“You reap what you sow.”
That was my first thought as I read about the Purim Shpiel video that was produced by seniors at the Ulpanat Chorev and sent shock waves through many Israeli communities.
But is it really so surprising?
The shock at the racist video, which portrays “the other,” in this case Mizrachi Jews, as rude and ignorant should come as no surprise to anyone who has had even the most fleeting contact with religious communities in Israel and their education systems. Many of these institutions would be horrified to hear themselves labeled as “racist,” but the sad reality is that institutional leadership is often unaware of the racism that they, at worst, are perpetrating themselves and, at best, are perpetuating.
Racism is racism. It is irrelevant whether it is directed at Jews originating from other countries, Arabs, or anyone not part of your own ethnic identity.
Once racism of one form becomes acceptable and even encouraged then there should be no surprise that it becomes acceptable in other forms or across other communities too.
Arye Deri expressed horror about the video from the Ulpana and how sad he was that Jews should think about each other in this way. This is ironic since Deri’s own Shas party has engaged in anti-Russian racism in their electoral campaigns for several years. Shas campaigns have utilized both subtle and overt racism to garner support. Once racist rhetoric becomes acceptable in a society, it is possible that it will then be used against your own community.
My daughter’s National Religious school has a dress code for students which includes wearing skirts that come below the knee. Girls whose skirts do not meet this requirement have been called by faculty and administrators “shiksa,” a highly offensive term for a non-Jewish female. Is it really any surprise that girls growing up in this environment then think that using racist language and stereotypes is okay? The racist statements of some of the political and spiritual leaders of the National Religious movement are well-documented, and yet there seems to have been a total obliviousness of what impact their words would have on the children growing up in the community.
The good news is, I believe we can work towards fixing this. Here are three simple yet powerful starting steps.
- Acknowledge racism where it exists. Point it out to your children. Define it. Explore it. Analyze it. Ask your children to think of examples of racism that they have seen or experienced. Talk about it, and then talk about how society could handle those situations differently.
2. Expose our children to people who are different from ourselves in authentic and meaningful ways. I am not talking about hiring people to work for us in ways that may confirm kids stereotypes but finding genuine avenues for interaction and collaboration. A sports team for example made up of religious and secular kids or a joint school activity between a Jewish and Arab school.
3. Teach by personal example. Children and teenagers are keen observers of the adults around them and learn so much from their speech and behavior. Let’s model tolerance and celebrate diversity in our homes, schools and society in general. If as a society we are serious about ending racism of all kinds then we must do a better job of setting an example to the younger generations that all racism is bad and not just select forms of it.
We all know that this is not a “simple-fix.” But if we all do our part, we will be well on our way to sowing and subsequently reaping constructive and positive societal change.