Two weeks ago, the town of Shawano in Wisconsin passed a new anti-bullying ordinance. Under this ordinance, if a child is found to be involved in bullying another the parents will be warned. The parent then has 90 days to “address the bullying.” If the behavior does not stop after 90 days, the parents will be fined $366. This ordinance is not the first of this kind. We presented our 7th graders in Advisory with this new ordinance. What did they think? Can parents be held responsible for the behavior of their children? That was most definitely debatable. But, clearly, they can be held responsible if they “stand idly by” and let it happen without attempting an intervention.
“Do not stand idly by” was a theme in the most recent unit in their Advisory class. We were proud to spearhead and share our B.I.G. Day- Buy Israeli Goods Day- in local supermarkets and in school. This effort was part of their standing up to the BDS movement and not “standing idly by” while Israel is maligned and boycotted. We hope that our students got the message that each of us as individuals can do something to stand up to injustice.
The proximity of Yom HaShoah and Yom Haatzmaut has always struck me. “Out of the ashes,” as some might maintain. This year, with our B.I.G. Day, the students were able to see a more direct connection. The theme of the importance of the bystander standing up to injustice is abundantly clear with the Holocaust, as demonstrated by this quote we discuss in our Advisory class.
In 1933 Martin Niemoller, a leader in the Confessing Church which was begun by Niemoller and several other ministers, voted for the Nazi party. By 1938, however, he was in a concentration camp. After the war he was believed to have said,
"In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to
speak for me."
I have spoken about the impactful bonding opportunity presented by reading a book that your teen is reading. My son and I are now reading The Book Thief. I actually just finished the book today- a truly incredible read! It is replete with messages of “Do not stand idly by” as Hans Huberman and his family hide a Jew, or as he reaches out to give bread to a Jew and suffers the consequences, or as he paints over the anti-Semitic graffiti found on a Jew's store.
These are the messages that we want to transmit as parents to our children. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The Gemara in Sotah 11a tell us that when Pharaoh was plotting against the Jews he asked his three advisers, Yitro, Iyov and Bilaam their opinions. Bilaam was eager to exterminate the Jews. Yitro, rejected Pharaoh's idea and expressed his opposition. He, therefore, had to escape Egypt and ended up in Midyan. Iyov, was against killing the Jews, but he remained silent. One can only hypothesize why he did not speak. Perhaps he was afraid of suffering the consequences. He may even have rationalized that if he is not an adviser, he cannot help the Jews as time progresses.
Each adviser received a consequence from G-d. Bilaam, was killed by the Jews whom he wanted to kill. Yitro was rewarded by becoming the father-in-law of Moshe and an important in the history of the Jewish people. Iyov, who remained silent, lived a life of pain and suffering. Why such a terrible punishment for remaining silent? The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik stated, that when Iyov was struck by tragedy after tragedy he finally raised his voice to cry to Hashem- the same Iyov who had stayed silent with Pharoah. The difference was, that here he was personally affected and with the Jewish decree he was not. Because he was unable to cry out when others were impacted, he was destined to cry out now.
To come back to Wisconsin, what can we as parents do to ensure that we do not stand idly by and raise children who will not stand idly by when they see injustice in their day to day lives- like bullying, even when it does not affect them directly? This Shabbat's parasha had the answer. In the first pasuk, Vayikra 21:1, it states, “And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people.” Rashi asks, why the need for “speak” to them and “say” to them? Rashi answers, “Speak to the kohanim: אֱמֹר וְאָמַרְתָּ “Speak [to the Kohanim …] and say [to them],” lit. “Say…and you shall say.” [This double expression comes] to admonish the adult [Kohanim to be responsible] for the minors [that they must not contaminate them (Mizrachi)]. — [Yev. . 114A].” In essence, we adults need to be responsible for the minors. How? By having a zero-tolerance policy and not tolerating any teasing, picking on or joking about other children in our homes. By reminding them that sometimes we need to include others even if it is not the most fun for us, but because it is the right thing to do. And, most importantly, by serving as models ourselves of inclusiveness, respect for others, and keeping others in mind who may seem left out.
Sixth Grade: Students began to learn about the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Strategies to combatting bullying.
Seventh Grade: Boys focused on body image for boys and girls on “Odd Girl Out” and social exclusion among girls.
Eighth Grade: Our almost graduates wrote about each other for the inscriptions that will appear on the sefarim that they receive at the Graduation Dinner. Students were trained for how to write the most meaningful inscriptions to their friends.