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The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Let’s talk about the tough issues

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: Opinions, Top Stories


While I was home in northern New Jersey for break, I was disturbed to see a few articles in The Star Ledger about anti-Semitic attacks on local synagogues.

On Dec. 11, swastikas, white supremacy symbols and the graffiti saying “Jews did 9/11” were painted on Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood, N.J.

On Dec. 20, swastikas were painted on Temple Beth El in Hackensack, N.J.

On Jan. 3, a fire was set using accelerant at Congregation K’Hal Adath Jeshuran in Paramus, N.J.

On Jan. 6, five Molotov cocktails were hurled through windows at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, N.J. This last attack was especially egregious as the synagogue’s rabbi and his family live above the temple; one of the Molotov cocktails was thrown through the rabbi’s bedroom window and he sustained minor injuries.

Of course, this happened in New Jersey and we are in Massachusetts. And I certainly do not need to tell you that anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues are wrong. So, why am I telling you about this?

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the reverend once said: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

I am telling you about these attacks because we need to talk about these things. We need to acknowledge them. If we ignore them or, as may be the case for many students at Brandeis, simply never learn about them, they will continue unchecked.

This is not confined to issues of anti-Semitism or, as Dr. King was talking about, racism; this involves all sorts of crimes and injustices.

This is one of the things I love about working for a newspaper. It gives me the ability to bring issues to the community’s attention that I feel are worthwhile issues. I always hope that the readers will use my articles, other Hoot articles and articles in other periodicals as jumping-off points, as the impetuses for thought and discussion.

These conversations are often uncomfortable, as they force people to examine their own beliefs and prejudices and as they force people to listen to beliefs and prejudices that may drastically differ from their own. This discomfort may be a sign that these conversations are so important.

In spring 2011 The Hoot did a three-part series on race at Brandeis titled “Shades of Gray” (April 8, 15, and 29), which incorporated interviews, surveys and admissions statistics to pinpoint what racial issues there are on our campus. We told our readers that there are many fewer black professors than there are white professors. We told our readers that many people admitted to spending time mainly with people of a similar racial background.

When The Hoot undertook this effort, a few people told us that we were just trying to make hoopla out of a non-issue, that we were rabble-rousing. Through their work on the series, the writers uncovered that race is an issue at Brandeis. Perhaps the discomfort that some people felt when hearing about the series was the first sign that the series was necessary.

Did The Hoot’s series on race change anything at Brandeis? I truly do not know. Perhaps in a few years, the future editors of The Hoot will decide to revisit the issue and will run another series on race that will talk about how these issues have changed.

The point is that the series fostered conversation and pushed some people to stop and wonder, “Do we have a race problem at Brandeis?” That is what matters. Conversation and acknowledgement are the first steps in fixing any social problems.

Of course, sometimes The Hoot’s articles do not foster the right conversations. Last semester I wrote a news article on the human sex trafficking trade in Israel after Rabbi Levi Lauer, an activist who works to help women forced into the sex trade in Israel, came to Brandeis to speak. The article, “Rabbi discusses human trafficking trade in Israel” (Sept. 16), became one of The Hoot’s most-read articles for the semester. At first I was really glad of this because I feel that the article addresses an important issue. My enthusiasm faded greatly, however, when I realized who was reading my article.

A lot of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and white supremacist websites have linked to my article. While the point of the article was that women are being forced into sex slavery in Israel, just like everywhere else in the world, and it needs to stop, these websites have been using my article as proof that Israel and Jews are evil.

I want my articles and the rest of The Hoot’s articles to shed light on issues about which we either care or should care and I want for the articles, if anything, to dispel hatred rather than increase it.

That being said, I certainly do not regret writing that article. I wish that it were being used differently and that everyone were getting the same meaning from it as I did, but they are not and there is nothing I can do about that. I still think the topic of sex slavery in Israel is important and I have to hope that enough of the right people will come across my article to make a difference.

All that being said, the most important thing is to keep talking about any issues that make you uncomfortable because only by talking about them can we resolve them. Keep the channels of communication open; sometimes it may end up like a game of broken telephone but that does not mean you should not try.

So, there have been several anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues in northern New Jersey. Discuss.