in that vacuum, deep prejudices took root
"I went to a conservative Jewish middle school in the midst of the Second Intifada. I remember learning about suicide bombings in class and kids were very upset. I think the school did a good job helping young people cope with trauma (many had family in Israel) and tending to their emotional needs the day of attacks, but the broader curriculum failed to provide us with multiple political perspectives to help us make sense of what was happening. And in that vacuum, deep prejudices took root.
The school had the resources and talent to convey complex and fraught material with care: the Holocaust education program in particular helped me as a 7th grader unpack the nuances between religious- race- and political-based anti-Semitism in a region of the US where the Klan still demonstrated openly. But its repressive atmosphere around this particular issue (likely, in retrospect, bolstered by its conservative union-busting administration) instilled in me and my classmates a sense that the normal Jewish approaches to learning in the midst of deep conflict didn't apply.
I remember one particular incident from 6th grade most clearly. We were in the middle of Hebrew Language class when the teacher departed from her usual lesson to tell us about the wall Israel was building. The wall would keep "The Palestinians" from committing terrorist attacks against Israelis. The wall was tall and made with concrete and barbed wire so that they couldn't climb over it. Everyone was quiet and listening to her talk. At one point, I raised my hand and asked "but what about the settlements?". The entire class stopped and looked at me. The teacher glared, said nothing, and then continued with her lecture as if nothing had happened.
I had no idea what a settlement even was. I learned the word on the radio. I asked the question because the Labor-Zionist youth group I participated in after school and in the summers taught me that "what about the settlements?" is a question that some people ask in response to learning about the wall, so I decided to ask it. Instead of learning what a settlement was, I learned that there was information our community was too afraid to even consider, and that made me confused and a little scared, too.
A few weeks later, my Jewish history teacher pulled down a map of the middle east and pointed to a picture of Israel and the Golan heights. The dotted border between Israel and the Golan was labelled "unilaterally annexed by Israel". The teacher taught us that "unilateral" meant one-sided (like a "lateral" football pass). She explained that the rest of the world sees all of Israel's actions as one-sided, but that Israel annexed the Golan because the Arabs were firing rockets down on Israeli kibbutzim. I remember writing "Dirty Arab Pigs" in my assignment notebook and passing it to my friend who sat behind me and we both laughed." -Sarah, Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit