Hundreds of current and former students and parents signed a letter in support of a controversial moment of silence at Manhattan’s elite Beacon School for Palestinians killed during Gaza protests.
The letter, which had gained about 200 signatures according to one organizer with a child in the ninth grade, came more than a week after the tribute was announced over the school’s PA system on May 15, angering some students and parents who felt it supported terrorism. But a large group of the educational community, which has a high percentage of Jews, pushed back, saying the silence was in line with the elite school’s ethos of confronting difficult issues.
“As individuals affiliated with Beacon, we were very proud to learn that a moment of silence was held at the school for Palestinians killed in Gaza last week while protesting for their rights,” the letter read. “We are so glad that students who attend Beacon are actively learning to engage with the world around them and honor each person’s humanity. Thank you for fostering an atmosphere at the school that encourages students to develop a commitment to justice.”
But other students, parents and organizations said they found the announcement deeply offensive.
The Zionist Organization of American penned a May 25 letter to the district’s superintendent saying they were “shocked and outraged” by the moment of silence.
“Please make no mistake: The ‘victims’ were trying to breach the border, enter Israel and murder innocent Israeli Jews. The student’s public address announcement was delivered without warning and it disrupted regular school activities,” the letter stated.
“Students who were in class, studying, or taking an exam were interrupted and forced to stop what they were doing, regardless of whether they had an interest or desire to participate in a silent tribute to these violent rioters.”
Other religious organizations also expressed their opposition.
“There are no two ways about it; claiming that Hamas operatives are ‘victims’ is to say that killing Jews is a peaceful activity,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Orthodox Coalition for Jewish Values said in a May 23 statement.
“Hamas members approached the border with guns, knives and maps of Israeli civilian communities on the other side, responding to calls by their leaders to ‘tear down the border and … tear out [Jews’] hearts from their bodies.”
But the city’s Department of Education stood by the school’s decision.
“We support civic engagement and advocacy amongst students, and encourage schools to provide inclusive environments where students are able to respectfully discuss current events,” spokesman Douglas Cohen said in a statement released after the moment of silence.
The school’s principal did not return an immediate request for comment.