November 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Anti-Semitism is Alive and Well in My Town

 

Recently the New York Times posted this article about an anti-semitism lawsuit in my town.

I moved to Small Town America from California twelve years ago. I wanted my children to be surrounded by nature, to feel the embrace of a small town, to grow up a little slower. Pine Bush, New York seemed the perfect spot. Idyllic and peaceful, the town was dotted with old farmhouses and barns, had one stop light (we have two now), and a volunteer fire department.

I was shocked when, on the way to a district PTA meeting, the elementary school principal informed me that Pine Bush had once been a hot spot for the KKK. Looking around at all the natural beauty, it was hard to believe, though I’m not sure why since one clearly has nothing to do with the other.

My first personal brush with racism came at a Little League game. I was talking to one of the mothers and she made reference to the fact that her son was teased, “You know, because of his last name.” When it became clear that I had no idea what she was talking about she repeated the name and lowered her voice, “Because it’s Hispanic.” I couldn’t have been more shocked. Coming from Southern California, where most classrooms are filled with equal parts Caucasian, African-American, Indian, Asian and Hispanic students, I just didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until my kids got older that I started hearing rumbles of anti-semitism. My children had friends who had coins thrown at them, were peppered with racial slurs, even beaten. One day in middle school, my daughter was sitting in study hall when the subject of an upcoming Jewish holiday came up. One of the kids complained, wondering why the district gave them a day off for a JEWISH holiday. My daughter spoke up, trying to explain that in the same way some holidays are important family times for us, Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur are important to Jewish families. And while my daughter wasn’t surprised when the child in question didn’t get it, she was surprised to hear the teacher mutter, “Stupid Jews.”

My daughter is a girl who, as the youngest of four children with two older brothers, HATES to cry. If she fell down as a child and really hurt herself, she’d stand up, brush herself off with tears in her eyes, and say, “I’m okay, I’m okay.”

But she cried when she told me about the incident with her teacher. I don’t think she could understand how a grown-up, a TEACHER, could be so full of hate. So we talked about it and I offered to go to the principal but also suggested it might make her feel good to do it herself. I gave her the choice and she decided to speak to the principal herself. She was told he would “take care of it”, but the next day when she walked into class, the same teacher was manning the study hall desk. Uncomfortable with the situation, my daughter moved to the back of the room only to hear the teacher say, snidely and loud enough for everyone to hear, “I guess I’ve made X uncomfortable now.”

Just last week my son stood by while a student went on a hate-filled rant about how much he “hates Jews” — in full view and earshot of a teacher who said and did nothing.

So you see why I was unsurprised to hear that a lawsuit had been filed on behalf of multiple Jewish families in Pine Bush and even less surprised to hear the claims of innocence on the part of the district and its administrators. There is a culture of silence and solidarity in small towns, even when it is undeserved.

I like to think I’ve raised my children to be champions of right, whatever that may be in any given situation. I like to think I’ve taught them not to follow my ideals and opinions but to form ideals and opinions of their own. They have spoken up when the situation called for it, they’ve intervened in bullying when they’ve been witness to it, engaged in heated classroom debates where they were, quite literally, the only one speaking for the side of equality, fairness and acceptance.

But it can feel like an uphill battle, even for me. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be them, and I CAN’T imagine how difficult it must be for those who are made targets every day because of their race or religion.

What makes me the saddest in this whole situation is the number of people in Pine Bush denouncing the allegations as lies, calling the lawsuit a “money grab” (this one was used by the Superintendent of Schools). There are 3,500 pages of deposition supporting these claims, and yet very few in our community are even asking questions, even waiting to hear the evidence. Instead the same people who have suffered for years are suffering again. Like me, many of them believed that people just didn’t KNOW. Once everyone finds out, they’ll feel bad about it, right? They’ll want it to change.

Turns out the answer, largely, is no.

People want things to stay the same. The don’t want to challenge their view of the world — and they sure as hell don’t want their kids challenging it. So instead of asking questions, instead of using this as a teaching moment for our children, instead of saying, “I know how much you love this town and the people in it, so do I, but don’t you think we should wait and see the evidence before we take a side? Don’t you think a more measured response than blind denial would be to admit that anything is possible? And that if this has been happening, it’s horrible and wrong and needs to be addressed? Don’t you think the town we love will be BETTER if we find out the truth and address any problems that might exist?” Instead of saying all of that, many parents are saying, “All lies! This is a great town! Discrimination happens everywhere! African americans are discriminated in the district, too! It’s all about money!”

