By AVERI KAPLOWITCH and OLIVIA SCHAUER
“She and all her weird Jewish friends” … Olivia
“Is he going to Israel for Christmas vacation?”… Averi
“Is the name of your summer camp Auschwitz?”… Olivia
“Do you live in little Israel?”… Averi
“You go to sleep-away camp, you must be Jewish” … Olivia
“I didn’t think Jews were allowed to go trick or treating” … Averi
These are a few of the questions and comments Olivia and I have heard over the years, sometimes from friends and sometimes from strangers. While these comments struck a chord in us, we never repeated them to anyone, other than to our parents. We didn’t think our friends had any idea that what they were saying was hurtful or offensive. We let it go because we didn’t want to cause waves.
Lately, however, we have noticed that these comments are happening more often and the kids who are saying them are now older, more mature, and should know better.
A few days before Christmas vacation, I (Olivia) was faced with a very difficult situation. I came across a disturbing picture on social media. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things correctly. WAS THAT A SWASTIKA … made out of pennies? Why was someone using materials for a chemistry lab to make this vicious symbol of hate? Why would an anti-Semitic image be posted on a site I use every day? Additionally, how could someone I considered a friend post it? And why was another friend of mine in the picture with this symbol on a chemistry lab tray in front of him? I was both confused and uncomfortable.
I showed the picture to my friend Averi. She was appalled. We were both scared and initially hesitant to get involved. Although we did nothing wrong, we feared we would be blamed and be considered “the school snitches.” We were quickly reminded that as Jewish girls, we could not sit back. We had to speak up. We had a responsibility to make others understand why this act was so hurtful.
Olivia and I (Averi) pondered how we could make a difference at Marblehead High School and in our community. Our parents suggested we contact the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and ask them about bringing in a program that would teach diversity to the entire student body. Our school principal introduced us to Team Harmony, a club which focuses on promoting a harmonious school climate. Students work with other students to teach acceptance and equality. We learned the ADL had a program called A World of Difference.
Averi and I researched The World of Difference program. This program trains faculty and students about how to deal with issues of discrimination of all types. Armed with the training, students will be well-equipped to educate their peers. While the program seemed ideal, we ran into one problem, funding! There simply wasn’t enough funding to cover the cost of the program. Our parents, members of the community, local businesses and the Marblehead High School PCO came together to raise over $7,000 in a matter of a few weeks. Our dream would become a reality!
With the ongoing support of Marblehead School Superintendent Maryann Perry, the Marblehead Police Department, Principal Dan Bauer and Team Harmony Advisors, Meredith Reardon and Candice Sliney, Olivia and I were able to bring the ADL to Marblehead High School. The ADL came to MHS in September of 2016 to kick off The World of Difference Program.
Team Harmony’s two advisors attended a training during the summer and 30 students from MHS received an intense training on three Sundays in October. Team Harmony is now using their newly acquired skills to educate other students at Marblehead High School. Averi and I are optimistic that something good would come out of this terrible experience. Since December of 2015, our community has encountered additional acts of anti-Semitism and bias. Swastikas have been found in classrooms, on basketball courts, on bleachers, windows and sidewalks in neighboring towns as well. Unfortunately, we continue to hear more anti-Semitic and bias remarks, both in our community and in other communities throughout the Commonwealth.
Olivia and I believe it was our duty to stand up for our values, speak up against those who are against us, and speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism and hate.
Most importantly, Averi and I hope that by addressing these issues and taking action, other people will learn from us and become less afraid to speak up for what is right. The two of us have and will continue to make a world of difference in our community and the world. We will continue to fight against all forms of discrimination!
Olivia Schauer and Averi Kaplowitch are Marblehead High School juniors.