Congregation responds to bullying: ‘It could have been my kid’

On the afternoon of Dec. 2, Jordan Peisner, a 14-year old freshman at El Camino Real Charter High School, went with two friends to a nearby Wendy’s in the Platt Village Shopping Center in West Hills, a popular after-school hangout. As they later exited the restaurant, another teenage boy — someone Jordan had never met before — approached Jordan from behind and sucker-punched him hard in the head, knocking him to the ground.

Jordan was brought to West Hills Hospital. Due to the severity of his injuries — a skull fracture, a concussion, a ruptured eardrum, and swelling and bleeding in his brain — he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he would spend several days.

The teenage suspect and another minor who police said was also involved were arrested on felony assault and conspiracy charges and are scheduled to appear for a juvenile court hearing on Feb. 2. Video of the attack, shot by a teen who police said may have accompanied the attacker to the scene, was posted to social media.

About 12 hours after the attack, at 4:25 a.m. on Dec. 3, Jordan’s father, Ed Peisner, posted the following note on the Facebook page of Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills: “Rabbi Vogel. Please say a prayer for our son Jordan who is in need of healing thoughts and prayers. Thank you.”

Since it was Shabbat, Vogel did not see the post until that Saturday night. By then there were already dozens of responses from others offering those healing thoughts and prayers, as well as hugs and blessings. Vogel knew something must be very wrong. And though the story was not yet all over the news, as it soon would be, a quick search supported his hunch.

Vogel said in an interview that many congregants were shaken by the crime. The Peisners had not been members of the temple for several years, but that didn’t matter. Temple Aliyah’s congregants felt a kinship with the family.

“I was hearing, ‘It could have been my kid,’ ” Vogel said. “I know people don’t get moved for long. If we’re going to get the word out about how insidious [bullying] is, I wanted to grab onto that energy, helping people understand what bullying is about.”

To that end, a discussion on bullying called “It Could Have Been My Kid” — aimed at both teens and adults — was scheduled at the synagogue. On a rainy night less than a week after the brutal attack, more than 100 people, mostly congregants, gathered in the Temple Aliyah sanctuary.

“We’re here to give the Peisners strength,” Vogel said as he opened the program. But the rabbi also urged action. “The Jewish tradition says we cannot be bystanders,” he said. “How do we create a climate of caring?”

Vogel said it was “bashert” that congregant Stephanie R. Bien’s book, “Bully Prevention Tips for Teens: 18 Powerful Ways to Protect Yourself Through High School,” which she co-authored with Yvonne Brooks, had recently been published. Bien, a Woodland Hills therapist, and Brooks, founder of the Brooks and Brooks Foundation, which has a mission to educate and empower families, both spoke at the program.

“The question for all parents is, ‘What is my child becoming in the home, at school, and in the community under my care?’ ” Brooks said. She went on to offer a long list of characteristics of children with “healthy emotional states of being,” such as being thankful, secure, kind, tolerant and hopeful.

“A child who bullies is a child who has been stripped of their dignity,” Brooks continued. “They feel worthless. They feel powerless. They feel their safety threatened.” She discussed ways parents strip their children of their emotional well-being as well as signs that a child is being bullied. 

One of the most revealing parts of the evening came when the authors asked the attendees to form small, mixed-age groups. Some of the young people, who were from various schools in the San Fernando Valley, talked about what they saw as the futility of reporting bullying to school counselors. The adults in the audience listened and asked questions about the differences between bullying among boys and that which happens among girls, in person as well as online.

Ed Peisner also spoke briefly that evening, saying he had a mission: He wanted to see new, anti-bullying legislation.

“Recording a crime that you have prior knowledge of and sharing that recording for entertainment purposes should be deemed a criminal act,” he said in reference to the video of the attack that was posted on social media. “Sadly, now, the consequences for this type of behavior are woefully insufficient — nothing. Personally, I’m not resting until that changes.”

Vogel spoke in favor of this effort and promised the support of the Temple Aliyah congregation. State Assembly member Matt Dababneh, whose 45th District covers much of the West Valley, also offered his support.

After several days at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Jordan Peisner returned home. His life, at least for the immediate future, has been significantly changed. He suffers from severe headaches. He will not finish the school year at his high school. And he cannot participate in any activities in which he might bump his head — including skateboarding, his passion — because with his brain injuries, such an impact could prove fatal.