The arguments are illogical at best. All lies? How do you know? Were you there during every incident cited in the 3,500 pages of sworn testimony? This is a great town! Why yes. Yes, it is. But like all great things, there is always room for improvement. Discrimination happens everywhere? Irrelevant to the issue at hand. You’ve never seen it? Again irrelevant and also illogical. I’m assuming you don’t see most of the things that occur in the world, since it’s a very big place. That doesn’t mean they’re not happening out of your line of sight. African americans are discriminated against in the district, too? They definitely are. Let’s talk about that, too. It’s all about money? False. These allegations were brought to the district countless times and nothing was done to address them. In one email, the Superintendent told a parent that trying to change the prejudice of the community “might be a bit unrealistic.” Nothing was done. The parents had to do something to protect their children.

NOW things are getting done.

Do I think it’s some big conspiracy against jewish people in Pine Bush? I don’t. I think people get complacent and lazy in their jobs. I think it is difficult to call parents on the carpet for the behavior of their children when you volunteer side by side in the local fire department with said parents, when you cookout with them on weekends, when you are friends. I think it’s sometimes easier to look the other way, to pretend something isn’t a big deal when it is, in fact, a very big deal. To hope it will go away, solve itself. I think hearing the complaints of parents day in and day out gets old. I think after awhile, it ALL seems like no big deal.

But that’s no excuse. While we might not be able to change the prejudice taught at home, we CAN hold students to a certain standard of conduct at school. I think the answer is quite simple, and had it been instituted from the beginning, I don’t think we’d be here now;

So let’s institute a Zero Tolerance policy against hate speech and acts of hate on school grounds and buses. Even the law recognizes the difference between hate crimes and other crimes. We have Zero Tolerance policies for weapons and drug possession (students aren’t even allowed to carry aspirin without a note from their doctor). This is just as important. Consequences should be clearly laid out and consistently adhered to. I would go so far as to say this includes use of the word “nigger” (spoken by both African American student and white students, sometimes in jest) and bitch (spoken both in jest and as a derogatory term). True, the first month you’ll have a shit-ton of kids in detention and ISS. But you know what? They will learn, and YOU WILL BE DOING THEM A FAVOR. Because in the real world, you just can’t say anything you want without repercussions. There are consequences to both your actions and your speech. Might as well learn that now. We will all be better for it, and I for one would enjoy visiting the school more if I didn’t hear “nigger” and “bitch” being shouted throughout the hallways. In addition, any acts of physical bullying should be treated and punished as such, also with a Zero Tolerance policy.

To my fellow parents in Pine Bush, please take a step back and think about what your words and actions are teaching your children at this critical moment. If you are blindly defending the district and the people involved, you are missing out on an important opportunity to teach your children to empathize with others and to THINK. To question the things that are told to them by others. TO FORM THEIR OWN OPINIONS (even if it means they differ from yours). If the immorality of denouncing a victim isn’t enough to sway you, DO IT FOR YOUR CHILDREN. They will not be productive members of today’s very fast moving, global and increasingly enlightened society if they don’t have the ability to think for themselves and form opinions and if they don’t have the ability to express those opinions in respectful, non-inflammatory ways. Take a look at the things your kids are posting on Facebook and Twitter. Listen to what they are saying to their friends. Can you imagine your children engaging in this kind of reactionary, knee-jerk, and completely-not-based-on-fact debate in a place of business? In politics? In a place of higher learning with peers who have done their homework?

Neither can I.

If we handle this right, our town will be better for these changes. Nothing can survive and flourish if it doesn’t evolve. Plants, animals, people, and yes, even small towns. To survive, we must be willing to change. To change, we must be willing to admit that we can do better.

I hope this will bring about some kind of sea change. Because the thing is; I get it. I understand that these kids are being raised with their parent’s values and that their parent’s were raised with THEIR parent’s values. I understand that there is only so much a teacher or administrator can do.

But at the very least, we CAN hold ALL students to a certain code of conduct on schools and buses. We CAN model good behavior by denouncing ANY act of prejudice or discrimination, even when it comes from those we know and care about in our community. We CAN have a measured response such as, “I don’t know if these allegations are true, but if they are, they need to be addressed, don’t you think?” We CAN let our children think for themselves by asking what they think and encouraging them to look at every possibility and every point of view.

Because there are worse things than admitting we have a problem — and knowing we have a problem but choosing to look the other way is at the top of the list.

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66 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism is Alive and Well in My Town

  1. annieonymous says:

    Can you bleep out the slurs you’ve used in this post? People under stand the n-word and the b-word without seeing them spelled out for shock value, which is part of why kids like to use slurs in their bullying…

    1. MichelleZink says:

      No, I will not. Those are the words that are being used, and we are well past my contributing to any “shock value.” Walk the halls of any public high school in America and you’ll see what I mean. I am using them in this case to combat their everyday use.

