Sender of anti-Semitic texts to N.M. classmate is suspended

A New Mexico high school student was suspended for sending hundreds of anti-Semitic text messages to a Jewish classmate.

The sender reportedly confessed and was suspended from Eldorado High School in Albuquerque until January.

More than 1,700 anti-Semitic text messages were sent to his 14-year-old classmate over a period of several weeks, KRQE News in Albuquerque reported May 25. Some 500 of the messages sent back to back last week read “kill Jews, heil Hitler.”

Police investigating the incident identified it as a hate crime, according to the news channel.

Opinion: Bullying and the house of horrors

The shocking news came over the Passover holiday. Five young men, all Jews, were found in a basement, bound together nearly naked, covered in welts and smeared with honey, hot sauce and flour. When they were rescued, the victims were shivering and described as having “horrified and fearful looks on their faces.” Where was this house of horrors? Was it an Iraqi torture chamber? A Hamas prison? No, it was Boston, in the house of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity at Boston University. The victims, by the way, were only discovered because police were responding to a noise complaint.

There is so much that is unthinkable about this story. The fact that it happened at all is staggering, of course, but that an organization described as a “Jewish fraternity” was responsible is astonishing and beyond unacceptable. (It may have been a “fraternity of Jews” but there is nothing Jewish in such behavior.) It bears mentioning that the national organization of AEPi did close this particular chapter, which had no official affiliation with Boston University. I commend them for taking appropriate action in the wake of such grievous misbehavior.

Many people have overlooked this incident as “just typical college hazing.” Such justification is actually part of the problem. When people can hear of such abuse then shrug their shoulders and say that “boys will be boys,” it demonstrates how much we continue to accept bullying while simultaneously decrying it. Despite some very big news stories of the past year, many people still have goggles on that contextualize bullying solely as larger children taking lunch money from smaller children. Post-Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who was literally bullied to death, we have no excuses not to recognize that bullying comes in many forms.

Yes, bigger children picking on smaller children is a problem but in today’s society, cyberbullying is rampant. Teens and even pre-teens can now bully their peers long-distance and in front of exponentially larger audiences. Hazing is another form of bullying. Our college students may voluntarily pledge fraternities and sororities but what occurs to them in the process often goes far beyond good-natured pranks. Many universities and Greek organizations have adopted strict anti-hazing policies, which is important. These policies, however, are largely ignored by fraternities until something happens that brings such non-compliance to light. In the past year, “something happened” to George Desdunes at Cornell University and to Will Torrance at Vincennes University. In separate incidents, each of these young men was pressured to drink himself to death as part of a fraternity initiation.

Happily, the Boston University incident did not result in any deaths but it is nonetheless tragic, especially for the students traumatized by the experience. That this involved Jews, especially over Passover, is particularly painful in that it goes completely counter to the lessons we are meant to internalize. Look at Moses, the greatest of all prophets, who was selected by God to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. The Midrash tells us how Moses discovered the burning bush while he was carrying a stray sheep back to the flock. It was not great strength that qualified him as a leader, nor a sharp mind, good looks or personal wealth. It was his great compassion for the smallest and weakest among his charges that made Moses fit to lead the nation. The Moses who threw away life in Pharaoh’s palace and became a fugitive in order to save a fellow Jew from a taskmaster’s beating was best suited to become Moses the Lawgiver.

We have to look out for one another. Along these lines, I applaud BBYO, which recently partnered with The Bully Project, creators of the documentary “Bully,” in order to make this important film available to Jewish teens and their parents nationwide. They have also developed a discussion guide for use in conjunction with the film. This is exactly the kind of sensitivity we need to develop.

NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, has long had anti-bullying policies in place. Following the Tyler Clementi tragedy, we composed a formal anti-bullying curriculum that was unveiled and lauded by colleagues at YouthCon, our conference for informal and experiential Jewish educators. I know how strongly those who work with youth feel on this issue, which is why I find it so disheartening to encounter apathy on the part of the general community. The fact that so many people were able to miss this story says volumes.

