The Whim (short for What Inspires Me) was developed to communicate to our community the inspiring stories that emanate from our work as a Jewish Federation. However, my Whim this week expresses not just the inspirational but the disturbing.
What is deeply distressing is the increasing affront Jewish students are facing not just on college campuses but also in high schools and even here in Dayton. The attacks on Israel go beyond critiquing policies of a government to delegitimizing an entire country. They go beyond civil discourse. They demonstrate that animus for Jews and the Jewish state are a very real and present danger.
One such incident happened at a World Affair event at the Miami Valley School this month. The high school students had arranged an event to celebrate different cultures. Among the food, music, clothing and other expressions of diversity was a display by a Palestinian student that made false and inflammatory claims about Israel and “land theft”. These posters included a number of other anti-Zionist false statements. Most disturbing to me was the assertion that “Being Jewish is NOT the same as being Zionist”. Thereby, denying any link at all between anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.
Your federation and community leadership have been very involved in the response to this inappropriate and incendiary display. Rabbi Nochum Mangel and Rabbi Elchonon Chaikin have addressed the issue with the Jewish students, parents, and Head of School. I have met with the new Head of School, Elizabeth Cleary. We met to explore how this happened, how the school responded, what went wrong – and what needs to happen moving forward so that we do not come back to the same place.
So, how did this happen here in Dayton? In my discussions with Ms. Cleary, I recognized that she and the school administration were likely caught off guard. In addition, many of MVS’s parents of Jewish students have raised concerns as well. According to Ms. Cleary, there are policies in place that should have prevented not only a political display on the campus, but also one that was hurtful to the Jewish students and harmful to all. The school has taken action by meeting with the students, both the Jewish ones and the student responsible for the display. After a lengthy discussion with Ms. Cleary, it was evident that she is committed to open and transparent discussions with students and she reported having compassionate conversations with those involved.
However, there is much more work to be done. As a Jewish Federation representing our community, we take seriously our responsibility to protect our students and all students from being subjected to the vitriol on display at the school. In my continued dialogue with Ms. Cleary, I will work on the two major impacts of this particular incident. First, how does the school examine policies, directions, oversight and procedures for responding in the future. Secondly, how does the school communicate that they do not endorse the views expressed by the posters and promote dialogue so the students are educated, not indoctrinated. Marshall Weiss, editor and publisher of the Dayton Jewish Observer, has also been involved in covering the situation, and is the process of writing a piece about it for the July Issue of the Observer.
What happened at the Miami Valley School is not an isolated incident. College campuses are fraught with anti-Zionist activity. In concert with the JFNA and the Israel Action Network, whose mission is to “build a strong base of support for Israel and counters delegitimization in the context of two states for two peoples”, our federation is committed to providing the education and support necessary for our students in today’s world.
We might not all agree on every issue regarding Israel or any topic – but when it comes to protecting our youth and fighting anti-Semitism, we are one. The mission of the Jewish federation includes a call to “strengthen Jewish life” and it is with that mission in mind that we are resolute in our response to this anti-Zionist activity and any threat to our Jewish security. As always, I welcome your input as we move forward.