      1. Lucinda Rosen says:

        BRAVO

      2. Don’t bleep the words it gives them power.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          Agreed, Ceara. They are what they are.

        2. annieonymous says:

          No, the history and meanings of the words and the power ascribed to them by that history is what continues their harmful tradition every time — every time, regardless of the reason — they are used.

          1. MichelleZink says:

            I fundamentally disagree. As a writer, I censor nothing. These are the words that are being used and I’ll not shy away from saying so. Feel free to discontinue reading if you’re offended.

      3. annieonymous says:

        Continuing the usage of a word to combat its usage is fundamentally flawed, and offensive, logic.

  2. I would give almost anything never to hear any of those words again. ANY of them.

    Beautifully written, Michelle!

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Thanks, Tammy. You’re my hero in terms of speaking out against injustice.
      <3

  3. Jessica says:

    Very well put Michelle. Your kids are wonderful people. You should be proud of them and their beliefs. Its sad when people blindly deny what is happening. Here’s hoping the full truth will come out!

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Thank you, Jessica.
      <3

  4. Christina says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I love this! It’s very well written and very true. I grew up in a small town in Newfoundland Canada, I know what it’s like to have these slurs and such prejudice in schools. In my younger years my friends were homosexuals, people of color, different race and religions. And everyday they would get picked on, called names that I didn’t like, and I’m sure my friends did not like, but I was brought up in a home where you didn’t use words like The “N” word or “B” word, and you surely did not dislike someone because of race, or religion, or how much money they had/didn’t have. We liked/disliked people because of how they treat you, how they make you feel, and if they were a good person nothing else mattered. I got picked on for helping my friends a lot, mostly by students, once I got detention for helping a Jewish Girl find her money pouch during recess, because I missed the bell. I think your kids are very strong caring people, with strong moral values. Because I’ve been through such things myself, and always tried to do the right thing, your family are definitely my heroes. And I think the non-sense of judge mental behaviors should be stopped at first signs, we have evolved way to much to be giving in to these mid evil ways.
    ~Christina ~

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Absolutely, Christina! Thanks for reading.
      <3

  5. Stephanie Berlin says:

    Very very well said!! Michelle, this is a beautifully written blog post reflecting everything most people are thinking about this horrible topic.

    Having to watch the people closest to me being bullied, including my own beautiful little sister, is the worst thing I have ever experienced and I don’t wish that pain on anyone. It is so hard to hear these kids say the things that they say and think it is completely fine. One high school student threatened my sister’s life, but still went on to collect a huge scholarship at his school of choice. It was disgusting, and humiliating for my sister who only did the right thing all the time and was being shunned for a good decision.

    Bullying is happening all over the world. Kids, CHILDREN, are taking their lives. Without the support my family gave my sister, I can honestly say I have no idea what would have happened.

    I want to thank you for this. It’s nice to know there are good people in this world who know right from wrong.

    P.S Miss you all so very much <3

    1. MichelleZink says:

      I heard about that, Stephanie, and I’m very sorry she had to endure it. It’s just incredibly frustrating to know that there are 3,500 pages of testimony supporting these allegations (and people like you and I who have seen it first hand) and yet the majority of people in the town have denounced them as lies (without even having access to them). They don’t want the truth if it challenges their current world or community view. And the fact that the so-called vigil tonight was called a “Unity Rally” is despicable since many of the people in attendance tweeted and Facebook posted that is was to “support the town against these lies.”

      Meaning not a Unity Rally at all, but just another way to ignore and/or shame the victims.

      We can be better than this.

      Miss you, too!
      <3

  6. Lucinda Rosen says:

    Michelle it is with my warmest thanks that someone in our district gets it. This is not a conspiracy. Children have been terribly wronged and harmed to a great extent emotionally as well as physically. I looked at some of the comments to the towns posting on facebook and again I feel the pain of denial as well as ignorance. Every parent has an American right to have thier children go to public school and learn in a safe nurturing environment. Its every americans right! These children are still suffering from the daily onslaught of insidious persecution. Parents tried to do something but the old boy hush hush and winky winky that goes on in the district kept any real progress from happening.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      I agree completely. And it hurts my heart to think of these kids, who have already suffered so much, now having to hear the blind denials, and worse, shoulder the blame for what some see as an effort to “make the town look bad.” As I said to a Pine Bush resident on Twitter tonight, it’s not the fact that a light has been shined on this behavior that makes the town look bad. It’s the behavior itself. I suggest if citizens in the town want to blame someone, they look to the adults who have allowed this behavior to go unchecked — both parents who have not taught their children acceptance and empathy and the educators responsible for fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment who have not done so. The illogical blame of the victims is something I might understand from children, but it is with deep disappointment that I see it from adults in the district.