This past Saturday, students in the Cool 2 Be Kind Club at El Camino Real Charter organized a march and rally against bullying that was held close to the scene of the attack, near Victory Boulevard and Platt Avenue. The event, which drew support from local businesses, was attended by several hundred people, including community leaders and elected officials who echoed Vogel’s remarks from the discussion at Temple Aliyah.

“What I’m afraid of is, after things calm down about Jordan Peisner, people go back to life and accept this as a reality,” Vogel said. “If we do that, we’ve learned nothing.”

It’s wrong to lobby Sacramento to protect Muslims from bullies while seeking protection for bullies

A few weeks ago, The Los Angeles Police Department convened a Public Forum for 150 Law Enforcement specialists, Community activists, along with diverse Interfaith leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i and Sikh Communities at the Museum of Tolerance. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project presented a PowerPoint presenting focusing on how extremists are leveraging Social Media to denigrate all faiths and to teach a new generation of young people how to hate and yes even kill.

We were joined by diplomats from 14 nations, including Belgium, France, Germany, and Israel, in a statement of solidarity against all terrorism, whatever the cause and in solidarity with all victims of terrorism, whatever their nationality or creed.

The common theme that emerged from all speakers is that Californians must stand together against all forms of bigotry or suffer the inevitably suffer the consequences.

It was with great interest therefore that we learned about an organized a day of lobbying in Sacramento to raise awareness about a perceived uptick in anti-Muslim bigotry. That is certainly a legitimate issue to raise especially after the murderous San Bernardino terrorist outrage. Coupled with the horrific images from Paris, Brussels, and Lahore, to name just three recent venues where Islamist terrorism targeted innocents, Muslim communities have reason to be concerned. Despite the fact that the latest available US hate crime statistics show that Jewish targets significantly outnumbered those against Muslims, the anti-Muslim backlash that we track on social Media and the broad brush of demagoguery  used by some politicians on both sides of the Atlantic all too happy to smear a minority,  should give all decent people reason to be concerned.

According press reports, the group organizing the anti-bullying lobbying among legislators to ensure that American citizens of the Muslim faith are protected from intimidation and fear, unfortunately turned its message on its head by lobbying against AB 2844, a bill that would protect Israel and Israelis from unjust boycotts of products, cultural and academic institutions. The legislature is currently considering bill similar to those adopted in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and South Carolina (with Ohio soon to follow)— in barring state governments from contracting with firms that boycott the Jewish State.

To be clear, the issue here is not “free speech” or the right to criticize Israel. Certainly, there is no democratic country in the world that receives so much criticism, often malicious and without a semblance of fairness. Under our First Amendment, free speech is, as it should be, an absolute right—and “anything goes,” fair or foul, with the government having no right to censor Americans.

AB2844  is all about standing up to a multipronged, highly organized campaign to bully and demean Israel in every sector of public life—from campuses to Churches, to cultural icons and to the halls of power and diplomacy.

BDS are the calling letters of the pernicious global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The movement is not designed to help a single Palestinian. Indeed, when their pressure forced Soda Stream to close its factory on the West Bank—where Jews and Arabs were paid equal wages, the only discernable result was that the breadwinners for over 300 Palestinians suddenly became unemployed. BDS’s true goal isn’t peace but to bully the lone Jewish state and the only true democracy in the Middle East into pariah status, with the goal of international isolation and ultimately, its destruction.  BDS bullies have shown zero concern for ethnically-cleaned Christians in Iraq, genocide-threatened Yazidis, millions of displaced Syrians or other threatened minorities from Baha’is in Iran to Copts in Egypt. They reserve their (im)moral broad brush—to exclusively targeting Israeli businesses, academic and cultural institutions, and nonprofits operating in heartland Israel—not only the West Bank—for vilification that smears and demonizes an entire people. It is precisely those tactics that helped create an intimidating environment on University of California campuses so toxic that the UC Board Regents was compelled to take a public stand against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

There are many diverse voices and groups who speak for the Muslim communities in the US. This week’s lobbying in Sacramento was organized by the controversial Council American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which apparently sees no problem in simultaneously lobbying to protect their co-religionists against bullying, while leading the charge to sanction bullying of Israel and the millions of Americans who support and /or study in or do business with Israelis or the Jewish State.

