As a first-generation daughter of an Israeli, these last few weeks have been extremely difficult. My family in Israel has suffered immensely and continues to face unimaginable pain. My heart aches for the devastation and existential fear that they are living through.
I think often of my many visits to Israel, of the year that I spent studying at Tel Aviv University. I remember the lively streets and the indomitable spirit of my family and friends. When I check in with them now, their words come slower, their voices softer, their indomitable spirits buried under a month of grief and terror.
I tell you this because I want you to understand that Israel is deep in my bones. The smell of the orange slices from my Saba’s hand, the sounds of the merchants at the shuk, the taste of my Doda’s spicy homemade pasta… just like my Saphta used to make. These memories are the sinew that holds me together.
When Israel is in pain, I am in pain.
I know I’m not alone in this. Across the country and even the world, Jews are in mourning.
To compound the grief, we have been faced with a wave of antisemitism unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Most of us are re-evaluating the groups we follow, the company we keep, as we see more and more baseless hate for our people cropping up in places we never realized held such malice.
Which brings me to CBSD and our upcoming election. This Tuesday we have to decide, not only who will be the best leaders for all students, but also our own Jewish children. Who will make sure they feel free to be proud of their heritage? Who will ensure that they are supported during times when antisemitism runs rampant? Who will protect them from hate?
In order to answer that question, I began thinking about the last two years during which the far-right school board directors have held the majority.
In 2021, I attended a school board meeting in which a man stood up during public comment and gave a long antisemitic tirade. When he got to the sentence, “It’s time to stand up to the Zionism and communism that’s in our communities.” I could not take it anymore.
I had spent that morning working on a memoir about my Sephardic family’s experience in Libya during the Holocaust. They were put in camps, their unborn infants were killed, and they were ultimately expelled. Hearing that man speak sent ancestral alarms racing through my body. I jumped up and begged Dana Hunter to stop the man from spouting such hateful and dangerous rhetoric… rhetoric that has historically been a precursor to the murder of my people.
What did Mrs. Hunter, school board president and current candidate, do?
Mrs. Hunter threatened to expel me, a Jewish woman, for speaking out against antisemitism.
Now, listen… I understand that there are rules about free speech. I understand that Mrs. Hunter may not have been able to stop the man from speaking. But, she certainly could have called out his hate. We have seen her and the other school board directors use the dais to defend themselves from criticism time and time again. Why didn’t she use her power to defend us Jews?
The next school board meeting the room was filled with Jewish people outraged that the man’s hate speech wasn’t called out. We stood up for ourselves when the school board leaders would not. As we have done since the beginning of time. As we will continue to do.
Last spring, the school board majority pushed through a policy that demanded neutrality in the classroom. Shortly after, a school librarian posted a quote from famous Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel saying, “’We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The quote was taken down. The librarian was reprimanded. The message was clear: We will not take sides, even when one side is actual Nazis.
Our Jewish community wrote letters, spoke out, and demanded action. Finally, only after this and media scrutiny that spanned the globe was the quote put back up. Again, we stood up for ourselves when the school board leaders would not.
Now we have a new election, a new slate of far-right candidates has emerged. All of them have been supported by Moms for Liberty, most of them have direct or indirect ties to it.
Moms for Liberty has pushed to ban books about the Holocaust (including an Anne Frank graphic novel), have unapologetically quoted Hitler, have marched with the Proud Boys, (a far right hate group founded by a Holocaust denier).
When I ask myself who will protect our Jewish students, I think back on how the current majority has led our schools, how time and time again they have chosen “neutrality” over support, how they have pushed our Jewish and other marginalized kids under the bus in order to advance their own political agenda, how they have chosen meaningless symbolic gestures over true allyship.
I will be thinking of all these things when I go to the polls on Tuesday. I hope you will too.