  7. Beth Hyman says:

    Very well written! We moved up here from outside NYC almost 11 yrs ago. I was so struck by the commonplace use of racial slurs. The Times article did not surprise me in the least. Found it interesting many were hoisting signs abt Bloomingburg issue at this so called unity get together in PB. What does a Hasidic development have to do with it? Curious indeed

    1. MichelleZink says:

      I’ve been thinking the same thing, Beth. As with so many of the local commentary, the connection between the Bloomingburg issue and this one is illogical and irrational at best. What does a lawsuit filed years ago by three Jewish families alleging discrimination and bullying of their children have to do with a proposed Hasidic development one town over? The New York Times, one of the most respected newspapers in the world, has gone to the trouble of posting an article about the town’s Anti-Semitism to “get back” at the town for protesting a proposed development that would include a Hasidic school? What interest does the NYT have in the Bloomingburg development beyond a journalistic one? The answer is none. We’re deep into paranoid conspiracy theory territory here. And if there is enough of a connection there to form a conspiracy theory, there’s at least as much to make you wonder if certain elements in Pine Bush are using the Bloomingburg issue as a smokescreen for what’s happened here.

      1. B G 1967 says:

        Please note that the photo that accompanied the unity rally article was from a COMPLETELY different event in a different town on a different day. I
        called the Record to complain but nothing was done. Just clarifying.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          Seriously? I was not aware of that, but somehow I’m not surprised. “Journalism,” eh?

          Thanks for passing this along.

  8. Les says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’d like to add a little of my own personal experience.

    More than fifty years ago, I attended junior and senior high school at nearby Wallkill. From sixth through tenth grades I was bullied frequently, clearly because I was an above-average student, small and Jewish. The bullies were a gang of much larger boys, namely the football, baseball and basketball jocks. I was often taunted with slurs of “jewboy”, “jew bastard” and “Christ-killer” among others, as they slapped, punched and kicked me. Several times, I was forced to the floor at the back of a school bus and had the sole of someone’s shoe ground in my face. One night I came home so severely beaten that I couldn’t move my left arm. I finally broke down and tearfully told my father what had been happening.

    The following day, my Dad confronted the Principal. The Principal was incensed that this student behavior had been happening in his school, and apologized for not being aware of it. He promptly investigated the allegations, found them to be true, and expelled six seniors just prior to graduation. Thus, the bullying episodes finally ended for me. Looking back, I feel that the Principal’s response was commendable, but local attitudes and prejudices did not change.

    Pine Bush school administrator Steinberg called the accusations (i.e., 3,500 pages of deposition) “baseless allegations”. What a slap in the face of truth! I have no doubt regarding the veracity of the allegations, as I have heard several of these accounts first-hand. Growing up in this part of New York State and reflecting on my own experiences as a “target” in the public school system, is proof that even after all this time, ethnic and religious prejudice and bullying have not subsided. They are still very much alive and flourishing in Pine Bush.

    If Mr. Steinberg says that there is no prejudice-based bullying in Pine Bush, he is either blind or outright disingenuous. Mr. Steinberg, teaching ethnic diversity and offering a course dealing with the Holocaust may be a step in the right direction, but these do not absolve a school administration of its primary duty to protect its students. Personally, I can tell you that prejudice and bullying leave a permanent and indelible scar on the victim.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Les. I’m very sorry you had to endure such hateful treatment but am glad you had a principal willing to take action. I think that’s all the parents were looking for here, to be told by someone in authority, “This is not okay and we’re going to do something about it.” It is an unspeakable wrong when those entrusted with the care and safety of our children show blatant disregard for them. That wrong must be righted — however we do it and however long it takes. I do hope it doesn’t take another fifty years.
      <3

  9. Bridget says:

    Michelle, I am so glad that I found this writing of yours! I know three of the kids out of the 5 and my heart breaks for them all. Seems like once the story broke in the NYT it was just a free for all for most PB to band together and demoralize these families again by saying “not in our town”, “we’re Jewish, never heard of such a thing going on”… My children, like yours were taught the proper things about life and doing the right thing. My youngest child of six was/is very good friends with these kids who were being bullied. They started kindergarten together, played tee ball, went to the dinner dance, proms, sleepovers and graduation and are still great friends. My son endured sitting through a 4 hour questioning by lawyers from both sides, he was served papers and he was scared but he did it…because he, like his Jewish friends are “champions”! Thank you for putting into words what some of us can’t. Namaste…

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Bridget! So happy we found each other. It sounds as if we have a lot in common. Although it seems we’re in the minority, I’m so glad to know there is someone out there who is on the side of RIGHT. Because while many things may be gray, some things ARE black and white. I was saddened that the so-called Unity Rally wasn’t what it should have been; an Anti-Discrimination Rally in which the whole town put its arms around these families and said, “No more.”