We must be proactive in educating not only our youth but also adults throughout the Jewish community that bullying comes in many forms. Whether it’s in the hallways of a school, the basement of a frat house or the pews of a synagogue, we must foster an atmosphere of compassion and never tolerate violence, intimidation or other forms of abuse. To paraphrase the great sage Hillel in Pirkei Avot, if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?

Rabbi Steven Burg is the Orthodox Union Managing Director and International Director of NCSY

Letters to the Editor: ‘Bully,’ Wall Street, Tom Tugend’s award

Addressing the Bully Pulpit

Thank you for bringing so much attention to the important issue of bullying (“The Battle to Get ‘Bully’ Seen by Those Who Need It Most,” March 23).

When we talk about bullying, it’s not only about bystanders and targets. What is needed now is the cultivation of school communities where there are more allies than bystanders when acts of bias and bullying occur. This is why the thrust of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) anti-bullying education helps young people learn ally skills and to speak out on behalf of someone else.

In-person bullying and cyber bullying in elementary and secondary educational settings is a continuing problem for all schools, parents and students. Studies have shown that difficulty making friends, loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, poor academic achievement, truancy and suicide are all associated with being bullied. 

Beyond the social impact of bullying and cyber bullying we have a moral obligation to become better allies in helping to end it. ADL resources are available, and we have already established a partnership with the Board of Rabbis and the Builders of Jewish Education to develop a Jewish response to cyber bullying.

Systemic problems of prejudice and bullying must be addressed through comprehensive anti-bias education — in school, at home, in religious and community settings, and all other places [where] we educate children to be socially and emotionally productive members of society.

Amanda Susskind
Regional Director
Anti-Defamation League
Los Angeles

I read with interest your article on bullying. It’s encouraging to know that so many well-intentioned people are giving this matter serious thought. However, we still need to deepen our thinking. In Danielle Berrin’s article, and in the sidebar interview with Ron Avi Astor (“Q&A With an Expert on Bullying,” March 23), the point is made that kids who get bullied are often socially isolated.

Very few children self-isolate. We are social creatures, and the vast majority of kids crave peer interaction and friendship. Isolated kids are alone because they are shunned, and shunning is a mild form of bullying. So when we say that isolated kids get bullied, we are only saying that “bulling lite” leads to more aggressive forms of bullying. Well of course it does! If we are going to understand bullying better, we must stop talking — and thinking — in circles.

Susan North
Peer Mediation Coach

Wall Street Shock Wave

Leonard Fein’s “bank shot” went right into the pocket — most likely of the Democratic Party (“Wall Street Shock Wave in Rear-view Mirror,” March 23). Since most Jews support Democrats, here is what Fein omitted, which might have given them a “moment” of discomfort.

• Neo-liberal President Bill Clinton was the one who ended the New Deal’s Glass-Steagall Act, which once served as a firewall between commercial banking and investment in securities. He later greased the wheels to allow creation of derivatives: “instruments of mass financial destruction.”

• President Barack Obama bailed out the banks (which was, indeed, necessary) but did so without insisting on even an iota of regulation. 

• The “real regulation” Fein calls for is also a sham, including the Dodd-Frank Act. Informed critics of crony capitalism on the right (John Dean) and also a New York Times financial reporter on the left (Gretchen Morgenson) have documented why. 

In short, neo-liberal Democratic Party government officials (Robert Rubin and Timothy Geithner, to name a few) have made sure that — despite massive banking fraud — those responsible for the crisis can remain secure in the knowledge that they are not only too big to fail but also too big to jail.

Gene Rothman
Culver City

My Turn

Every reporter has had the experience of writing an apparently complimentary article about a community figure, only to have the ungrateful subject complain about what seems like a minor omission.

What’s scary is when the tables are turned and the reporter reads an article about himself. This happened to me in Ryan Torok’s flattering report (“Award to Recognize Jewish Journalist’s 50-Year Career,” March 16) about an honor I am to receive from the Benefactors of the Jewish Club of 1933.

For the record, may I add two of the proudest moments of my life: enlisting in the U.S. Army before finishing high school and serving as a combat infantryman in France and Germany during World War II. And leaving UC Berkeley in 1948, to serve as a volunteer in an anti-tank unit during Israel’s War of Independence.

