2017-10-25 / Columns

Will you stand up and take the ‘Pledge’ with JCRC?

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY
DAVID SNYDER
JCRC Executive Director

One of the services our agency provides to the community, arguably one of the most valued and appreciated of all of our responsibilities, is addressing bias incidents or hate crimes that may have taken place in Camden, Burlington or Gloucester counties. The calls we receive from parents whose child has been bullied, teased or harassed based on their religion, skin color or place of origin can be heartbreaking. What may surprise some of you, as it did me when I started in this role almost eight years ago, was just how frequently these incidents occur.

What should not surprise you is how often it is evident that so much of what is said by one student to another is clearly a message that is carried forward by what they likely first heard at home or from an older adult. As is consistently reported, racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are most often learned from a family member or friend of the family. People are not born with innate stereotypes and negative feelings towards others.

When these incidents occur, we view them as ideal opportunities to both expose people to, and educate people about, their own ignorance or that of others. This is why we are willing to engage and assist in working to address and resolve any sort of bias incident that occurs, whether the victim is Jewish, Black, Muslim, Sikh, Asian or any member of a minority population who is targeted and affected.

One of the key lessons we continually impress upon students via the exceptional programs and training offered by our Esther Raab Holocaust Museum & Goodwin Education Center is the importance of each and every one of them needing to be an “upstander” rather than a “bystander.” This message in incorporated as part of the hundreds of programs we run each year in the schools as part of our community-based educational programs. But we recognize we can and need to expand this message of speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, in some cases because they are afraid, or more often than not, because they are not even present when the offending comments are made.

Some might ask why does it matter if someone says something offensive or inappropriate within the confines of one’s own home or circle of friends. It is because we feel it is OK when we find ourselves in these comfortable surroundings that it is most common we find people making what they know to be an off-color or derogatory comment or “joke” about an individual or group that is different than those with whom we regularly associate. This is not OK. This is how stereotypes are promulgated. And it is why our agency is participating in a statewide effort, originally initiated by the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition, to have as many community members as possible take the “Pledge to Stand Up for the Other.”

We recognize that racial bigotry, religious persecution, anti- Semitism, Islamophobia or any other form of prejudice or hatred cannot be truly wiped out unless each and every one of us confronts it within our own circles of family, friends and others we interact with. We must be willing to have the courage to stand up for the other, as silence can easily be interpreted as consent. Just a few weeks ago, several hundred participants at our annual March of Remembrance took this pledge. Now, you too can go online and take the pledge as well.

The pledge reads: “While interacting with members of my own faith or ethnic community, or with others, if I hear hateful or derogatory comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and challenge bigotry in any form.”

If you are prepared to speak up and speak out when you hear someone say something that is inappropriate about another individual or group of people, please visit www.jcrcsnj.org to sign the pledge and print out a copy to keep handy. Together, we can make a difference. 

dsnyder@jfedsnj.org

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