      I hope we get to meet in person someday. If you’d ever like to talk, my personal email is zinkpb at aol dot com (spelled out so the bots don’t find me!).

      Namaste!
      <3

  10. Les says:

    If anyone doubts the blatant anti-semitism in Pine Bush, just read some of the responses denying the allegations. Talk about ignorant self-incrimination!!!

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Right? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

      1. cindy says:

        It’s so sad that these children are being attacked again. These adults have no idea what damage they are causing. My son went to school today and sure enough they want all to wear colors of Pine Bush in solidarity that this is utter nonsense. Are they kidding! What an insult!

        1. MichelleZink says:

          I thought the same thing, Cindy. All I hear is “support the schools” and “support the town.” What about supporting the victims?! I’m spitting mad and I don’t know what to do about it. One attendee of the “Unity Rally” over the weekend said townspeople feel “victimized.”

          Really? Really?!

          The kids and I thought about forming a TRUE solidarity/anti-discrimination rally, but we are sincerely worried we won’t have any support.

          How sad is that? I’m so disheartened for these families.
          🙁

  11. Mike says:

    As a child growing up in Plattekill,NY another small country town like Pine Bush, I was also bullied. Many of the families there had fathers who were low-class, uneducated, alcoholic, wife-beaters. So, the ‘apples didn’t fall far from the trees’, as the saying goes. Being Jewish, and having an obviously Jewish last name, was like having a bullseye on your back. And, like Les, who previously wrote, I was a weak, skinny kid, much smaller than the typical bullies. Well, I lived through it, but there were many, many days when I dreaded even going outside, not knowing who I was going to run into. And, having to go to school was even worse. I graduated top of my class when I finished at Plattekill, and later attended Washingtonville Junior and Senior High. Unfortunately, there were bullies there, as well. Seems like there’s always bullies. Miserable, hateful, ignorant bastards that lead miserable lives. And, it seems their main goal in life is to hurt others. And, as Les stated, the scars never heal. But, it’s some consolation knowing that they didn’t beat us down forever. We survived their onslaught to grow up being better people than them. Understanding, compassionate, and caring people.

  12. Mike says:

    And again, I thank you as well, Michelle. It takes courage to stand up for what you know is right. Too many wrongs are done every day in this screwed up world of ours. Maybe, we can prevent some of them.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      So very sorry for your experiences, Mike, but SO GLAD you made it through and clearly became a well-spoken, and compassionate person. Sometimes we do feel like we’re rowing upstream here, but I’m trying to teach my kids that it’s our duty to do what’s right, even when it’s hard.

      1. Mike says:

        Much thanks again Michelle. This on-going debate has spread like wildfire. I’m sure it’s the result of the NY Times and NYC TV stations reporting it. Anyway, you have an excellent forum, and obviously educated people following your site. So, I wanted to add something I feel is extremely important. It’s a recent reply I posted on FB. It’s something that I live with every day… BTW, my daughter Candy went to Pine Bush High School, had issues there, and dropped out. I’ll never know if she was subjected to the same type of abuse, because Candy was killed in a car accident 4 years ago this past August. Candy was texting while driving, and lost control of her vehicle. They’re finally passing strict laws against it, and enforcing the laws. I ask everyone to spread the word just how dangerous the use of handheld devices are while driving. It’s become the #1 killer on the road today. So, please drive safe, and let others know.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          Oh, Mike… I’m so very sorry for the loss of your daughter. I’m sure that is a wound that never heals. I’m happy to have your comment here and hope anyone reading it will keep this in mind when tempted to text while driving. Sending you love and light.
          <3

  13. David says:

    My brother is Jewish (as am I) and married someone from Pine Bush (not of the Jewish faith) lived there for apx. 20 years, raised his son there (who went to the Pine Bush school system K-12) and what is written here does not reflect their personal experience. I don’t doubt one word of the author, but while it speaks 100% accurately for the author’s experience and possibly many other people’s experiences it does not speak for all Jewish people who have lived in Pine Bush and how they were treated. And I am not saying that my brother and nephew were treated perfectly and without incident because of their religion, but nothing like what is being described. I have visited Pine Bush many times and always felt welcome.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      I’m glad you and your family have always felt welcome here. However, that has no bearing on whether or not others have suffered discrimination and whether or not school administrators suitably addressed that discrimination. If everyone took a step back and focused on the matter at hand – not whether Pine Bush is a nice place to live, whether “these things happen in other places, too,” or whether they have or have not personally witnessed or been subjected to discrimination here – we might actually get somewhere.

      The only questions that matter are these; Did these families suffer severe discrimination and/or bullying at school because of their religion? If so, did the district assertively address these problems?