Californians of all faiths should continue to strive to create a level playing field and inclusive society based on freedom of expression and tolerance.

But we should all reject those who seek for their own the understanding, respect, fair play and protection under the law afforded by democracies on the one hand, while scheming to deprive citizens of a sister democracy and her American supporters of those very same freedoms and protections.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The ‘B’ Word: Jewish day schools take steps to prevent bullying

It’s tempting to think bullying would never happen among nice Jewish kids at a nice Jewish day school. But the statistics tell another story. 

More than one-third of all youths overall have been bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And a 2010 study (the most recent year for which these figures are available) by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics of more than 43,000 high-school students found that boys at private religious schools were the most likely to say they had bullied, teased or taunted someone in the previous months.

Local Jewish day schools are doing their best to be proactive and stop bullying before it starts. 

“It’s the thing everyone is talking about,” said Lana Marcus, head of school at Adat Ari El Day School in Valley Village. 

Adat Ari El, for example, recently brought in the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which offers about a dozen different educational programs through its A World of Difference Institute. On Sept. 30, it conducted two-hour anti-bullying presentations with third- and fourth-graders and separately with fifth- and sixth-graders.

“Part of it is preparing [our students] for middle school — not just for being bullied, but looking at ways for them to be supportive and helpful,” Marcus said. 

The presentation by Pam Cysner and Gustavo Guerra Vasquez defined bullying as “when a person or a group behaves in ways on purpose over and over that make someone feel hurt, afraid or embarrassed.” (This is important because, many educators say, kids and parents tend to call anything uncomfortable — from the taking of toys to a birthday party invitation not issued — “bullying.”) 

The ADL program also gave students a new vocabulary with which to consider bullying — “target,” “aggressor,” “bystander” and “ally” — and provided them with multiple opportunities to examine the various roles. One exercise required students to break into small groups and study illustrations of bullying in action: a group of boys taunting some girls for instance, a boy receiving an email calling him “Loser.” Then each group had to create a story explaining what was happening in their particular picture and, ultimately, present the story to the larger group.

In the final exercise, the kids tried out various ally strategies while Cysner and Guerra Vasquez role-played: “Gustavo,” Cysner teased, “you’re so girlie.” Several third- and fourth-graders approached, one at a time. One led Guerra Vasquez, the target, away from the aggressor. Another confronted the aggressor, saying, “That’s not nice,” and even demanded an apology on behalf of the target. Still another threatened to tell a trusted adult. 

When the facilitators asked the children at the end who among them was an ally, every hand in the room shot up. 

But this was just one program on one day. The school is employing longer-term strategies to help make its students mensches. Tali Mekahel, the school’s director of Judaic studies, created a sort of passport of “Easy Mitzvah” activities for students to use with options such as, “Invite a classmate you never invited for a play date,” and “Make a ‘get well’ card to someone in your class.” When a student completes a mitzvah, they earn a stamp. 

It’s all about encouraging pro-social behavior, which is the predominant strategy at local Jewish schools. At Temple Emanuel Academy Day School in Beverly Hills, teachers and administrators give out green “choice cards” with categories that can be checked off such as “helping a friend” and “keeping it positive.” (The cards were inspired by the principles in Ken Blanchard’s book, “Whale Done!: The Power of Positive Relationships.”)

“The theory behind it is rather than recognize the child that is misbehaving, you reward students with a green choice card,” said Melissa Rajani, the school’s director of curriculum and third- and fourth-grade general studies teacher. “We try to make it more of a sporadic thing, so it means something to earn a green card.”

Staff also have yellow and red cards to be used for undesirable behavior. A red card, Rajani said, means a student is having a “really awful day” and also means parents are contacted immediately. But these are used sparingly, and “the focus is on green,” Rajani said.

Wise School at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air employs a similar system created by school counselor Jana Luber in close conjunction with the faculty. Called the PAWS (Positive, Appreciative, Wise and Safe) Program, it uses raffle-type tickets with a red paw design that references the school mascot, the Wise Wildcat. 

“Administrators and staff try to find opportunities to catch kids doing the right thing,” said Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback, head of school. 

