Dear 7th grade families,
In class this week, we began discussing how stereotypes and prejudice can lead to antisemitism. We watched part of the 1992 classic movie School Ties starring Brendan Fraser, Chris O’Donnell, a pre-Good Will Hunting Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and many other young actors of the 1990s. The movie portrays the institutional antisemitism in the 1950’s at an elite prep school in New England where Brendan Fraser’s character has been recruited for his senior year as a hot-shot quarterback. It shows the insidious nature of stereotypes and how under-the-radar prejudice can turn into more serious discrimination and escalating consequences.
We also began our historical survey of antisemitism by doing a CSI-style text study on the death of Jesus. We looked at texts from the Gospel of Mark, the historical writing of the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Talmud. We then looked at some early Christian theological sources that portray Jews as "Christ killers." Trying to understand this charge of deicide was challenging and something we will need to spend more time unpacking.
As many of you are aware, Sunday night’s class was not in keeping with our goal of creating a kehila kedosha (holy community). The upper school that meets on Sunday nights has established several behavior norms for members of our community, including demonstrating derech eretz (respect for each other, our teachers, and our learning space and materials), avoiding lashon hara (gossip or toxic speech), and ensuring that learning spaces are both physically and emotionally safe for students to stretch and grow. Our main topic of study, the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust, is sensitive and difficult material. It invokes emotions and provokes difficult conversations about events and decisions that were made, sometimes by our own relatives. We want to be able to tackle this topic in a variety of ways and use as much engaging material as we possibly can, but we need to know that the students can handle it and act maturely and without destroying the atmosphere of the classroom with inappropriate, immature, or disruptive behavior. We are counting on you as parents to impress upon your children why this is necessary and why such behavior will not be tolerated.
Our hope is by helping the students understand the timeline of events and the context behind them it will help them make sense of such a difficult history.
Lisa Heiser-Polin and Naomi Gold