      That’s it. I think it’s clear from the 3,500 pages of testimony (and firsthand experience of people like us) that there is at least enough evidence to consider the possibility.

      1. David says:

        What you are saying is of course true, however, broader and alternate perspectives are always helpful especially to those people who are reading this and have no other knowledge and experience of Pine Bush.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          The problem is that when people say, “I haven’t seen it,” it allows residents to believe the problem doesn’t exist. I HAVE seen it, and I’m not Jewish. My children HAVE seen it, and they’re not Jewish. Several friends who are not even Jewish have seen it, in addition to the Jewish families who have been subjected to it. Again, there are 3,500 pages of testimony. Huddling around Pine Bush with our arms linked in denial isn’t going to solve the root problem of prejudice and inaction that exists here. Let’s just admit that if there is 3,500 pages of testimony, if people like me have seen it, there very well maybe a problem. THEN we can move onto fixing it.

          The saddest thing of all is how very few people I have heard (or seen on social networking sites) say, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you and that you feel unwelcome here. How can we fix this?”

          Is that so hard?

  14. Danie says:

    I lived in Bloomingburg and went through the PB school system. I don’t live there anymore, I moved away after I graduated in 2008. But I love that town. It’s the place where I grew up, where I had my first boyfriend (and subsequently my first heartbreak, lol). It’s the place where I met the best friends that I consider my family. Growing up there shaped who I am and made me into the person I am today. It’s a beautiful town, and I miss it every day. If NY wasn’t so crazy expensive to live in, I’d still be there.

    But bullying has always been an issue in Pine Bush. Not just towards Jewish kids, or African American kids, or GLBT kids. To all kids. And in many cases, the principals/teachers did nothing, even when it was brought to their attention multiple times. I’m lucky. I was born to two incredible parents who taught me that it doesn’t matter what other people say about you. As a result, I never paid much attention to the jokes that were made about me. I have friends who did though. In one case, I was standing outside with a friend of mine during lunch, when another student came up and punched him in the stomach. My friend walked away and went back inside, and the other student followed him to his class. When it was brought to a teacher’s attention, there was nothing done about it.

    My point being, bullying in general is an issue in Pine Bush. We say we have a “zero-tolerance” policy, but in the years I was in the school district (from 1st grade to third, and then from 5th grade on), I never saw it. Bullies would get a slap on the wrist, and a “don’t do it again”. But when they would inevitably start it all over, nothing would happen. Pine Bush needs to have a stricter punishment set in place. Or better yet, ACTUALLY have a zero-tolerance policy.

    I love Pine Bush, I always will. But I don’t think the school system is innocent in this at all.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      You have given beautiful voice to my feelings, Danie. The fact that the punishments in the high school for smoking and leaving campus are more severe than those for bullying speaks volumes about the culture. I hope this will change it.
      <3

    2. MichelleZink says:

      Also, I’m sorry you suffered, but you sound like a wonderful human being who took lousy circumstances and turned them into a positive learning experience. Let’s hope someday no kid has to do that.
      <3

  15. David says:

    I have in every post accepted everything you have said as being the truth and as you keep pointing out there are 3,500 pages of testimony to corroborate everything you are saying. I hope this situation is remedied and taken care of as it should be. You and everybody else involved are doing something very important for Pine Bush and setting a commendable (and not often duplicated) example for all of us.

    In a quieter moment you may come to appreciate why I have taken the time to give a bit of a different view of Pine Bush. My posts are relevant and worthy of consideration for anyone looking for a slightly larger picture of Pine Bush the town.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      I do appreciate your view of Pine Bush, and thankfully, you’re not the only one to give it. I hope this means people will see that not everyone in Pine Bush is discriminatory, because I certainly don’t believe that. I do believe, however, that repeated cries of “I’ve never seen it” take away from the important issue at hand, which is whether these children were bullied due to their religion and whether the district did enough to protect them.

      Frankly, I’m not very concerned with how the town looks in the face of these allegations. I’m concerned about the victims. I just wish more people felt the same, because while there have been repeated refrains of, “Support the town!” Very, very few are talking about supporting the victims. And that is shocking to me in 2013.