Tom Tugend
Sherman Oaks

Young Life Provides Inspiration

To say that Avery Sax is special is not enough (“11-Year-Old Is Focusing on the (Re)Cycle of Life,” March 23). This is one beautiful young human being who should be an inspiration to all people. Her outlook on life is precious and very unusual for an 11-year-old young lady.

How proud her mother must be of Avery. And Avery should be proud of Avery. 

Harvey M. Piccus

Misguided Prager

Wow, we have been “blessed” with two Prager anti-left screeds in a row (“Our Golden Calf,” March 9; “Response to Reader on the Left,” March 23). It never ceases to amaze me how he will extrapolate the examples of a select few extreme examples into the entire left side of the political spectrum. Let’s look at some facts. The current Southern Branch of the GOP is composed of the children and grandchildren of Southern Democrats who left the party in dribs following Truman’s historic decision to desegregate the military, and in droves following LBJ’s signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Nixon’s election victory in 1968 was made possible by his Southern Strategy. Basically, relying on white Southern antipathy to equal rights for black Americans. Further, Prager and his right-wing friends, when one strips the sugar coating away, believe in a survival-of-the-fittest society. Ayn Rand would be proud of them. I would argue that this is inconsistent with Judaism.

In contrast, let’s look at what the left has delivered. The left enacted Social Security. It fought to bring equal rights to all of the citizens of this great nation. The left enacted the GI Bill; this permitted returning vets of the “Greatest Generation” to go to college and purchase homes. Medicare was a program enacted by the left. Although there are flaws, which need to be corrected, the left enacted the Affordable Care Act. Each and every one of these programs was/are anathema to Prager and the right. I would argue that each and every one of these programs represents the highest ideals of Judaism.

Andrew C. Sigal
Valley Village

Ultra-liberal Voices

I’m not sure what is more disappointing: Rob Eshman’s call again for the Concert to Save Syria (“Syrians Need Us,” March 23) or Peace Now’s American mouthpiece Lara Friedman’s epiphany lasting less than 24 hours (“Letters,” March 23). It’s not David Suissa or Dennis Prager who refuse to deal with “true complexities.” It’s the ultra-liberal Friedman and Eshman who refuse to even listen to the words that come out of Israel’s sworn enemies’ mouths. When our enemies say we have no right to exist, the left rushes to say we shouldn’t believe it. We should just give up more land or give more freedom so it’s easier for the so-very-few radicals among them to kill us. Eshman is not as bad as Friedman since he at least gives lip service to putting some of the blame on our enemies while Friedman and her band of misfits find the solution to the world’s problems by Israel giving in on every destructive and self-defeating demand it faces.

Allan Kandel
Los Angeles

‘Bully’ documentary to land in theaters unrated

The Weinstein Co. on Monday said it has decided to release its documentary “Bully” without a U.S. film rating after failing to persuade the Motion Picture Association of America to change to one that is less restrictive.

“Bully,” set for release on March 30, has drawn controversy over the MPAA’s “R” rating that means people under 17-years-old must be accompanied by adult to see it. The group gave it the rating due to strong language used by kids in the movie.

Opponents of the MPAA’s decision, including Weinstein Co., argue that many youth need to see the film in order to tackle the problem of bullying, and the “R” rating will bar kids not only from theaters but also from watching it in schools.

The MPAA, which represents Hollywood’s major movie studios in governmental matters, rates films for content such as sex, violence and language to give audiences an idea of what will be in the movies they see.

Releasing “Bully” unrated means anyone will be admitted where it is screened, but in the past many major theater chains have spurned films without an MPAA rating. As a result, distributors such as Weinstein Co. seek the ranking.

“We believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what’s right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise become bullies themselves. We’re working to do everything we can to make this film available to as many parents, teachers and students across the country,” Weinstein Co. marketing president Stephen Bruno said in a statement.

Weinstein Co. had appealed the “R” earlier this year and sought a less-restrictive rating, but the MPAA refused to budge. Director Lee Hirsch could edit out the objectionable words, but has declined to make changes arguing the language is essential to the story.

“The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real. It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days,” Hirsch said in a statement. “All of our supporters see that, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in.”


Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

Q&A with an expert on bullying

Ron Avi Astor, the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development at USC, has been studying the epidemiology of school violence for nearly 30 years. In 1997, he moved his family to Jerusalem for one year to run the first-ever large-scale comprehensive school violence survey in Israel, with his partner, Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Rami Benbenishty. Together they co-authored the book “School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender” (Oxford University Press, 2005). The study is still considered one of the most rigorous and ambitious ever conducted, and there are plans to replicate it in France, Chile and Taiwan. Here, Astor discusses its findings and what it has to teach Jewish schools in the United States.

Jewish Journal: The term “bullying” means many things. What exactly are we talking about when we’re talking about bullying?
Ron Astor: Bullying covers a wide range of behaviors that are qualitatively really different from each other: name calling, social exclusion, teasing, kicking, hitting, fistfights, weapon use, ganging up on somebody, writing things about people or posting it. It used to be in the bathroom, now it’s using the Internet to upset, humiliate or threaten somebody. Generally, the person who does the bullying needs to be stronger socially and psychologically, and it needs to happen more than once.

JJ: Who are the prime targets?
RA: In general, kids who tend to be more isolated, kids who are weaker in terms of social connection, who the bullies feel [are isolated enough that] they can get away with it.

JJ: Bullying has suddenly become a very hot topic. But, haven’t people always been mean?
RA: Until 2001, we didn’t run studies on bullying in the United States, but after the shootings at Columbine, a theory came out in the media saying that the reason why these kids became shooters is that they were bullied at school. But there is no evidence to show that bullying leads to shooting; if that were true, it would be Armageddon in Los Angeles. 

JJ: Is being part of a minority group an advantage in deflecting bullying, as opposed to those who suffer in isolation? 
RA: It’s too general to say, “I’m part of the Jewish people; I’m not alone.” I could be Jewish, and be on a Jewish campus, and not have any friends and be very isolated. But, if a group becomes cohesive and organized, I think that actually protects people from being harmed. We’ve seen that with civil rights.

JJ: Some adults excuse bullying behavior as a “kids will be kids” developmental milestone. How do you deal with bullying that is really dangerous and bullying that is just part of growing up? 
RA: On the one hand, you don’t want people to go meshuggah about this stuff, where everything a little kid does has to have serious consequences. On the other hand, there have to be consequences that are appropriate. Society tends to speak only in terms of how adults respond, but that’s reactionary. What’s better is a wider belief and philosophy about what a human being should be like. 

JJ: Why did you choose school violence as the focus of your career research?
RA: It has to do, in part, with growing up Jewish. If you look at all our holidays, it’s all about being a victim and how we respond as a society to victimization. Also, growing up in L.A. at the height of Bloods and Crips, gangs in schools … living at a time when there was a lot of racial tension. We lived in a much more violent society than we have right now. So it was the combination of the Jewish questions and what I saw around me growing up.

JJ: In an essay about Jews and school violence, you wrote that American Jews don’t perceive school violence as an American Jewish problem. Why is that?
RA: At the time, Jews were following what the rest of society was saying, and society had branded youth violence as a minority problem and a poverty problem. But what this whole focus on bullying has done has told all of America that this is a problem that cuts across all categories. No group or segment of our society is immune to bullying.

JJ: You also wrote that when you began your research, almost no scientific literature existed about Jews and darker issues, such as child abuse, family violence, drug addiction, mental illness or as suffering from problems such as bullying or school violence. Was this a way of keeping a low profile on ugly issues?
RA: The Jewish community in the United States understands that even though we love to see ourselves as a model community, and I think we are, we have problems like everybody else. We’re al’ kol am [a nation like other nations], and that’s a process partially influenced by Israel.

JJ: After you conducted the study in Israel, you reported that the country saw a 20 to 25 percent reduction in school violence rates, which you believe is related to the fact that the entire educational system made combatting school violence a top priority. Why hasn’t that happened in the United States?
RA: If you looked at the average high school pre-World War II, it had 500 students. After that, when people started moving toward factory models, schools followed. Instead of teachers patrolling hallways and saying hello, they became a math teacher, a history teacher, a science teacher, and the classroom became the domain of their work. But if you look at where bullying takes place, it happens in the hallway, the playground, the bathroom — all the places where a teacher’s professional role doesn’t exist. One idea is to move back to the old view, where a teacher sees the entire child and the entire school as their domain. That’s what the whole mission of education is supposed to be about.