When this happens, the student is given a ticket. These tickets are then deposited in a jar kept in each classroom, making it what Zweiback calls “a communal endeavor.” 

“At the end of the month, the class that has gotten the most PAWS usually gets a little something [such as a pizza party],” he said.

Ultimately though, he added, “Jewish values provide the best foundation imaginable to increase the likelihood that kids — and adults as well — will experience the kind of loving and positive interactions that we crave and deserve.”

It is these values, such as kavod (honor or respect) and chesed (loving-kindness) — and the fact that they weren’t adequately reflected in the existing character education programs they found — that compelled Kristi Combs, principal of Kadima Day School in West Hills, and Anthea Canes, Judaic studies coordinator, to create their own program this summer, called The Kadima Way. 

“It’s a values-based program integrated into all aspects of the school,” Combs said.

Each month highlights a different value — for instance, derech eretz, or respect and responsibility. For the school’s kindergartners, this means including others in play, sharing toys and cleaning up after themselves. For seventh-graders, it has meant discussions with school head Bill Cohen about behavior expectations at bar and bat mitzvahs: how to act in a synagogue, how to act at a party. 

“It’s not just about being inside a classroom,” Combs said. 

Other values included in The Kadima Way are courage and compassion.

“We’re ending the year with ‘self-worth,’ and everybody being recognized for who they are,” Canes said. “Believe in yourself.” 

Every month, two students from each grade level are recognized for best exemplifying the current value. Their names and pictures go on a special bulletin board, and the elementary school honorees are issued The Kadima Way tags that they can wear proudly.

One indication that the program is working is that students have adopted its language, according to its creators.

“You hear in the hallway, ‘That’s The Kadima Way,’ ” Canes said. “Or teachers complimenting kids, ‘That is exactly what we expect when we talk about The Kadima Way.’ ”

An often-overlooked aspect of anti-bullying education is parental buy-in. 

“The ideal approach is to work with all stakeholders at a school,” said Dave Reynolds, project director of the ADL’s local A World of Difference Institute. “It’s not just about classroom teachers, but bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and educating families so when students learn, parents are augmenting [that learning]. Schools that do a comprehensive approach tend to get much better results.”

At Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am on La Cienega Boulevard, the parents of seventh-graders are brought into the conversation through a parent-teen council held in November. Two staff facilitators, both therapists, talk about various roles in different bullying scenarios. 

“Parents unpack their own stories of childhood,” middle school principal Inez Tiger said. “For example, ‘The time I had bystander behavior or bully behavior,’ or, ‘A time I was an ally.’ They are pretty meaningful.” 

However, Tiger added, “You have to look at it as one step in a much bigger plan. You don’t walk away from a seventh-grade evening and say, ‘No more bullying.’ It’s about building a culture.” 

To that end, Pressman students participate in No Name-Calling Week in January, an initiative created by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. They also have an annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day when kids have lunch with kids they don’t ordinarily sit with. 

Perhaps most importantly, they do “a lot of proactive social-emotional building,” said Erica Rothblum, Pressman head of school. This includes encouraging kids to look each other in the eye and be deep listeners.

“Bullying knows no bounds,” she said. “[But] we’re going to be proactive. We’re not going to look away.”

Teen trio wins anti-bullying contest

Bullying occurs regularly in classrooms and on playgrounds to children and teenagers throughout the world. Cyberbullying on smart phones and social media is more hidden and harder to detect. But for those experiencing bullying, the effects can be devastating or, in the worst-case scenario, lead to self-destruction.

Cyberbullying, specifically, has gained traction in schools everywhere. Recently, a 12-year-old girl in Florida jumped to her death after being bullied through cell phone apps, and a year ago Canadian teen Amanda Todd posted on YouTube about being cyberbullied and then committed suicide. 

To combat bullying and prevent more tragedy from occurring, October has been deemed National Bullying Prevention Month. In Beverly Hills, a local effort was put together: The city’s Human Relations Commission held a contest for students to create and submit anti-bullying videos. The winners in the fourth- through eighth-grade category were former Yeshivat Yavneh students Sara Sacks, Talia Mahboubi and Sarah Yadegari.  

