The following message is being shared with the members of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation.
As you likely know, last week there was an anti-Semitic bias incident at South Orange Middle School. Earlier this week, the four of us attended a meeting with SOMS Principal Lynn Irby, members of the SOMS Administration and Josh Cohen, Director of the New Jersey Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). We were there to share our concern over its handling and to discuss next steps regarding both this event and, if they arise, future bias incidents. We wanted to write to you as the rabbinic leadership of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation to share the outcome of that meeting and what we hope to see as next steps.
We first want to make the following commitments to you. We are committed to working together to ensure that our congregations and our community remain open, welcoming and safe to each and every resident and community member. Our tradition teaches us to “love our neighbor as ourself.” Those are not simply words to us; they are a charge. We are dedicated, as individuals and as a rabbinic community, to doing everything within our power to ensure we live in a place that reflects this core value.
During our meeting we were able to gain insights into the specific events under discussion. We made clear that we are here to work as partners with the school and the ADL in any manner they request and that we, and the members of the Jewish community with whom we have each spoken, want to work with them and be a part of this process as well. We also made clear that while we were there because this was an anti-Semitic incident, we are committed, as we know, to standing up against all forms of bias and bigotry. While anti-Semitism is bias directed against Jews, we reject bias in all its forms.
Unfortunately, we sent out a similar letter to the community last spring following a previous incident at SOMS. We were hopeful that changes would be made and training would take place to prevent further incidents of bias and bigotry. With heavy hearts, we acknowledge that such changes were not yet implemented. However, we know that the school has now been in touch with the ADL’s Education Division and are putting a plan in place. They discussed the most recent incident and past incidents, as well as the school and community climate. The ADL has presented SOMS with its wealth of anti-bias resources and shared the availability of a variety of programmatic options for students and faculty through ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. The ADL also offers a No Place for Hate® program (NPFH) that is designed to create inclusive school communities by promoting unity and respect, and empowering schools to reduce bullying, name-calling, and other expressions of bias. We will be following up in the near future to ensure that the school takes full advantage of these important programs and creates an opportunity for education and awareness for students, training for teachers, and opportunities for parents to be a part of this process as well.
We will, of course, keep you posted.
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky
Rabbi Daniel Cohen and Rabbi Allie Klein
Rabbi Mark Cooper