Pine Bush, NY And The Hunger For Hate: “Best Defense Is A Strong Offense”
|A = Pine Bush, NY|
Pine Bush, N.Y., School District Faces Accusations of Anti-Semitism
TAKING ACTION Above, parents who have sued the Pine Bush Central School District over what they say is pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.
By BENJAMIN WEISER
Published: November 7, 2013 737 Comments
The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.
Cuomo Orders Inquiries on Claims of Anti-Semitic Acts at Pine Bush Schools (November 9, 2013)
A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.
For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.
They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted “white power” and made Nazi salutes with their arms.
The proliferation and cumulative effect of the slurs, drawings and bullying led three Jewish families last year to sue the district and its administrators in federal court; they seek damages and an end to what they call pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.
The district — centered in Pine Bush, west of Newburgh, and serving 5,600 children from Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties — is vigorously contesting the suit. But a review of sworn depositions of current and former school officials shows that some have acknowledged there had been a problem, although they denied it was widespread and said they had responded appropriately with discipline and other measures.
“There are anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred that we need to address,” John Boyle, Crispell Middle School’s principal, said in a deposition in April.
In 2011, when one parent complained about continued harassment of her daughter and another Jewish girl, Pine Bush’s superintendent from 2008 to 2013, Philip G. Steinberg, wrote in an email, “I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”
Mr. Steinberg, who, along with two other administrators named as defendants, is Jewish, described the lawsuit in recent interviews as a “money grab.” He contended that the plaintiffs had “embellished” some allegations.
Nonetheless, reports of anti-Semitism have persisted, with at least two recent complaints made to the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County.
The New York Times has reviewed about 3,500 pages of deposition testimony by parents, children and school administrators, which were provided by the families’ lawyers on the condition that the identities of the children, some of whom are still enrolled, be protected. Limited redactions were also made to protect student privacy.
This became a national story. A few days later, limelight-loving federal prosecutor Preet Bahrara announced a federal investigation of anti-Semitism in Pine Bush.
The most prominent skeptics, however, have been the Jewish press and Jewish residents of Pine Bush, such as local dentist Stuart Feuer, who wrote the New York Times:
My family has never experienced any anti-Semitism in our 25 years in the community, nor do we know of any other Jewish families who have experienced this. We are at home in this town.
In the Jewish Daily Forward, Opinion editor Gal Beckerman wrote:
It’s a tired complaint to say a news article lacks context, but that’s what I want to say here. And without a bigger back story or some deeper investigation as to the source of this bubbling hate, all we have is an article that does one of two things: It either feeds an unwarranted hysteria about creeping anti-Semitism or just provides a titillating read about the strange doings upstate for the Upper West Siders who make up the Times core audience. What it does not do, and doesn’t seem concerned with doing, is get us any closer to understanding why those kids have found themselves in such a terrifying environment.
In the JDF comments, Meghan Aileen responded:
You are quite right that there is more to this situation than meets the eye. I was shocked to read the article in the NYT. I have never heard of any allegations of anti-Semitism within this school district. As a community we will try to get to the bottom of these allegations, as they are truly disturbing. However, there is another story that will require investigating as well. A small village (300 residents) within our school district, Bloomingburg, is the site of a new Satmar Hasidic development currently under construction. The town annexed 200 acres of town land to a developer whose plan was proposed as 125 luxury homes with a golf course. It is now 396 town homes and a girls school that is only being advertised in Jewish newspapers in Brooklyn and nearby Kiryas Joel. Our local papers are now beginning to get to the bottom of the corruption that was behind this bait and switch, and the small town officials that made backroom deals. The school has reached out to both the developer and the Bloomingburg officials to inquire as to the details of the private school, as they are by law required to provide services and busing to these students. That letter was written in September and is why I question the timing of Mr. Weiser`s article. Mr. Wieser is well aware of the Bloomingburg debacle. It just didn`t fit into his story.