“I think everyone has been in a situation where they’ve felt vulnerable, and it’s usually because of what someone said,” said Yadegari, who now attends Shalhevet. “Everyone knows what bullying is because everyone has gone through it.”

In the video, titled “The Silent Word,” Yadegari stands in the hallway of Yavneh. Her peers take Post-it notes, with words on them like “puny,” “loser” and “freak” and stick them around her on the lockers. A song plays in the background, but the actors are silent. The message of the video, which has nearly 2,000 hits on YouTube, is to “help those who can’t stand on their own … and bring bullying to an end.”

When writing out the Post-its with the hateful words on them, Sacks, now at YULA said, “It felt like we were doing it to ourselves. I had a realization about how awful these words are to say to someone.”

Mahboubi, who also goes to YULA, said, “Since it’s all silent it has a stronger impact. It’s just really powerful because it’s a unique way to approach bullying.” 

All three girls, who are 14 and in their first year of high school, have been friends for nine years. With the help of Lev Stark, executive director of Yavneh, they made the video and released it last May. 

During their time at Yavneh, Mahboubi said that she and her classmates learned about bullying through posters in the hallways and discussions with adults and teachers. “It was instilled in us throughout our whole childhood that it was not right to bully and that you should always stand up for the victim.”

Yadegari echoed similar sentiments. “Everybody takes a part in bullying. It’s really your decision whether you’re going to stand up for the person who is getting bullied or if you’re just going to sit back and watch.”

Jim Latta, a social worker and human services administrator for the Human Relations Commission of Beverly Hills, said that there were 15 entries to the contest, which is in its first year. The submissions were judged based on “creativity, educational value and message effectiveness.” 

The videos, according to the official press release, had to communicate that “everyone plays a role in bullying … the bully, the bullied, the bystander and the person who makes a difference! What’s your take?”

On Oct.15, the girls received a proclamation at Beverly Hills City Hall.

“I feel really proud [about winning] because we really worked hard,” Mahboubi said. “I just feel accomplished. Even if we didn’t win, I would have still felt really good about doing something like this.”

In addition to the proclamation, the “Silent Word” public service announcement is going to be used at various anti-bullying events held by the commission around town. 

According to Stark, it’s already been shown at public and private schools in New York and Los Angeles. “The video has a universal message and an important one, too,” he said. 

“People are watching the video and they’re moved by it,” Yadegari said. “It’s a really great feeling that people like it and enjoy it.”

Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, head of school at YULA Girls High School, said that one day out of the year is devoted to an anti-bullying assembly and discussions. But, the message comes in clearer if students themselves are communicating it. “When parents or teachers give a message, it reaches a certain level of impact. When young people take ownership and make a powerful statement, it goes much deeper,” he said.

With “The Silent Word,” the girls aspire to put an end to bullying and bring attention to how it makes people feel. Sacks said, “I hope it brings an awareness to bullying and it makes an impact to stop the problem.”

Ohio family sues school for anti-Semitism, bullying

The family of a 14-year-old Ohio girl is suing school officials in the state for allowing bullying and anti-Semitic attacks aimed at their daughter.

The lawsuit alleges that officials at Green High School did nothing to curb years of bullying by classmates, which included being called a “dirty Jew” and told she would “rot in hell” for not believing in Jesus Christ, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

The parents brought the case to U.S. District Court last month after transferring their daughter to another public school district. The name of the family is being withheld to protect the identity of the girl.
In the lawsuit, a bus driver, guidance counselor, two principals and two superintendents are identified as doing nothing to stop the bullying or acting to punish the aggressors.

In 2008, the girl reportedly was called a “[f—-ing] Jew” by several boys and was spat on while riding a school bus, the Akron newspaper reported. The lawsuit maintains that the bus driver neither disciplined the boys nor filed a report with the district about it. 

“She’s been victimized for a number of years because there’s very few Jewish people in that district and there’s a lot of people apparently who have a problem with Jews,” said the family’s Cleveland attorney, Kenneth Myers.

Other instances of bullying described in the lawsuit involve being assaulted by a boy in the choir room, being stabbed in the leg with a pencil and the creation of a Facebook page devoted to disparaging the girl.

The lawsuit also accuses Mark Booth, the principal of Green Intermediate School, of telling the girl’s mother that her daughter “enjoyed the attention.” He reportedly told the girl to fight one of the boys who was bullying her.

