December 12, 2018
During G-block, a large portion of the high school gathered in the Roberts-Dubbs Auditorium to grapple with the issue of anti-Semitism through speeches, videos and other presentations.
The assembly was dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Oct. 27, 2018.
The assembly began with a video relating modern anti-Semitism to a history of anti-Semitic stereotypes, including how Jews were “blamed for being in league with the devil and the black death.” Citing a survey conducted in more than 100 countries by the Anti Defamation League (ADL) from 2013-2014, the video revealed that around one-fourth of the survey subjects “held anti-Semitic attitudes.“
Also in the video, Sheryl Silver Ochayon from the International School for Holocaust Studies recounted the story of how anti-Semitism plagued Billings, Montana in 1993 and yet the response from the public, both Jewish and non-Jewish, was uplifting as they challenged ignorance in their town.
“With anti-Semitism prevalent again today, it is important to highlight groups and individuals who act against it,” Ochayon said.
Next, senior Ari Filler spoke about the ignorance surrounding the Holocaust around the world, specifically in Europe, but also in the US.
“This anti-Semitism might not feel real here, but it is real,” Filler said. “This stuff might not feel real because it’s 2018, not 1939. And we have to act like it’s real.”
Lauren Small, who has worked with various Jewish Organizations, including Yad Chessed, which provides assistance to Jewish families living in poverty, also spoke.
“We had to break a stereotype that all Jews are wealthy because it just isn’t true,” Small said. “Anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world is a very complex topic. Recognize that Jews are a tiny minority in the United States and an even smaller one in the world. Recognize that no one is immune from hatred and bigotry. Recognize that anti-Semitism happens here in the United States, in Brookline.”
Junior Camila Krugman, the daughter of refugees from the Soviet Union escaping religious intolerance, provided examples of the anti-Semitism she has faced throughout her life, including a post on Instagram specifically targeting her and other Jews.
“It’s experiences like these and so many more that I remember when people tell me that anti-Semitism just isn’t a problem in the United States,” Krugman said. “It is a problem, both in the United States and in the whole world.
The assembly ended with a presentation by social studies teacher Sam Dreyfus on the next steps towards fighting oppression and ignorance. He listed the four types of oppression: ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized, and then described their differences and connections. Next, Dreyfus outlined how Jews and non-Jews could work to challenge oppressive systems. For Jews, his emphasis was on “mutual alliances” between oppressed groups.
“We need people to stand up for us when we’re getting targeted,” Dreyfus said. “But we also need to remember that as a community, we actually now do have access to institutional power and so we need to use our access to institutional power to stand with other groups of people being targeted by institutional oppression.”
Applause from the crowd filled the Black Box after the cast’s performance. A few minutes later, a new group of actors appeared and commenced a new scene. Through multiple stand-alone skits, the Brookline Education Theatre Company (BETCo)’s performances on Asking for Courage Day focused around topics of racial stereotyping, equality versus equity and microaggressions.
The first skit touched on the harsh reality of the impact of one’s racial identity in dictating one’s future. The scene opened with actors portraying babies of different races preparing for their birth, guarded by a gatekeeper. To receive their “umbilical cord” and therefore be born, they were requested to voice their dreams and hopes.
Among this included being a baseball player, social activist and senator. However, everytime, the gatekeeper shot down each person’s aspirations and replaced them with common racial stereotypes.
Other skits portrayed a border scene where Americans were attempting to enter Mexico and an interaction between a Black man and white woman on the street.
After the performances, performing arts teacher Mark Vanderzee opened up the floor for a discussion with the question, “To what degree and in what ways does your racial identity influence the way you perceived the performance?”
During the discussion, students shared their reactions to the scenes and takeaways from the block. Cast members revealed several factors they considered when writing the plays. For example, some of the performances included direct quotes from historical reports and characters, known as verbatim theatre.
Overall, the BETCo cast intended to challenge existing beliefs and stereotypes people held about race and ethnicity and drew from their own experiences when creating the plays.