Editor’s Note: In order to create a conduit for community conversations, The Bedford Citizen has asked several individuals to share their reflections on issues facing Bedford, including the spate of anti-Semitism in our schools.We extend that invitation to you: If you have a point of view that you would like to share, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The only requirement is that writers be willing to post their thoughts using their real name. Comments on posts can still appear under a writer’s pseudonym as long as they are sent from a verifiable email address.
On the way to [last Thursday’s] forum on anti-Semitism in the schools, I was feeling shaky about what my reaction would be if someone, particularly one of our leaders, tried to minimize the problem by saying something like, “They’re just kids. They really had no idea what they were doing. It’s not that big of a deal”. I was relieved when no speaker, including the 15 extemporaneous speakers, even intimated that such behavior was okay.
More than 300 forum attendees heard representatives from our schools, town administration, law enforcement, churches, and RSVP, Bedford’s Response System in Volunteer Partnership, an advocacy group called together more than 30 years ago to respond to such incidents. The thread in everything that was said seemed to be that this is a real problem; that it’s more pervasive than we imagined; and that as a community we’re going to do something about it.
Several speakers rejected the use of the word ‘tolerance’ in speaking about issues of discrimination. Tolerance can imply negativity. Acceptance of differences implies a more positive and welcoming attitude.
When Superintendent Jon Sills closed the plenary session and announced the location of rooms for small group conversation/working meetings the mood seemed to be “we will take action — this is the start not the end of the hard work Bedford is willing to do free our town of all hurtful behavior especially anti-Semitism.” The break-out session that this observer attended included the sharing of very personal stories of anti-Semitism. There were stories of kids not pushing back because their friends are unaware that their pokes, supposedly in jest, are anti-Semitic.
In both the plenary and break-out meetings much was said about approaches to educating our town – everybody, not just the kids; about creating caring, sensitive, and respectful behaviors towards one another. Suggestions included the study of comparative religions in our schools; eliminating “church and state” issues such as the timing of town events and school schedules around religious holidays; a celebration to raise awareness of the many cultures in our town.
I hope that this gathering of concerned townspeople can be a catalyst, encouraging people to speak up about themselves and bravely speak out about anti-Semitic behaviors.