Green Superintendent Michael Nutter said of the lawsuit, “Our lawyers at the insurance company are reviewing it and we’ve been advised from them at this point not to comment on it until they’ve reviewed all of it. We have our [bullying] policies, they’re all online, but that’s all I can say right now about it.”

Green is a northeastern Ohio suburb of nearly 26,000 located midway between Canton and Akron.

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.”

Jewish youth movements launch anti-bullying campaign

Three international Jewish youth movements have launched a campaign to combat homophobia.

The Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders, comprised of the presidents of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth and the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, has joined a campaign started by Keshet, a national organization working for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) inclusion in Jewish life.

The youth leaders have pledged to end bullying in their own organizations. They also have set a goal of getting 18,000 Jewish teens, their parents and those who work with them to sign Keshet’s “Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.”

The campaign comes in response to the suicides this fall of a number of gay teens who were bullied by peers.

Each youth organization has developed resources to help its own membership stave off bullying and promote inclusive environments.

Your Letters

David Myers

Professor David Myers showed his true colors in his reply toStandWithUs when he wrote that the “Palestinians” are not entirely to blame forthe conflict (Letters, Feb. 28). He reminds me of the familiar grade-schooleducator who never noticed bullying, but always berated the victim for strikingback; and when answered with, “But he…,” would say, “Now, now it takes two tomake a fight.”

Of course it does: one bully and one victim! But only one ofthem decides on conflict or peace: the bully.

Louis Richter, Encino

As a student, I can attest to the overwhelming abundance ofone-sided, hawkish information being disseminated by groups such as StandWithUsand the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Rather than providing abalanced perspective on the Middle East conflict, these groups capitalize onstudents’ fear of anti-Semitism and overemphasize Jewish victimhood.

Unfortunately, this type of manipulation also permeated aJewish Forum on Public Policy. The conference’s discussions on Israel promotedthe most militant perspective and appallingly demonized Muslim and Arabstudents. I would expect a Jewish forum on public policy to provide a morediverse sampling of political perspectives with regard to Israel.

I fear the atmosphere in the Jewish community has providedan environment for students that is both intellectually stifling andunreflective. As a result, we are losing sight of the complexities of theconflict and the careful nature with which it must be handled. One-sidedpropaganda needs to be replaced with informed debate both within our communityand others. It is time to substitute purely defensive advocacy with the pursuitof positive solutions to the conflict.

Jaime Rapaport ,Los Angeles


I read Rob Eshman’s column (“This Week,” Feb. 28) and wasdisheartened, not only by his description of the anti-Israel and anti-Americademonstrations he encountered, but by the fact that he chose to go to Italyrather than Israel on his “brief vacation.” I’m sorry that he didn’t have apleasant visit.

By contrast, my husband and I chose to spend our vacationlast November working as volunteers on an Israel Defense Forces base, alongwith many other volunteers from all around the world. We worked side by sidewith young soldiers doing whatever tasks were needed, wearing the same uniform,eating the same food, sleeping on the same cots that these young Israelis areprovided during their army service. They asked, “Why are you here? Why wouldyou spend so much money on airfare to come and work?”

The answer is simple: We came to Israel to work with them,to let them know that we support them with our presence, not just financially.It seemed to raise the morale of these young people: to make them feel notquite so alone in their tiny country. It counteracts the condemnation andbashing of the rest of the world.

Ruth Giden , Sherman Oaks

Gay Rabbis

When David Bianco wrote about homosexual relations describedin the Torah as referring to a “specific kind of male-male sexual intercourse”(“Gay Halacha,” Jan. 17) it was misunderstood by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin in hisletter to the editor (Letters, Jan. 31). Korobkin had understood it to meanwhat Rabbi Bradley Artson had presented in the Jan. 17 issue as a Conservativemovement interpretation of the biblical prohibition, limiting it topromiscuous, multipartner homosexuality. Korobkin’s objection should have beendirected specifically to Artson’s interpretation, but not to Bianco’s, which isin line with the traditional view that prohibits all male-male sexualintercourse involving penetration.

We now both realize that we are on the same page indisagreeing with Artson’s speculative interpretation.