JJ: You’ve complained that it’s been difficult to get exposure for your findings in the U.S. Jewish community. Since this interview is happening because of the release of a movie, would you say you owe a debt to Hollywood?
RA: [laughs] I owe a debt to Hollywood and to you. This is one of most in-depth interviews I’ve done — in 20 years. My stuff has been in Newsweek, Time, NPR, CNN —  the only place I couldn’t crack was the Jewish news.

The battle to get ‘Bully’ seen by those who need it most

At Sioux City Middle School in Iowa, 12-year-old Alex Libby is the odd-man-out. Seen by his peers as different, he has golden hair, gentle eyes, a wide, flat nose and permanently puckered lips. Together, they might seem to express something both pouty and vulnerable, sweet and sad. Kids are not so kind. “People call me fish face,” he blankly tells the camera in the new documentary “Bully” by filmmaker Lee Hirsch. “I don’t mind.”

Hirsch’s camera follows Alex to the bus stop. He breathes heavily and loiters sort of aimlessly until another boy his age begins to taunt him, “I’ll break your Adam’s apple, which will kill you!” the boy shouts. On the bus, yet another boy tells Alex he plans to bring a knife to school. “I’m gonna f—- you up,” he taunts. “You’re gonna die in pain.”

The documentary, which hits theaters on March 30, comes at a time when the prevalence and perils of bullying are thick in national consciousness. Last week, former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of a hate crime, convicted of 15 criminal charges including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence for using a Webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man. Engaging in a practice commonly known as cyberbullying, Ravi used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to invite others to join him. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” Ravi Tweeted on Sept. 19, 2010. “I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” A few days later, Ravi Tweeted a second time, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

Three days after the initial incident, Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi leaped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Although Ravi was not charged in relation to Clementi’s death, the case has widely been seen as a watershed moment because, for the first time, an act of cyberbullying has been successfully prosecuted. But the phenomenon of bullying is nothing new. The word is simply a modern catchall to describe an ancient behavior; even before “Lord of the Flies,” there were Joseph and his brothers. Yet bullying covers such a broad range of behaviors — from teasing and name-calling, to threats and even physical violence — and affects an even wider swath of ages, starting as early as preschool and continuing through adulthood, when, in the workplace it’s called harassment, it could probably hold rank as one of the most challenging social problems in human history.

[Q&A with an expert on bullying]

Before bullying became a buzzword and a subject of serious scientific study, it was widely but erroneously believed to be an affliction of race or poverty. For Jews, victimization that comes from being different from the dominant culture is a familiar theme. But while a minority status determined by race, religion, gender, social status or sexual orientation often becomes a factor in discrimination, bullying is not restricted to minority groups. Nor is it believed to be more or less prevalent within one group over another.

Today, sociologists generally agree that the phenomenon is universal and that it happens on a global scale. In 2010 in the United States, 828,000 nonfatal victimizations at schools were reported among students ages 12-18, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics on behalf of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. The same study found that nearly half of those were considered “violent victimizations,” and more than 91,000 incidents qualified as “serious violent victimizations.” It was also reported that the majority of all childhood victimizations occurred at school, including 17 homicides and seven suicides.

All this makes it likely that you, your child or someone you know has experienced some type of bullying at some point during adolescence. And more than any sociocultural identification — black, Jewish, gay, wealthy — the single most powerful determinant in whether an individual is susceptible to bullying behavior is social isolation. How strange, then, to perceive minority status as a happy accident of fate; sometimes it is precisely affiliation with a group that can be lifesaving.

“The thing I think about a lot is, ‘What are the activators of pain?’ ” Lee Hirsch, the 40-year-old filmmaker of “Bully,” said during a phone interview from New York. “I love movements and politics and platforms, but the thing that interests me the most is, what can compel people to move off the sidelines?”

