Opinion | Fighting Anti-Semitism One School Day at a Time

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sun streams into a classroom
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By Tina Isen Fox

It’s scary to be a Jew right now. So I’m proud to say that every day when I drive my son to school and drop him off at the front door, we’re both fighting anti-Semitism.

See, my son goes to a Jewish day school. Every day that my son walks through those doors, he is making a statement that Judaism matters, and that he, and all the other students and teachers there, won’t let anti-Semitism make them afraid.

But here’s the thing. If I were to return to school later that morning while classes were in session, I couldn’t just walk through the doors. In fact, not a single student can walk through the doors without wearing a photo-ID swipe card that allows him to enter the building through buzzer access at the door. No security swipe card, no getting into classes.

Did I mention that at morning drop-off an armed security guard is standing outside the entrance? That’s in addition to the school’s regular security guard. The same thing happens at after school pickup. A different security guard walks in and out of the car line, back and forth between buildings. From what I understand, he’s carrying a weapon, too. I wave to him every day. He’s very serious in dark sunglasses but sometimes he’ll wave back.

What does it take to enter the school during the day? Since parents don’t have swipe cards, I head over to the security window. There, yet another security guard takes my driver’s license through the opening in the glass, makes a digital copy of it and creates a temporary photo ID sticker that I must wear during my visit to the school.

Once I am buzzed in, I enter the main lobby where another security desk, or rather a row of security monitors, are set up with continuous video surveillance. I have an easier time going through the TSA security line at the airport.

I still haven’t reached the school office, but once I do, I need to sign in with a computer to take my son out of school for early dismissal.

That’s what it’s like to enter a Jewish day school these days. And I couldn’t be happier.

I am grateful for all these precautions. I am grateful that the local police department watches out for our kids and teachers. I am grateful that all the parents understand and abide by these often-cumbersome rules. I am grateful that this school exists. It stands out proudly in the neighborhood with its flags of the United States and Israel flying high.

Best of all, once you walk through those highly secure, hard-to-get-through doors, the austerity melts away. Every visitor is welcomed with warmth and kindness. Smiling and laughing students. High-fives from teachers. The hurried sound of feet rushing off to class. This is a happy place and it’s not often these days that can be said about many schools.

This is how we Jews fight anti-Semitism. We don’t shy away from who we are. We embrace it. We send our kids to a school where Judaism is celebrated and valued no matter what kind of Judaism a student may practice. My son’s school offers what is called a dual-curriculum. He learns all the secular subjects like math, English, science and history, but he also studies Jewish history, Hebrew, Jewish life and faith, action and social justice. Helping our children understand who they are and learning to respect our differences, no matter what our religions, makes our community stronger and more accepting of each other.

College campuses are the latest battlegrounds for anti-Semitism. Jewish college students have come under siege. No matter what side you’re on, there is no place for hate among college students who may disagree about politics or social causes. How do our Jewish kids learn to stand up for themselves? How do they learn to educate their peers about the facts instead of having to fight them about often misunderstood causes such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement? What do we do to stem this tide and fight anti-Semitism — to teach our children to be brave?

We send our kids to Jewish day school.

It may be harder to enter a Jewish day school these days, but once inside it’s a lot easier to become a proud Jew.

Tina Isen Fox is a freelance writer in suburban Philadelphia. She has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Chutzpah magazine, among other publications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the officers and boards of the Jewish Publishing Group, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia or the Jewish Exponent.

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