July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Erasure of Jewish Students Will Not Be Tolerated

The impact of antisemitic incidents on the feelings of safety and acceptance among our teens cannot be understated.

The blatant antisemitic act regarding the 2024 edition of the East Brunswick High School yearbook recently made headlines. The action resulted in a picture of Muslim students replacing the original photograph of the Jewish students who are part of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) club. In addition, there is a complete absence of the names of the Jewish students. JSU, a division of NCSY, stands in unwavering support of our students, advisers and parent community at East Brunswick High School in New Jersey.

For more than a decade, our club at the school has provided a vital space for Jewish students to connect, learn and thrive. Lately, however, this sanctuary has been threatened by a climate of antisemitism. We echo the strong statements of East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen, who declared, “Hate has no place in East Brunswick and antisemitism will not be tolerated,” and we eagerly await the investigation by Dr. Victor Valeski, superintendent of the East Brunswick Public School System, into these heinous acts. This incident is sadly not an outlier since similar graduation ceremonies or yearbook instances of antisemitism have occurred across the United States.

 

The Issue and Response

The rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses has received a lot of attention in recent months. However, high school students are experiencing much of the same harassment, discrimination and intimidation—and high-schoolers have nowhere else to go. They have to go to school, and they often don’t get to choose which one.

The incident at East Brunswick High School is not an isolated phenomenon but part of a disturbing national trend. Jewish students have increasingly found themselves the targets of hate, harassment and discriminatory rhetoric. These acts undermine the very principles of inclusivity and safety that educational institutions are supposed to uphold. At JSU, we have always prided ourselves on creating an inclusive environment where Jewish students feel safe and supported. This year, more than ever, JSU has been a crucial refuge, a beacon in the dark for Jewish teens across North America.

Against that backdrop, JSU has experienced unprecedented growth over the course of this school year, as we have seen an outpouring of support and interest in our programs. Attendance at our clubs is up more than 20%, and we have received more than 100 requests to open new clubs nationwide. This surge in interest underscores the urgent need for safe spaces where Jewish students can gather, learn and support one another.

The impact of antisemitic incidents on the feelings of safety and acceptance among our teens cannot be understated. These acts of hatred not only affect the immediate victims but also send shockwaves through the entire Jewish community, fostering a climate of fear and alienation. As Mayor Cohen aptly noted, such hatred has no place in East Brunswick or anywhere else. We are committed to working with school authorities, community leaders and law enforcement to ensure that these incidents are thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are held accountable.

This issue is not confined to East Brunswick or even the United States. Antisemitism is a growing disease that knows no borders. In Canada, Jewish students face similar challenges, as incidents of hate continue to rise. The global Jewish community must stand united against these threats, reinforcing our commitment to safety and inclusivity.

 

Adding to an Already Challenging Year

This year has been exceptionally challenging for Jewish students in public schools, mirroring the troubling trends seen on college campuses across the country. The exponential rise in antisemitic acts has created a hostile environment for many Jewish teens, making it increasingly difficult for them to feel safe and accepted in their schools. The isolation and fear experienced by these students can have long-lasting effects on their mental health and academic performance.

JSU has been at the forefront of addressing these challenges. We provide a sense of community and connection, inspiration, education and guidance to Jewish students and their allies through our clubs and extracurricular programming throughout the year. Students have a community within their school walls that can help them feel at home and where they can proudly identify as Jews, learn about Israel and Judaism, and connect with like-minded peers, Jewish and non-Jewish.

JSU alumni have also been strong voices that cut through the noise. Whether it was Tessa Veksler standing up to hate at the University of California Santa Barbara, Eli Tsives exposing the encampments at the University of California Los Angeles, Davian Geckman empowering Jewish students at Cornell University or countless other examples, the experience as a JSU teen has been essential to forming strong Jewish leaders.

As we navigate these turbulent times, it is essential to remember the strength and resilience of our community. Jewish history is replete with examples of overcoming adversity through solidarity, education and unwavering commitment to our values. This year’s challenges have only strengthened our resolve to stand up against hate and to support our students in every way possible.

 

The Opportunity Ahead

Looking forward, we have a unique opportunity this summer to educate and empower both students and educators. The upcoming summer programs and initiatives organized by JSU will be pivotal in preparing our students for the 2024-25 academic year and beyond. By equipping them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to stand up against antisemitism, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment in our schools and communities.

This summer, we will focus on several key development areas. First, we will provide comprehensive training for students and educators on recognizing and responding to antisemitic incidents. This training will include practical strategies for addressing hate speech, reporting incidents and supporting affected students. By educating both students and educators, we can create a network of allies who are prepared to stand up against hate and foster a culture of respect and inclusion.

Second, we will offer a series of workshops and seminars aimed at building resilience and leadership skills among our students. These programs will help students develop the confidence and capability to advocate for themselves and their peers. By empowering our students, we can ensure that they return to school in the fall with the tools they need to create positive change in their communities.

Finally, we will continue to expand our network of JSU clubs across the country. Each new club represents a safe haven for Jewish students—a place where they can find support, friendship and a sense of belonging. By growing our network, we can reach more students and make a greater impact in the fight against antisemitism.

In addition to these educational initiatives, we must also advocate for stronger legislative measures to combat antisemitism. On a local level, we need school districts to implement clear policies against hate speech and discrimination, ensuring swift and decisive action when incidents occur. Nationally, we call on lawmakers to pass robust legislation that addresses antisemitism, providing the necessary resources for education and enforcement.

The rise in antisemitism is a grave concern, but it also presents an opportunity to come together as a community and take decisive action. By supporting our students, educating our educators and expanding our network of clubs, we can create a safer, more inclusive environment for all Jewish students. JSU is committed to leading this charge, and we invite you to join us in this critical mission. Together, we can ensure that the erasure of Jewish students is not tolerated, and that every student has the opportunity to thrive in a safe and supportive environment.


Devora Simon is the national director of the Jewish Student Union (JSU).

Rabbi Micah Greenland is the international director of NCSY and the Jewish Student Union (JSU).

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