All photos from “Bully,” courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

Whether there are genetic incentives for altruistic behavior is a perennial query of evolutionary biology. A recent article in The New Yorker magazine by Jonah Lehrer illuminated a scientific debate about the genetics of altruism. Is it actually biologically good to do good? “Charles Darwin regarded the problem of altruism — the act of helping someone else, even if it comes at a steep personal cost — as a potentially fatal challenge to his theory of natural selection,” Lehrer writes. “And yet, as Darwin knew, altruism is everywhere, a stubborn anomaly of nature. Bats feed hungry brethren; honeybees commit suicide with a sting to defend the hive; birds raise offspring that aren’t their own; humans leap onto subway tracks to save strangers. The ubiquity of such behavior suggests that kindness is not a losing life strategy.”

As more students report having witnessed bullying than experiencing it, converting bystanders into altruistic defenders could prove transformative. It is the message conveyed by Hirsch’s film, and it is his hope that the film will seed a social revolution — a battle against bullying, so to speak, that would make prevention and containment a permanent part of America’s educational culture.

“Tackling this idea of bullying as a nation, in a really deep way,” Hirsch wondered, “does that get at a bigger truth or bigger transformation than bullying itself? Does confronting [this issue] help us see more about life and the choices that we make?”

Hirsch urgently believes that now is the time to seize upon the spotlight and influence public discourse. “There’s something so universal and collective in the experience of bullying. There is a conversation to be had that hasn’t yet been had, and I think that’s why I’m so committed to classrooms seeing this film; what could come out of that is thrilling to think about.”

It’s too bad, and just a tad ironic, then, that Hirsch is also having to battle for his movie to be seen. When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) scarlet-lettered the film with an “R” rating for explicit language, it complicated the filmmaker’s plans to screen the movie in schools for students. Because, while the film is reliably entertaining, it’s not exactly a choice pick for a Saturday afternoon. It was designed to be consciousness-raising and educational.

“Bully” tells the story of five students and their families as they confront the real-life consequences of school-day torment. For a year, Hirsch and his camera traveled to five cities to observe the effects: To follow Alex, the documentary’s default star, Hirsch was given unprecedented access to three schools in Sioux City, Iowa — an elementary, middle and high school — where his cameras were allowed full access in hallways, classrooms and on the playgrounds. Given the many discomfiting scenes that emerge in the film — Alex is shoved, stabbed, ridiculed and threatened — it seems either miraculous or insane that the school agreed to participate. Hirsch attributes this to their desire for change. “They want to be part of the solution,” he said.

How to tame your bully

In the dictionary, a bully is defined as “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” It sounds likes an accurate definition, but it’s not absolutely true. Sure, there is always the stereotypical, all muscle and no brains guy walking around punching lockers and dunking kids in trash cans. And every school has the beautiful yet snobby rich girl who cheats on tests and calls everyone insulting names.

However, I know from personal experience that there are other kinds of bullies at school, too. There’s that friend who acts so sweet to your face, then backstabs you the second you turn away, telling your darkest secrets to others and ruining your social life.

There are kids who pretend to be “cool rebels” and beat your lunch box with a baseball bat on the soccer field just to “make a statement.” There are flirts who ruin your relationships, guys who push their bad influences on you, and girls who are so smart but refuse to tutor you because of how you dress. Some people even have a friend who constantly tears them or other people down. The list can go on and on.

I was bullied by these kids, and I wanted to learn how to take them down painlessly and innocently. In other words, without violence. I started to write and read and think, desperately trying to uncover clues for dealing with mean people. I began to understand that, while being bullied wasn’t my fault, I should at least try to understand the reasons I was being teased, and if I decided to change those things, whether it would benefit me in some way.

For example, now that I’m a little older and wiser, I can look back and see that my purposeful lack of social skills and “nobody gets me, so don’t bother” attitude made me an easy target for other kids. I started to understand that while I should never change myself for a bully, it wouldn’t hurt to look at myself critically from time to time.

I also realized the power of just walking away. I discovered that I won or prevented numerous incidents by raising the flag of firm peace and leaving the battlegrounds. My reaction to bullies went from sharp, biting comebacks to looking them in the eye and saying, “I do not consider your comment to be very nice,” before walking away. Not only have I stood up for myself, I also have infected them with my contagious positive attitude (hopefully). It’s a secret win-win, even though the teaser doesn’t see it that way.

