July 23, 2024
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Heschel Teachers Post Selfie Wearing Keffiyeh on Last Day of School

We’ve all heard of the phrase “don’t burn your bridges,” except perhaps for teachers Samuel Bischof and Jessica Lee. The pair, who were up until last week math and science teachers at the Upper West Side’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School, took a selfie of themselves in front of the school building wearing a keffiyeh and posted it on social media on their last day of school. The photo was apparently posted on Lee’s private account before it went viral.

In an email to the Heschel community obtained by The Jewish Link, Head of School Ariela Dubler stated, in relevant part: “I know that many of you have seen a very upsetting posting by two individuals who were, this past year, teachers in our middle school. Yesterday was the last day that these people were employed by Heschel. I am saddened and infuriated that they chose to exit our community in this hateful and disrespectful way. We had no knowledge — from our hiring process or our interactions with them as colleagues — that they felt that way or that they would leave in such a damaging way.

“I am deeply sorry that our school year had to end with this incident. Of course, we hope that nothing like this will happen again.”

The Link spoke with two employees of Heschel, both of whom conveyed that they felt incredibly betrayed and violated by the pair’s behavior.

“They didn’t say anything all year so we sort of assumed they were not with us … but although they kept their views to themselves, to bring the keffiyeh and post in front of the building is horribly disrespectful.”

Notably, said one of the employees, the school has a large Israeli population and absorbed a lot of new students after Oct. 7. “So we were dealing with a lot of different kids and emotions, and to have someone within your staff basically dealing with our students, seeing the trauma, watching it unfold, yet secretly being on the other side felt like an incredible violation.”

There was no indication that the teachers’ beliefs affected the students. As one of the employees pointed out: “I can’t see a world in which their words change the ways they interacted with the kids. They are nuanced enough as human beings that they can be on one side of a conflict and they will never hold it against the students.”

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In fact, stated the employee: “The students actually love them, which is why it hurts even more. It never impacted how they treated the students, they were good with the kids. I know that is what people are so worried about.”

Moreover, an internal source pointed out that Bischof and Lee were junior teachers who did not have command of the classroom and taught secular subjects and not subjects related to Israel.

There is speculation as to whether or not Heschel could have known or discovered the teachers’ views about Israel. However, it is important to keep in mind that these teachers were hired before Oct. 7. Lee was at Heschel for two years and Bischof was there for one year. “How [was Heschel] supposed to know this to begin with? The [pair was] keeping their opinions under wraps,” observed an employee.

According to a June 19 post on X from StopAntisemitism, Bischof was allegedly seen protesting at the Israel Day Parade on June 2. However, he was masked at the parade and there is no indication that anyone at Heschel knew until after the pair posted the selfie last week that Bischof had protested.

The irony of all this, noted one employee, is that Heschel considers itself “to be a prep school and a pluralistic school, embracing all different types of Jews. Of all places, they would want to be inclusive. They are happy to have teachers who are not necessarily Jewish, to expose everyone to the best.”

As a Heschel parent told The Link, “It is unfortunate that those teachers did not attend a school like Heschel, where the middle school students they taught have better critical thinking and respectful behavior/discourse.”

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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