How A Jewish School In Pittsburgh Teaches About Anti-Semitism

Oct 31, 2018
Originally published on October 31, 2018 7:23 am
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Teachers at a Pittsburgh Jewish school are trying to figure out how to talk to students about the shooting at the nearby Tree of Life synagogue. The students there know a lot about anti-Semitism. But many say they didn't think they'd see it in their own community. Sarah Schneider from member station WESA in Pittsburgh spent some time with some of those students.

SARAH SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Thirteen-year-old AJ Tannenbaum says the attack about two miles from his school feels different than other mass shootings.

A J TANNENBAUM: This was a hate crime, an act of anti-Semitism. This act was against Jews, our own religion.

SCHNEIDER: At a remembrance service he organized with other eighth-graders at the Community Day School, he called for action - so did student Kristina Greg.

KRISTINA GREG: The fact that a man who disagreed with their beliefs felt the need to walk in and destroy their lives means something needs to change

SCHNEIDER: The adults at the Day School also wanted students to know where they were coming from. History teacher Jackie Goldblum says she told her class she felt helpless and scared.

JACKIE GOLDBLUM: I said, how many of you felt vulnerable? And they all raised their hands, and that was it. The floodgates opened. And they were all presenting their - you know, what emotions they were going through. And I think they had a hard time processing, but I told them that's OK because adults are having a hard time processing.

SCHNEIDER: One of her eighth-grade students said she was concerned that the attack on the synagogue would soon be forgotten because mass shootings have become a regular part of life.

GOLDBLUM: And I didn't know what to say to her. Sometimes a teacher doesn't know what to say. But then I came back with, you are the voices. And you can make change. You're not too young.

SCHNEIDER: Goldblum says her job is to help her students understand religious identity and cycles of persecution. Her students have a sense for justice. They've been active in marches for refugee and immigrant rights. She says they're now connecting those movements to their own Jewish history.

GOLDBLUM: They have felt very strongly about this because they know from studying the Holocaust how the doors were shut on them.

SCHNEIDER: Avi Baran Munro is the head of the school. She says while older students process their grief through learning and reflecting about anti-Semitism, some younger students were scared.

AVI BARAN MUNRO: A lot of them were like, I go there, or my family goes or I was there last week. And one child asked about, when I go back, am I going to have to see the bullet holes in the doors?

SCHNEIDER: Baran Munro says she directs teachers to listen first and ask questions before giving answers.

BARAN MUNRO: Just say, what do you know about it? And find out where they're coming from. Usually, it's a much simpler place than the adult.

SCHNEIDER: She says teachers are not only helping students process tragedy. They're also teaching them that it's their job to make the world a better place.

BARAN MUNRO: In Hebrew, it's (speaking Hebrew), which is basically repair of the world. So from a very young age, we, the families and the school, share and partner in helping kids understand their place in the world, their place in history and what that means.

SCHNEIDER: During the school's remembrance service, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who leads the Tree of Life congregation, thanked students for giving him strength. He then joined them in a prayer of healing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Hebrew).

SCHNEIDER: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Schneider in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Speaking Hebrew).

(SOUNDBITE OF PAVEL LEVIN'S "HERE MAIN KIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.