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NY Times article on anti-Semitic bullying spurs readers to spill their stories

The New York Times published a story Wednesday about a young woman named Paige who was subjected to anti-Semitic bullying and an inadequate response by school leadership at Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Highlands, N.J.

The story prompted emotional responses and comments from readers, and tales of anti-Jewish bias all across the country.

We have selected some of the comments and are re-publishing them here. We encourage you to share your own stories in the Forward’s comments section below.

Mel, Beverly, Mass.

As a Jewish graduate of an all-male military academy, Paige’s story has resonance. I recall the random but not irregular anti-semitic comments and taunts. Once, in homeroom, a classmate who was sitting with a group of the “cool” kids, threw a penny at my feet and said, “Who will be the Jew to pick up the penny?” Swastikas carved into lockers constituted part of the ubiquitous graffiti.

Anti-semitism was accepted as normal. I recall no one ever spoke up against it. The school was ruled by a WASP elite that guarded its status. Jews were in but not of the school.

I had a fair number of Jewish classmates, but when these incidents occurred, I felt scared, humiliated and alone.

And the very few African-American kids in the school had it worse.

Dadof2, N.J.

Yeah, I heard those “jokes”, and I guess the 2 black eyes I got when I was kicked in the face for being Jewish was just an hilarious boys-will-be-boys prank.
And I suppose the broken nose when I was sucker-punched was also no big deal—at least the then asst superintendent of schools didn’t think it was. Curiously the courts (adult court for one, family court for the other) took it seriously.

I have zero sympathy for those young jerks—they learned their Antisemitism from their parents, just like the boys who attacked me in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I don’t blame the universities for rescinding their admissions—who wants students on campus who think it’s funny to torment others whose families may well have lost members in the Holocaust.

These teens went to extremely elaborate means to bully and torment this girl and other Jewish students. The school knew it, allowed it, and did little to stop it. As for the community that rallied around that school and its hate-filled budding nazis? It can sink into the ocean for all I care!

I hope the girl and their family win their lawsuit and bankrupt the school and its enabling households! The damage done to her will take many years to heal and THAT is no joke! You never forget, as I’ve never forgotten the fights nor the kick to my 12 year old face 53 years later! And, while you move on, you never forgive, either!

Kaye, Forest Hills, N.Y.

@Mel My son had a similar experience. At the time, we lived in a small town in central Suffolk County around 50 miles from NYC. He was in the 6th grade when a penny was thrown at his feet. In a pre-social media world, the only place his 6th grade peer could have learned that gesture was at home. Later when AOL messenger was popular, my daughter was on the receiving end of a long thread of anti-semitic insults. Again, it had to be learned at home. When I tried to talk the mothers of the children who sent the messages, they insisted their children would not have sent the messages despite the print-outs I had in my hand. One of the mother’s told me I was trying to start trouble and walked away from me. Ultimately, I brought the information to the principal and asked her to address it. Like Paige’s parents, I was not satisfied with the outcome. However, unlike Paige’s experience, both my children had friends who rallied around them and helped my children stand up to bullies who thought they could make jokes at their expense. Knowing they had support made it considerably easier to shut it down.

Simon Sez, Md.

I was born in NYC.

When we moved to Livingston, NJ I found that being a Jew was a liability.

One day while walking home around Easter from the library a group of kids blocked me One yelled, You killed Christ. I froze, not knowing what to do, how to respond.

I just said, I was at the library. I didn’t kill anyone.

Then they beat me up and broke my tooth. I gathered up my books and cleaned the blood off and went home.

When the Jewish students would come back to school after our holidays we were all told to assemble. The gym teacher, who took attendance, would call out, Would all the chosen people please stand up. Then we would have our names taken and told to sit down.

I never told anyone about this or several other incidents like it that happened.

Today Livingston has many Jews.

Welcome to America.

JD, Boston

Paige: I am 66, but remember vividly going through similar events in high school. I went to a private school in Massachusetts—the only Jew in my graduating class—where I regularly heard anti-Semitic statements. Once, when I was in ninth grade, a senior told me he wanted to turn me into a lampshade. Troubled, I spoke to the school’s headmaster, who was a sharp contrast to your principal. The headmaster consoled me. He told me how much respect he had for the Jewish people, our philanthropy, and our scholarship. I don’t know if he spoke to the jerk who made the lampshade comment, but I suspect so: Such comments stopped. I have since tempered my animus towards that school, and the people who made such hateful remarks. Yes, you need to stand up to the bigots. Yes, the school’s leadership should stand with you, and not with the knuckleheads. But perhaps you will realize that the students who tormented you will one day understand their faults; that they will be remorseful; and that kids can do stupid things that they would not as adults. Most of all, know yourself. Know that you are part of a rich tradition—a tradition of perseverance through the millennia which has emerged whole and strong— and that you are larger than your haters. Don’t withdraw. Engage. Be proud. And fear no one.

Suburbs, N.Y.

I am Jewish. I worked for a medium size company. My boss, who is not Jewish, told an anti-Semitic joke to about four people including me. Usually I’m too afraid to say anything, but I had to and reminded my boss that I am Jewish and felt the joke was not appropriate. She mentioned that another coworker, who is Jewish liked the joke. I reminded her that I am not that other person. I could’ve gone to her supervisor who happened to be Jewish. But I let it drop figuring if I said something to our boss my life would become increasingly more difficult because of retribution. It’s like the whistleblower who is concerned about their job if they say something. Until victimized people feel safe, we will read articles like this and wonder if it’s worth it. It’s sad.

