April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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‘Egregious’ Book No Longer Required

Newark schools remove antisemitic tome from official curriculum due to complaints.

Linda Scherzer – director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for Greater Metrowest NJ.

A controversial children’s book that portrayed Israelis as evil and Palestinians as victims reportedly has been taken off the sixth-grade required-reading list in Newark Public Schools after repeated discussions with Jewish community leaders in the Greater MetroWest area.

“A Little Piece of Ground” by Elizabeth Laird is set in Ramallah during the Second Intifada. It was first published in Britain in 2003 and written with Palestinian teacher Sonia Nimr. According to its U.S. publisher, the book explores the “human cost of the occupation of Palestinian lands through the eyes of a young boy.”

The removal of “A Little Piece of Ground” from the required reading list was reported on social media by Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest CEO Dov Ben-Shimon.

“It is a rare event for us to weigh in on curriculum issues, much less try to get a book removed from classroom study,” he continued. “In this current climate where libraries and school districts across the country have been banning books, we knew that to take this on would risk creating perceptions of inappropriate interference.

“But the stakes,” he said, “were too high for us to ignore this one.”

A spokesperson for the school district confirmed the book’s removal in a message to the news outlet, NJ.com.

“A Little Piece of Ground” was introduced as required by students in the Newark school system in 2022. At the time, national organizations like the Zionists Organizations of America along with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest expressed their concern.

According to a November 2022 article that was posted on CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, it is Laird’s “ability to tell a gripping story with vividly realized Arab protagonists that makes her novel A Little Piece of Ground so powerful – and so pernicious.”

That the book was removed from the required reading list is a testament to the tenacity of Linda Scherzer, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council for Greater MetroWest.

“Dealing with this book needed the most time, attention, and effort than anything else in the seven years at Federation, but I just couldn’t give up,” she said. “I was appalled at this book, and I wasn’t the only one. I gave copies of it to rabbis who I would describe as far-left and who are vocal in criticizing Israeli policies and they were as appalled as I was.”

Scherzer said the issue was “sensitive” and that the last thing she wanted to do was interfere with a school’s curriculum, especially at a time when there’s been so much news about book bans around the country. “I respect that educators in their respective school districts are making decisions for what’s best for their students,” she said.

However, the content was simply too egregious to let go, said the former CNN news correspondent.

“There are things I read in this book that somewhat accurately represent the truth, but then there are things I read that were outright lies and blatant falsehoods,” she said, such as “portraying all Israelis as villains and all Palestinians as victims.”

Explaining that the book wasn’t part of a social studies or world studies unit, but rather a part of the literature/reading program made it even more of a concern as the book is a “compelling story and people remember stories, while they forget a lot of history.”

“I think I made a good argument for why 12-year-old kids who are learning about a very complicated geopolitical issue through the story of this one boy, is an unfair representation,” she said, adding “there is a whole other side that needed to be represented.”

Faygie Holt is an award-winning journalist, whose articles have been published worldwide and translated into several different languages. She is also the author of two middle-grade book series for Jewish children, The Achdus Club and Layla’s Diaries, both available from Menucha Publishers. A third series is set to be released in 2024. Learn more at Faygieholt.com.

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