  16. Michael - Chicago. Illinois says:

    Hello Michelle, I had just got an e mail from my favorite Jewish site, AISH.com. that has an article of what the poor children of your town have been enduring. I left a comment and will repeat a little of it here.
    I had to read the article twice to make sure what I was reading was not something that happened in Europe in the 1930′-1940′. I retired from law enforcement and could not believe that local and federal LE has not taken an active criminal investigative role in this blatant and continuous hate crime.
    My heart breaks for what these poor children have endured. The parents of the offending children will have to answer to the Almighty one day. I wish I lived near by your community for I would stand with all the good people of your town for change.
    I am sure the vast majority of Gentiles in your town and surrounding areas are truly livid of the hateful actions of these children.
    May G-d bless all the people of your town and may they find peace in their hearts.
    PS- I am glad I looked for other articles of this and found your site and great article.
    M

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Michael, thanks so much for your email. I do believe that a majority of people here in Pine Bush are tolerant and accepting of other races and religions. However, that does not mean these acts haven’t occurred not that they shouldn’t be addressed. I just came back from a school board meeting with my teenagers in which we spoke out against the discrimination and urged parents to model good behavior for their children by refraining from blind denial that this exists in our community and instead focusing on changing it and embracing the families who don’t feel welcome here. Will it do any good? I truly don’t know, but we’re doing what we can.
      <3

      1. Michael - Chicago says:

        Michelle – Thank you so kindly for your response. I hope all the community at the meeting took your words to heart. The town of Pine Bush just got noticed through out the nation ! The town is no longer an unknown small town in NY state.
        I sent the article out to many of my friends, coast to coast. I hope the “ADL”, Anti Defamation League take an active role in this. These Jewish children subjected to this hate have been hurt beyond words. They go to school everyday and their thoughts are not on their school work. What a fragile mental state to be subjected too !
        Michelle, please keep us readers of your blog current on this issue. My prayers are with these children affected and the entire community.
        One can see that anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe.
        The offending children and their parents should be given a tour of the Holocaust museum. Maybe that might wake them up to the horrors that Jews were subjected too.
        I being over 60 years of age, remember the Jews in Chicago that survived these horrors during the 30′ and 40′ in Europe. They always have had a special place in my heart.
        Thank you again Michelle for allowing my words to be written.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          Your words are always welcome here, Michael. And I agree with you about the Holocaust Museum. It remains a mystery to me why, when our eighth graders take their much-awaited trip to Washington DC every year, that museum is not on the itinerary.

          Be well.
          <3

  17. Mack says:

    Its great to see somebody local standing up for the victims; I’m pretty disgusted by the reactions of the people in Pine Bush. Seems like everybody is more concerned about how we look as a community, and the assumed connections w/ the Bloomingburg deal, as opposed to finding justice for these kids. Its the classic story – somebody in a small town faces adversity, tries to stand up for themselves, and the town turns against them. I guess many of my fellow PB’ers have no concept of learning from history. Regardless – great work!

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Thanks, Mack. We have to stand together for what’s right. Did you see the Record’s coverage of last night’s board meeting? No mention of the people (including myself) who stood up to say they had seen Anti-Semitism in the community and no mention of those who lobbed accusations of corruption in the school board. Interesting, yes?

  18. Mack says:

    Very interesting indeed. Its funny that PB is concerned with covering their behinds and looking good above everything else, when they are continually making themselves look like a selfish, cold hearted lot with their behavior in this situation. If Pine Bush is so concerned with being painted in such a negative fashion, perhaps they shouldn’t be calling victims of cruel bullying liars and political oppurtunists.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      My thoughts exactly, Mack. From strictly a business perspective, it would have been much smarter to issue a an immediate statement denouncing discrimination and promising swift and aggressive action against anyone seen taking part on school grounds. It would be nice if they it because it’s RIGHT, but in lieu of that, do it because it’s SMART. Now they just look mean AND stupid. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so horrified.

  19. Emily says:

    I live in NYC and have been following the news about Pine Bush with great interest. I was astounded to find your blog. I have so much respect for your efforts and courage in making such a powerful forum happen.

    I experienced similar antisemitic bullying in middle and high school while growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s, and I carry the experience with me to this day. It happened to me, and it happened to the Pine Bush residents who are reporting these incidents. When people start to mobilize their hate into action, something needs to be done. I am disturbed by those who grew up in Pine Bush and want to defend the town and it’s image at the expense of innocent children. People making public statements that the accusations cannot be true because they have never personally experienced or witnessed the bullying and violence, despite 3500 pages of testimony only empowers the perpetrators of these hateful acts. Residents of Pine Bush of all religious and ethnic backgrounds should unite and work together toward the common effort of directing a strong and unequivocal message to THE BULLIES.

    The students who stepped forward to speak up should be commended for their bravery, rather than disparaged for making a big deal out of nothing. My heart goes out to all the children who were attacked and their families. They are in my thoughts and prayers. Michelle, you are doing such a good deed for your children and your community. Through your blog you give unity and strength to those who live near and far. You are the angel of Pine Bush and beyond.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Emily… thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I’m sorry for what you had to endure in middle and high school. Something like that must stay with you forever, and the fact that we are dealing not only still with this kind of ignorance but with this level of denial is disturbing. Beyond that, it is damaging to both the victims who have already suffered and other children who know it is happening. Today my fourteen-year-old wrote on her Facebook wall; The fact that you are all still denying this scares me.

      It scares me, too.

      I’ll be posting again soon about the Board of Ed meeting we attended last night and the speech I gave there and about the speech given by an elderly gentleman who spoke eloquently about the damage hate symbols can have on children and their communities. Sadly, both of us received sparse applause while the crowd clapped encouragingly to those who praised the school board and urged them to “stay strong.”

      I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.

      1. Emily says:

        How amazing that you stood up and gave a speech. I wish that I could have heard you and the other gentleman. I will be following your blog to hear about updates. Your daughter is very brave to speak up, just like her mom. I admire both of you for your courage and am thankful for what you are doing. All my best.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          Thank you so much, Emily.
          <3

  20. Private says:

    I can not thank you enough for all you have written and all you are doing to defend these wonderful children.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      No thanks necessary. These are the times that define us.
      <3

  21. Les says:

    Thanks, Emily. It’s about time that we, the targets of racial and ethnic bullying, went public to strike back. Despite the denials of perpetrators, their supporters and the otherwise unconscious, our stories are painfully true. If we do not make our case and this issue fizzles and dies, Pine Bush, New York State and the USA will not have gained one iota in the battle to end discrimination, bullying and hate crimes. Our children and childrens’ children will be no safer in school than you were in the 70’s and no more protected than I was in the 50’s – innocent young victims of unjustified, anti-Semitic ignorance.

    While prejudicial public expression may be regarded by some as a First Amendment “right”, prejudice-based targeting of an individual is a violation of that individual’s civil rights. Although anti-Semitism is the specific current issue, here I would like to personally acknowledge and express empathy with other minority targets of discrimination. None of us – regardless of skin color, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation, whatever – should have to endure disrespect, intimidation, and physical and emotional abuse for our differences in a nation that claims equality for all. To paraphrase Lincoln’s 1858 definition of democracy: “As I would not be a [victim], so I would not be a [tormentor]. This expresses my idea of [America]. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no [America].”

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Very well said, Les. It remains a great sadness to me that the district couldn’t simply say, “We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our schools.” Instead, the first days of this controversy were filled with denials. They’ve said it now, but it’s hard to take comfort in it days (and years for these families and others like them) later.

      My hope is that this will be the wake up call the town needs to be a better version of itself going forward.

  22. Rob says:

    Wow all these years and diversity and still this happens. I am currently in South Korea for another week and wonder how this can be so close to where I live. I have seen and heard many of these statements from kids. Even my own. And I as a parent have corrected them. Due to the large use of these words by people that are African American Jewish Spanish etc. it feels at times a lost cause for those of trying to teach our kids acceptance. Having travelled a fair amount in my life I love to learn different cultures. I try to give this to my children. I can only say it’s a battle I wonder if we can ever win. But we must try.

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Absolutely, Rob. As a single parent to four kids (two are in college now), I know how difficult and time-consuming it can be. We have to be hyper-vigilant and ever-present, because often little thing manifest at odd times. I think a lot of parents are disconnected from their children and may not even be aware of how their kids think and respond in some of these situations. Sadly, some of the kids are learning this stuff FROM their parents. And that kind of indoctrination is a lot harder to remedy. Still, I see signs of change. When my nineteen-year-old daughter was a seventh grader at Crispell Middle School, she had a gay friend who was mercilessly teased. By the time he was a Senior in High School it was no big deal. I do believe we are entering a time of greater enlightenment. It’s just tough being on the forefront of that change.

      Thanks so much for your comment and safe travels home from South Korea.

  23. Susan says:

    The article, from what I could read of it, was very valuable. Wish I could share it, but the text (serif white text on black) is too hard on my eyes to finish reading. Just so you know, good web publishing standards advise displaying blocks of text in sans-serif for screen reading, and serif for paper reading, and in black on white, ideally.

    Here is a good site that displays the differences. I’m totally okay if you don’t publish this comment, because it’s really just meant for your (the author’s) eyes. If it’s republished more readably, I will absolutely share it around.

    http://www.a3webtech.com/index.php/best-fonts-onscreen.html

    1. MichelleZink says:

      Thanks, Susan!

      1. Jere says:

        Yes, thank you Susan for your comment about the readability of Michelle’s discussion here. I would like to finish reading it as well but am having difficulty for the same reasons you gave.

        1. MichelleZink says:

          My website will be undergoing renovations soon and I will definitely mention your comments to my designer. However, this isn’t something I will be able to fix myself anytime soon. Might I suggest you copy and paste the article into a Word or Pages document? Then you can make it a font more readable to you.

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