highlights the trauma of one group that disproportionately experiences suicide.
Now, a cadre of Jewish teens has decided to try and take action against this terrifying trend. A letter issued recently by the Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders — the presidents of the International Jewish Youth Movements, youth leaders from Jewish teen organizations BBYO, NFTY, USY and NCSY — calls upon all Jewish teens to sign the “Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives,” with a goal of getting 18,000 signatures. The pledge was initiated by Keshet, a grassroots organization that works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews in Jewish life.
This is the first time these youth organizations have worked together to influence their peers on this important issue. “BBYO, NFTY, and USY may be different in many ways, but our mission for the Jewish people is the same,” said Jeremy Sherman, BBYO’s International co-president, according to the press release. “We share a desire to impact lives, and bring Jewish teens together. The CJTL’s combined effort to stand for respect and inclusion is a significant one.”
Philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, long-standing supporter of Keshet and BBYO, told The Forward via the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation communications officer Roben Kantor that she is “very excited about seeing these organizations work together”. She had been touched by the seriousness of LGBTQ bullying and exclusion across the Jewish community. “Dr. King taught that the dignity of all humans is wrapped up in the dignity of each human. Bullying of any kind flies in the face of this guiding principle of common decency, and its effects can be hurtful, harmful and even tragic. The loss of a single life to bullying is unacceptable, and we must support these teens in their efforts to eliminate it by enforcing zero tolerance policies in our households, schools, congregations and organizations,” she told the Forward.
It is heartening to see that there are youth out there who deeply care. I hope they reach their targets, and that they continue to inspire both teens and adults to make some much-needed change.