Holly Goldberg: Standing up for Judaism

Current events have illuminated how our culture has become complacent with outdated, non-inclusive policies and practices that marginalize minorities. Unfortunately, as a result most of us have faced unintentional as well as explicit forms of antisemitism.  Being Jewish requires a refined inner grace to know when to not take things personally and when to speak up against antiquated systems that perpetuate hostility, prejudice, and exclusion. This is what brings me to share the following story.

Third grade started a little bumpy when a school event was scheduled on Yom Kippur. I sighed when I saw the email notification hoping I misread it. I then took a deep breath and reminded myself that the world does not stop for our high holidays and most people are unaware of their significance. The recent emails from the school district proclaiming its commitment to inclusivity, awareness, and sensitivity to its diverse student population felt empty as Jewish students were eclipsed (hopefully unintentionally) on this occasion.

Like any good Jewish mother, I brought my concerns about this event to the school principal. I was eventually reassured that the school intends for all students and their families to feel included and represented. Although the event was rescheduled, my questions were left unanswered about the accountability systems that are in place and/or needed to be established to support the district’s commitment to building awareness, inclusivity, and respect.

Fast forward through numerous emails and conversations with the school board and assistant superintendent about the district’s role in building a more inclusive culture that breaks down unkind habits that marginalize minorities. Through these discussions it became clear to the district’s decision makers that the staff position responsible for accountability had long been vacated.

Then, compounding an already disturbing situation, my nine year old daughter experienced her first encounter with antisemitism at school. My heart broke and my blood boiled. Unfortunately, her teacher’s response leaned more towards being dismissive than reparative or inclusive. This was not alright with me.

First, I doubled down on empowering my daughter about her Jewish roots to make sure she felt proud of who she is despite outside input.

Next, I leaned on our CBB community who showed up, as always, with mountains of support and resources. I educated myself about successful and inviting ways to create partnerships within the school setting that address this kind of challenge. I then teamed up with Edjudaica in an effort to build awareness by distributing Hanukkah kits to every class at my daughter’s school and throughout the district. I continued my long-term strategies of working with the assistant superintendent. I kept encouraging the district to evaluate and improve the culture and curriculum into a more safe, inclusive, and respectful environment, and to examine their policies and professional education opportunities.

After multiple meetings and tirelessly following up, the school district approved the 2022-2023 school calendar with the inclusion of Yom Kippur as a day off for everyone! In addition, a black out date calendar was created that provided school sites with an overview of numerous holidays and occasions with clear expectations that prevent scheduling of events on those days. This translates into no more school pictures scheduled on Rosh Hashana, for example. Additionally, a multicultural resource list on the district’s website is in the process of being created to build community awareness. Lastly, the district reassigned two staff positions to ensure that all school personnel are informed and held accountable to supporting cultural awareness, sensitivity, and inclusion in an equitable way.

I hope my daughter has learned from my actions and the response from the school district that it is never alright to put anyone down for being different and that nothing changes when we remain silent.

Since this shift is for only one school district within our larger community, this is just the beginning. It is my hope that the foundation has been established for a more supportive and inclusive educational environment for all districts to emulate. If children are encouraged to learn about and respect the cultures and practices of others at school, it will create a positive rippling effect throughout our community and beyond.

Holly Goldberg, PhD manages community systems change initiatives and evaluation projects aimed at improving outcomes for children and childbearing families. She is a published researcher and subject matter expert with nearly two decades of experience in the fields of maternity care and early child development.