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, David Bianco

A Wish Is Granted

Appreciation to Marc Ballon for his piece on Jewish FamilyService’s (JFS) recent success with the Naturally Occurring RetirementCommunity (NORC) grant from the federal government (“A Wish Is Granted,” Feb.28). An even larger “thank you” to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. HenryWaxman (D-Los Angeles) who carried this request on behalf of JFS and TheFederation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, which orchestrated theadvocacy around this proposal. The NORC will be the precedent-setting model forthe care of the elderly for decades to come. We at JFS are proud and delightedto be the first such site in California.

Paul Castro , Executive Director Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles

Single Problem

Thank you very much for Amy Klein’s article, “A SingleProblem” (Feb. 14). For years, I have noticed that the focus in synagogues andtemples is on married couples with children, even while singles are oftencharged as much as two-thirds of what an entire family is charged formembership.

For singles, childless people and even adults withoutcollege degrees, the No. 1 criterion for joining a synagogue or temple is howwell they are accepted as complete and worthwhile contributing members of theJewish community. Most synagogues and temples do a great job of making themfeel inferior, which they really aren’t.

Rose Rosenberg, Los Angeles

I am a 63-year-old man who doesn’t belong to a synagoguebecause I feel that I don’t fit in.

You hit the nail on the head when you write that many of theevents for singles “often lack content.” I hope that your article makes somedifference with a Jewish organization and that a group of singles might becreated with substance and purpose.

Raphael Confortes, Los Angeles

Who Should Pay?

On my trips to Los Angeles, it is quite evident that theJewish community is a fairly well-to-do one (“Who Should Pay?” Jan. 31). Thefinances are there, as I’m sure they are in most North American Jewish communities,to make Hebrew education not only available to people committed to Judaism, butattractive to families who may not have a strong Jewish grounding but arelooking for a quality Jewish education for the children.

The American Jewish community should get its prioritiesstraight. Jewish education is the bedrock of the Jewish culture and survivaland has to be made affordable and available to all. By not subsidizing Hebrewday schools more heavily and making them financially accessible to the generalJewish population, the American Jewish community is unfortunately contributingto assimilation and intermarriage, and is losing young people.

Gerald Wexler, Quebec, Canada

A Culinary Surprise

I read the recipe for Vietnam bagels (“A Culinary Surprise,”Feb. 21) to my 85-year-old father who has been in the bagel business for morethan 60 years. His comment was, “That’s not a bagel, it’s cake.” A real bageldoes not have milk or butter. And honey in the water? I guess it’s a pleasantsurprise to find any bagel in Vietnam, and this one should definitely keep thename “Vietnam” bagel.

Seymour and Richard Friedman, Brooklyn Bagel Bakery Los Angeles

Iraq War

I never thought of The Jewish Journal as an especiallyhumorous publication, but the Feb. 28 issue proved me wrong. The superb spoofby Arthur Waskow (“Iraq War Not Just Means to Just End,” Feb. 28) — thatAmerican Jews should support a pre-war Marshall Plan for Iraq, urge a worldwidetreaty to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction and insist on all-Arab peacetreaties with Israel — is worthy of Dante and Balzac. Rob Eshman’s notation ofa Parisian newspaper’s description of Jacques Chirac as a “Warrior for Peace”is equally clever. I commend The Journal for its satirical brilliance.

Chaim Sisman, Los Angeles


I am writing with concern to the article “‘JAM’-packedCampus Outreach” (Feb. 28). The article gives a detailed report on the Jewishlife on campus at UCLA.

I was glad to read of the wonderful work carried out by Hilleland JAM on campus and it is amazing to see how many students have been involvedwith these organizations.

However, it was very surprising to see no mention of any ofthe good work done by Chabad. I was personally approached by Rabbi Mendy on theBruin Walk, who invited me to come over for Shabbat dinner. I was welcomedpersonally by both rabbis and I enjoyed a wonderful meal as well as having theopportunity to meet more than 100 other Jewish students. I enjoyed myselfimmensely and I plan to join the rest of my friends to attend Chabad social andeducational activities.

Jewish life on campus is thriving and between Hillel, Chabadand JAM things are going on all the time. I was especially happy last week tosee all the three rabbis dancing together during the Moshav Band concert put onby Hillel. It is for this reason that it seems bizarre to have left out Chabad.

