During the course of last fall’s semester, swastikas were found at the posh Fieldston School in Riverdale and a sixth grade student drew one in art class, seemingly unaware of its significance. Additionally, a notebook appeared with the cover exclamation “Hitler Rocks.” In response to the protests of Jewish parents, the school convened a special meeting for the sixth grade to discuss these events but apparently stressed the original use of the swastika as a symbol of peace, stating it could also be a symbol of hate but failing to even mention the word Holocaust. To make a second round of amends after this egregious “oversight,” the school made arrangements for the Simon Wiesenthal Center to send its regional director, along with a Holocaust survivor to tell her story to the entire middle school.
Michael Cohen, the Wiesenthal representative, goes into great detail in an article in The Jewish Week (Jan about what short and long term goals the combined organizations developed to enlighten both students and faculty about the Holocaust and tolerance education. At a school whose tuition is $45,000/yr, one would expect this to be part of the regular curriculum in any class of World History, particularly in a city with the largest share of survivors and their descendants, in a school heavily populated with Jewish students. Surely it doesn’t require a visit from the NAACP for Fieldston students to learn about slavery and the Civil war..
Throughout Mr. Cohen’s account, whenever he mentions the Holocaust, he adds tolerance education, as though the phenomenon of the extermination of Europe’s Jews were not a sufficiently large topic in itself. When Black Lives Matter holds a protest, they don’t include qualifiers extending to other groups suffering from intolerance of persecution. When LGBT holds rallies, they similarly don’t include anti-Semitism or racism. Only Jews are forever minimizing their own causes and still trying to prove to mainstream society that what happened to them is important because it can also affect other groups. Intolerance and bullying are school-yard words that have no place in the same sentence as Holocaust. Once you’ve paired intolerance with lactose, it’s forever inappropriate for the industry of mass starvation, torture, medical atrocities, freezing, rape, shooting people into the pit they’ve had to dig or making them watch their babies’ heads bashed against a wall or thrown into the air as target practice.
Since the world is experiencing another surge of anti-Semitism now, even though it’s considered “intolerant” to mention the name of the religious ideology which is fomenting it, it would appear to be the time to concentrate on what happened in Europe in the 30’s and 40’s and its repercussions in our own country and other parts of the globe. We shouldn’t have to beg for attention by adding “all people who have faced genocide” after the word Jews, just as we don’t add “all people who have faced oppression” after discussing the plight of blacks. Fieldston has been exposed as deficient in its World History department as well as in the realm of common sense but it’s far from the only school which is guilty of this. Let’s take a lesson from all the other players in the great game of identity politics and say in the words of the great sage Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”
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