Now, Jewish Week has looked into the story more:
Anti-Semitism described in suit is unfair portrayal of their town, they say.
Pine Bush, N.Y. — Suddenly, they don’t even recognize their own town anymore.
The six women eating in a diner near the Crispell Middle School in this hamlet about 75 miles north of New York City said they were incredulous when they read that a civil rights lawsuit had been filed against the Pine Bush School District claiming that it is rife with anti-Semitism that has gone largely unchecked.
The women, who like most of the 15 residents interviewed at a diner and supermarket this week declined to give their names, said the community described in the lawsuit bore little resemblance to the one they’ve lived in for years. In fact, one said she retired as a Pine Bush Elementary School teacher five years ago and was dumbfounded by the complaint — especially the allegation that all five of the children whose parents brought the suit said they experienced anti-Semitism in the Crispell Middle School.
“Crispell was the place where we all wanted our kids to go,” she said. “It has a safe, nurturing, comfortable environment. The teachers there I know are caring, loving people — the kids always came first.”
Many of those interviewed questioned the timing of the front-page article about the suit in The New York Times earlier this month. Some suggested that community opposition to a 396-unit townhouse being built in the school district and reportedly marketed exclusively to Satmar Jews somehow triggered the Times’ story.
Satmar (Hebrew: ?????? or ?????) is a Hasidic sect originating from the city of Satu Mare (`Satmar` in Yiddish), Transylvania, where it was founded in 1905 by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. Following World War II it was reestablished in New York, becoming one of the largest Hasidic movements in the world. After Joel`s death, he was succeeded by his nephew, Moshe Teitelbaum. Since the latter`s death in 2006, the dynasty is split between his two sons, Aaron Teitelbaum and Zalman Teitelbaum. … As of 2006, the dynasty controlled assets worth $1 billion in the United States. … The two largest Satmar communities are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel, New York.
From Wikipedia on Kiryas Joel, NY:
According to 2008 census figures, the village has the highest poverty rate in the nation, and the largest percentage of residents who receive food stamps. More than five-eighths of Kiryas Joel residents live below the federal poverty line and more than 40 percent receive food stamps, according to the American Community Survey, a U.S. Census Bureau study of every place in the country with 20,000 residents or more. A 2011 New York Times report noted that, despite the town`s very high statistical poverty rates, “It has no slums or homeless people. No one who lives there is shabbily dressed or has to go hungry. Crime is virtually nonexistent.”
More from Jewish Week:
As they explained it, the developers decided to fight growing opposition to the development by claiming residents don’t want Jews moving in. To prove their point, they leaked the suit to the Times as evidence of anti-Semitism in the community.
But Holly Roche, leader of the Rural Community Coalition, which is spearheading community opposition to the project because of its size in a village of 375 residents, said that theory no longer worked after she disclosed she is Jewish.
“Now they are calling me anti-Satmar,” she said. …
“The best defense is a strong offense,” explained a Jewish resident about the developers’ approach, who asked that his name not be used for fear it might complicate his business dealings in the area.
“The best defense is a strong offense”—Those are wise words in 21st Century America.
There have been several articles, including a 16-page supplement, published in Jewish and Yiddish newspapers promoting the development to the Satmar chasidic community. A girls’ yeshiva is also under discussion, and residents said they have heard talk of a boys’ yeshiva being built as well.
So this appears to be largely a power, money, real estate, tax, and welfare struggle between ultra-orthodox Jews and a local community led in large part by normal American Jews with jobs like school superintendent, dentist, and part-time preservation activist. (Similar struggles can be seen in, say, Sherman Oaks, CA between the fast-growing ultra-orthodox and the long-time resident regular Jews.)
You might think that the New York Times would instinctively identify with the educated liberal Jews against the smears of the reactionary Jews.
But that underestimates the media`s insatiable longing for allegations of anti-Semitism, no matter how wacky. The hunger for hate is strong these days.