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Jewish Leaders Call For Teaching Tolerance After Clarkstown South Video

Andrea Weinberger Photo Credit: Tina Traster
Video controversy Photo Credit: Tina Traster

CLARKSTOWN, N.Y. -- Quick response from school officials over an anti-Semitic video shown during three ninth-grade social studies classes at Clarkstown South High School last month should not put the issue to bed, say Jewish leaders of Rockland County.

Rather, the incident must trigger a widespread initiation of education on tolerance, and it should be used as an opportunity to teach students how to speak up when they are exposed to offensive materials in school.

“The students who saw the video can’t ‘un-see’ or ‘unlearn’ the contents of the video,” said Andrea Weinberger, president of the Jewish Federation of Rockland. “But this incident calls for a re-education. A chance to go back and teach children that when they see something that’s unacceptable, they should speak up, and be able to do so without reprisal.”

Weinberger said she’s pleased that the school district issued apologies swiftly once the controversy came to light. She credits Superintendent J. Thomas Morton for vigorously pursuing Study.com, the California-based resource company that sold the video, “The Rise of Christianity and Judaism of the Roman Empire, to remove it from its offerings.

Stephanie Costa, the young teacher who played the video in class has been reprimanded, and actions are being taken.

The video, which the district had approved for students, portrayed the experiences of Jews and Christians according to their Roman overseers during the first century. The video portrays Jews as aggressors, as warriors, and as callous members of society.

“The video is sneaky,” said Weinberger. “It starts out innocuously until you see the cartoon character with payes (sidelocks worn by religious Jews). Nobody even dressed like that during the Roman Empire.”

In a letter of apology, Principal Debra Tarantino wrote “The video depicted Judaism in a demeaning and historically inaccurate way. Although this was not the intent of the teacher in designing the lesson, my administrative team agrees the choice to show this video was inappropriate.”

The video prompted several complaints to the school district.

Officials from the Federation and the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and & Education met Feb. 1 with Morton, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Jeffrey Sobel, Tarantino, Costa and Teacher Association President Jon Wedvik.

Jewish leaders want the district to implement an education program about tolerance and misconceptions.

They are also waiting to learn more about how material is vetted.

Robert Ward Kurkela, moderator of the Facebook Page “Parents To Save Our Schools” and a member of the social action committee of Temple Beth Shalom in New City, says the problem of antisemitism extends beyond the school.

“We need more dialogue,” he said. “We need to talk to each other and educate one another. It’s unfathomable that in a county where one in three people is Jewish that something like this can happen. It’s really troubling.”

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