I once got myself into a deep, dark place because of the bullies that tormented me, as well as other events in my life. Kids teased me for being “weak” and “emo” whenever I expressed any sad emotions. Although it would have been much nicer for my classmates to help me and respect my feelings as I was going through a hard time, bullies saw my vulnerability as a “Kick Me” sign.

To my surprise, I learned mean people will sometimes back off when they know the whole story. After a friend of mine and his little sister were killed by their father, I formed a silent but strong bond with one of his friends. Even though the kid was a bully and later expelled for harassment, he and his friends never said an unkind word to me. One time, I was frantically searching for my missing lock after someone had broken into my locker (and stolen my lunchbox and beaten it with a baseball bat). One of his friends (infamous for smoking and partying) came down the hallway, silently handed me the lock, patted my shoulder and walked away. It may not be easy to tell, but bullies have hearts, too.

I can’t sit here and claim that I know how to stop bullying forever. Even now, I face bullying at school, and it doesn’t hurt any less than it did in fifth grade. But with the few tricks I’ve learned over the years, I believe I have found a good strategy to manage the problem. It’s not a quick fix or a cure, and it’s not foolproof. It’s a large jagged pill that I’ve learned to swallow so I can raise my head, take a deep breath and not allow bullies to determine where my life is heading. 

Hannah Goldenberg is 14 years old and will be a freshman in the fall at Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley.

Bullying of LGBTQ teens discussed at NCJW event

During a panel discussion at the National Council of Jewish Women’s (NCJW) Los Angeles office in April, education experts highlighted the pervasiveness of bullying in schools, saying a disproportionate number of gay and lesbian students are victims.

As a result, gay and lesbian youth are “four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers,” said Sarah Train, education manager of the Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. “And it’s because of the reaction they receive when they do start questioning their sexuality or gender.”

Along with Train, the panel discussion, which took place on May 11, featured Gail Rolf, education director of Friends of Project 10, a nonprofit that supports programs for

LGBTQ youth; Daniel Solis, Southern California program director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network; Bev Meyer, a facilitator for the Fairfax High School Safe School Ambassadors program; and a student from Fairfax High. CBS/KCAL news anchor Pat Harvey moderated.

NCJW held the discussion in light of several student suicides that occurred in 2010 all over the United States.

A high school-aged panelist, who went simply by the name Haku to protect her identity, discussed her own struggle as a lesbian who isn’t accepted by her heterosexual peers, an artist who is thought of as strange by other students and a Korean outcast among other Korean teens, because she is half-Japanese.

“It’s really hard to be so weird,” Haku, a sophomore, said, before breaking into tears.

Haku, a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, explained that students at her school call her names such as “pickle suit” and “avocado” because of the military uniform she wears at school.

“These things may seem funny, but it’s bullying,” she said.

While acknowledging the hardships teens face, the speakers stressed that there is support they can seek out, such as the Trevor Project’s 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ youth.

“People are prepared to take your call,” Train said, adding, “There are people in this room who want to connect with you.”

‘Beat the Jew’ high school to get tolerance education

A high school where a group of students played a highway chase game called “Beat the Jew” will study a new tolerance curriculum.

Administrators at the La Quinta High School in Southern California and Desert Sands Unified School District have accepted an offer from the Jewish Federation of Palm Springs and Desert Area for anti-bias education to be delivered by the Anti-Defamation League’s “A World of Difference” Institute, the federation’s CEO, Bruce Landgarten, announced on the organization’s website.

Seven of the high school’s seniors were disciplined after playing the game in May in which a willing person, “The Jew,” was blindfolded and left on a nearby highway while members of the other team, “the Nazis,” rode by in cars and tried to tackle and capture the Jew. The game was organized via a Facebook page on which the rules were outlined.

The sessions for the 700-student sophomore class at La Quinta High will begin Tuesday. The classes will work on inspiring empathy, unlearning prejudice, and motivating teens to take action against bullying and bias.

Landgarten wrote that other area schools also will receive the sessions.