By Marielle Emet, Middle School 1 Dean of Academics.
When I was in elementary school, I went to a very small Jewish school that was housed inside my synagogue. My mother was the founding teacher and principal. One day she brought us all outside. Spray painted all over one side of the building was a Swastika and the words ‘Die Jews’. I was only eight or nine at the time, but all of us already knew what that symbol meant. Number the Stars was a book read aloud to us in Kindergarten/1st grade, and many of us had grandparents who were survivors of the Holocaust. Why would my mother show us these symbols of hate?
Over the weekend, there was a hate crime in one of our communities. A Swastika was spray painted on the only synagogue in Pawtucket. This is one of several small signs of hate against the local Jewish Community in the past year, the most notable one being the flyers passed around on the East Side of Providence full of anti-Semitic remarks, with a call to end the “Jewish Pollution”. There is also the news nationally of what has happened to a young reporter who was perceived as critical of Melina Trump; the reporter was attacked with a series of anti-Semitic posts on various forms of social media, including pasting her image onto images of prisoners in concentration camps. Anti-Semitism is far from the only, or even the most egregious example of hate sweeping our country right now. There is a palpable rise in Islamophobia, xenophobia and homophobia.
Whenever I hear about events like this, I am torn about what my next steps should be. On the one hand, it is a small incident; no one was physically hurt or killed. No “real” damage was done even; at least that can’t be undone quickly and fairly easily. Then I think about who is watching, and learning, and seeing my non-reaction and I know it is important to speak.
I think this is why my mother thought it was so important that we, despite being so young, saw the graffiti for ourselves. Even with children, it is important to recognize hate; if they don’t notice it, they can’t protect themselves or others from it. The Holocaust didn’t happen overnight (and neither did any other genocide for that matter). Small acts of hate were tolerated until they grew. The people who were persecuted started to feel more and more isolated and powerless. As a child, I didn’t know of anyone taking a stand against these acts outside of our community. It is imperative that when these acts occur they are called out, and condemned. I know it gives my heart great comfort to see our mayors and other elected officials here in Rhode Island taking a clear stand against hate.
What does this all have to do with BVP? I think it has everything to do with BVP. Our core value of intentional diversity is one of our most powerful assets. Hate cannot survive when people work together across all lines of difference. Of course as a Dean of Academics I think the powerful educational tools we help our scholars develop are important, but those tools are meaningless if scholars can’t engage with a wider world that looks, acts, or believes differently than themselves. By creating a place where different communities can come together and learn, while also engaging those communities in tough conversations about diversity of all kinds, we are empowering our children to embrace themselves and each other. They will be able to foster those conversations at home, in their communities, in college, and in their future workplaces. Instead of becoming agents of hate, they will become ambassadors of connection and community.
Ms. Emet is a Middle School 1 founding team member, having joined BVP in 2010. She has a history degree from Towson University and a Masters from John Hopkins University. In 2013, she was also awarded the prestigious Milken Educator Award.