Fldl, Miami, F.L.

I attended this school in the 90’s and was the recipient of the anti-Semitic culture the school propagates. I had “Kike” spray-painted on my car. I witnessed nazi salutes by my fellow cadets.

It was a different time, I thought, and handled these issues myself. My car was painted – once – and the salutes would result in black eyes and Fights in building 25. I would have thought that this kind of Hitler culture worship would die. It’s a shame that this kind of bigotry still exists in our youth. Parents have no one but themselves to blame for raising these little nazi nightmares.

Conduit, USA

I experienced a great deal of anti-Semitism growing up in Pittsburgh, PA. I know what prejudice looks like and how it feels. I have grown strong from the experience, if not a wary traveler. I can empathize with others who are going through this anti-American behavior. I can only say: stay strong, be careful, and pray. I believe in God. We need to pray when we need to. And, we never can forget where we live. Earth is not Heaven.

Marge Keller, Midwest

I take stories like this one to heart because my husband is Jewish. Everyone in my immediate family, with the exception of my older brother, changed towards me when I married my husband. They were hostile and rude to my husband, ignored him at family functions, and basically excluded me across the board. On my wedding day, my dad told me I could have done a lot better.

I used to think the way my siblings and dad treated us were a figment of my imagination, that I was reading into their mistreatment. It wasn’t until my brother came to live with us last year that he told me the extremely sad and unbelievable truth – that they didn’t want anything to do with me or my husband because he was Jewish.

Stupid me – here I thought people should be allowed to go through life and just live it with the usually hiccups and disappointments that come along the way. But when people go out of their way to display and voice such hatred and prejudice because of one’s faith or nationality or race or gender, I still shake to the core in such disbelief.

What happened to Paige was more than merely “anti-Semitic jokes” – it was intimidation and racist. Period.

What truly disgusts me is the majority of the kids, teachers and administration were not appalled by such behavior. There’s always that excuse that such behavior was a “mistake” or a “lapse in judgement” or a “sarcastic joke”.

Such behavior was none of that.

It was hatred – pure and simple. And it was barely recognized.

James Lambert, Mass.

I am in my early 50’s. The cruel religious taunts and racial discrimination in my southern hometown set an ominous tone for my young adulthood. The young babysitter who told my 10 year old self that my parents, who were out to dinner with friends, would be beheaded by the righteous men on white horses if I didn’t pray that instant to get on Jesus’s list. The classmate in the locker room who asked in all sincerity if I had horns on my head.

These were not ‘bad’ kids. They were polite and earnest. They weren’t troublemakers and neither was I. But boy was I scared and confused by their questions. Did I have horns? Had I really killed Jesus? Were we all going to die in the impending Coming of the Lord? These were the words of adults coming out of the mouths of children. They couldn’t have been more potent and more damaging to my developing ego.

To this day, I fear being called out a Jew when I’m meeting a new client or being introduced at an event, as if this label will bring on the same unrelenting harassment, ostracism, or death.

As many readers have already stated, we are not born to divide and conquer, we are taught fear-based tribalism by the adults who hold power: our teachers; our parents; our clergy; our government officials.

If the majority of that relatively small group isn’t enlightened or empathetic, how can we be?

Todd Browning, Atlanta

Back in the ’70s I attended an exclusive prep school where Jews were limited to 6 admissions per grade (2 black, 2 asian) but it wasn’t until my sophomore year when I realized that the name-calling and anti-Semitic slurs were not just dumb jokes and friendly ribbing. Once we became more mobile and able to visit classmates’ homes more easily and interact with their parents more frequently, it became painfully to me that in their eyes I was different, less than, and the jokes were not jokes.

Kids do not come up with these ideas on their own. It might be things overheard in conversation at the dinner table, or visits with the grandparents, or at the “club” or social events.

I’d like to say that it’s hard to believe how little things have changed in 40 years. But people seldom do.

Adam, Cambridge, Mass.

I grew up in a near-northern suburb of Chicago. My father is Jewish; my mother is Latina and Catholic. Until I transferred to a public middle school, I’d never heard an anti-Semitic slur. In fact, outside of the odd R-rated movie on premium cable, I don’t think I’d ever heard someone utter anything expressly racist. But then I made the mistake of entering my heritage into the public record.

I called out an eighth grader who’d labelled another student’s hesitance to buy something as “Jewy.” Thinking that I could set them straight, I told them that my father was a Jew, and that I wouldn’t take kindly to hearing them say it again. Words were exchanged. Punches were thrown. And for the rest of the year, I became the frequent target of anti-Semitic comments and jokes. A bully threw coupons at me, telling me that a good Jew would never miss an opportunity to save money. After a classmate accidentally spilled a drink on my sneakers, his friend reminded him that my “Jew dad” wouldn’t have any trouble affording replacements.

Like many folks who come from a mixed ethnic and religious background, I’ve never felt particularly at home with any one group. But I do know the torture that comes with being a Jew in a place where we are thought of only as abstractions—not as people to be afforded dignity but as jokes yet to be made.

I’m devastated by this story. No one, not at any age, should have to bear these burdens. And even though she must, I want Paige to know that she’s not alone.

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon


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