Rabbi I Have a Problem

Is it safe to send my daughter to a non-Jewish school?

Rabbi, I have a problem


Question: My daughter is 15 and very proud of being Jewish. She is due to change schools to another non-Jewish school and is extremely worried about how she will be treated because of recent events in Israel. How do I reassure her?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.

She is right to be concerned. The ugly events of this summer have almost entirely eroded the fine line between anti-Israel and antisemitism.

Who would have thought that less than 70 years after the Holocaust, in Europe of all places, we would witness the firebombing of synagogues, mobs baying for Jewish blood in the streets, the trashing of kosher products in supermarkets and physical assaults on Jews? These are not acts of protest against Israeli government policy, these are abhorrent acts of naked antisemitism directed at Jews because they are Jews, irrespective of their political views.

So how should Jews respond? Some, unable to accept the reality that they are despised, continue to grasp at straws trying to prove, at least to themselves, that antisemitism is an illusion. That what comes across as antisemitism is really criticism of Israeli policy and so if only they can ensure the Israeli government changes its policy, everything will be all right and we will be loved.

This is willful ignorance. It is a misreading both of history and the present. There are antisemites in this world and they will continue to hate our people, no matter what the Israeli government does or does not do. At the other extreme are those who start seeing antisemitism everywhere, and are no longer able to distinguish between bona fide antisemites who wish our people harm and ignorant fools who bend with public opinion like weather vanes.

The problem with perceiving antisemitism everywhere is that it leads to paralysing defeatism and paranoia.

Neither extreme is helpful or reflective of reality. What is required is the ability to navigate between these two poles of naivety and paranoia. One achieves this balance with a combination of scepticism, vigilance, hope and generosity of spirit. It is not easy, but it's what our people have been doing for centuries.

Your daughter will be confronted with her Jewishness in a far more direct way than might be the case if she were to attend a Jewish school and this has its advantages. Sometimes, especially when moving in exclusively Jewish circles, we tend to take our Judaism for granted. Seeing our Jewishness through the eyes of others, in either a positive or negative light, can help us to proactively "own" our Judaism and express it in new and exciting ways.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

All credit to you that she is proud of being Jewish; that does not come automatically, but reflects a background where Jewishness is seen as positive, whether from home life or involvement in Jewish youth movements.

Having already been at a non-Jewish school, she will be used to being Jewish in wider society, feeling like everyone else but not quite the same, having a special heritage and a particular outlook on certain issues.

Conversely, she will be familiar with being seen as different in some respects by her peers, as well as having to serve as an ambassador for all Jews.

As for Israel, advise her about four essential steps if approached on the subject: firstly, she must know the facts, both to argue her case confidently and contradict mistakes others make. For instance, the war was started by Hamas firing missiles into Israel; after replying with air attacks, Israel offered a ceasefire and only when Hamas rejected a ceasefire did Israel send in troops; Israel warned civilians of areas it would target; Hamas is a dictatorship that limits women's rights, Israel an egalitarian democracy.

Secondly, ask questions, so that her fellow pupils see things from Israel's perspective, “How would you avoid a child being hurt if someone holds his baby son in one hand and throws bricks at you with the other?”

Thirdly, some people may genuinely want to know her opinion, so do not assume every question is a hostile one, or be annoyed that, as she is Jewish, they reckon she has a hotline to the Knesset.

Fourthly, feel free to express her own concerns; if she thinks there have been too many civilian casualties, say so. She can admit she was upset by television footage of suffering children but still assert Israel had to destroy the tunnels. It was Hamas who chose where to locate them.

She could also ask “which Gaza charity are you supporting?” to challenge how much they really care or are just sounding off.

But if matters go beyond discussion and turn into verbal abuse or bullying, then as parents you should have no hesitation in reporting it to the headteacher. It is legitimate for her peers to disagree with Israel's policies, but it is antisemitic to be vile towards your daughter, a dividing line that should not be breached. They would need educating, and your daughter would need protecting.

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