I am sure this was not done on purpose, and I hope thatJewish life on campus will continue to flourish with all the organizationscontinuing to work together.

Name Withheld Upon Request, Los Angeles


The Feb. 28 Circuit about the Jewish Community Foundationomitted mention of the Foundation’s College Campus Initiative Project, whichinvolves Los Angeles Hillel Council, the Jewish Community Relations Committeeand the Shalom Nature Center. The coalition works in partnership with JewishCampus Service Corps fellows on individual campuses throughout Los Angeles toengage Jewish students and combat anti-Israel sentiment.

Even Bullies Go to Summer Camp

Directors at three of California’s Jewish sleep-over camps describe them as nurturing environments where every child is made to feel safe and part of a caring community. Campers, they say, generally meet the high expectations for mensch-like behavior.

But despite everyone’s best intentions, camps occasionally see aggressive or exclusionary behavior, and each camp has a policy to firmly and fairly discourage bullying.

“Our mission is to create a community of living Judaism within a holistic vision of physical, spiritual and emotional safety for all,” said Ruben Arquilevich, executive director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ (UAHC) Institutes for Living Judaism, which runs Camp Swig in Saratoga and Camp Newman in Santa Rosa.

“Our culture fosters shalom bayit [peace in the home],” he added. However, Arquilevich as well as directors of Camp Tawonga near Yosemite National Park and Camp Ramah in Ojai said they are prepared to deal with unacceptable behavior, too. “We acknowledge that certain behaviors appear in a group setting, and there are always a handful of cases every summer,” Arquilevich said.

“Although we don’t believe in the concept of a ‘camp bully,’ at some time we all exhibit bullying behavior. We see it as an opportunity at camp to identify, respond and give the bully and the other kids a lesson in how to be the best person they can be, a life lesson in conflict management that they can take home.”

Ken Kramarz, executive director of Camp Tawonga, described his camp as “a place of peace.”

Tawonga is a group-centered camp, where each cabin has its own identity and strong group ethic. Kramarz said each cabin has a personalized set of “10 commandments” and a cabin schedule that accommodates every camper’s individual needs.

“The entire culture is about getting along. The counselors are with the kids continuously and focused on the children’s interacting with each other,” Kramarz said.

Nevertheless, “the children bring with them the templates of behavior extrinsic to the camp environment,” he said, and in the rare case where a child becomes disruptive or mean, the director will sit with him or her and create a personalized written behavior contract. The parents will be notified that the child is “on contract” and may be sent home.

“But the kids really want to be here, and when the consequence is that they are not going to be here, the behavior is likely to improve,” Kramarz said.

Camp directors say expectations run high that campers will treat each other with respect, cooperation and inclusion.

Before youngsters head off to camp, parents receive handbooks that outline the rules of appropriate camper behavior. “The parents are asked in advance to engage their children in a conversation about the tone and culture the camp strives for, and they sign off that they will contribute to the environment in a positive way,” Arquilevich said.

He said that inappropriate behavior might first be noticed by a counselor or might be reported to a counselor by a camper. The counselors are trained to facilitate the kids working out the issue among themselves within their own cabin group.

“We are careful in judging and getting the broad story. The kid in the most pain is the one exhibiting the inappropriate behavior,” Arquilevich said, adding that the first step might be to ask what precipitated the behavior, followed by encouraging the cabin group to talk about it. Once they understand each other, they can work toward something positive.

In the rare case where hurtful behavior continues or even escalates, consequences ensue. Parents might be notified, and an agreement of understanding might be written up. If such a behavior contract is broken, the child could be dismissed from the group or the camp; however, such serious measures are necessary only about once every two years, Arquilevich said.

Brian Greene, executive director of Camp Ramah, said his counselors are taught to watch for inappropriately aggressive children and channel the aggression in a positive direction.

“What we really want to do is get to the bully and find out what’s behind the lack of self esteem. The child wants to feel powerful and important, but can fulfill that need in better ways than pushing other kids around,” Greene said. “We won’t let anyone ruin anyone else’s time and won’t tolerate a child hurting another child.”

Greene added that he believes bullying is a bigger problem at schools than at summer camps.

“When camp is at its best, a united feeling takes over and becomes dominant. Everybody counts.”