"No One Threw Coins at the Fuckin' Jews:" Pine Bush Reacts to Being Called Anti-Semitic
On Friday, the New York Times lobbed a bombshell upstate: a story about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Pine Bush Central School District, an hour and a half north of the city, spanning across several small towns. Three Jewish families are suing the district, alleging widespread and fairly nasty harassment against their kids and other Jewish children, harassment they say the district knew about and did virtually nothing to stop.
Image via. Pine Bush High School.
Several children gave testimony in the lawsuit last year, and the incidents they described and which the NYT recounted are disturbing: swastikas drawn everywhere, including on a seventh-grade girl's face as she was held down by two boys. Middle school students being called "Christ killer," "stupid Jew," "disgusting Jew," and being subjected to jokes about the Holocaust. Several students also alleged that they'd had coins thrown at them, a practically medieval form of insult. According to the suit, some students were given detention or sent to counseling, and some weren't disciplined at all. (In reporting the story, the NYT was given a fun bonus in the form of one John Barker, mechanic and proud civic booster, who said of Jewish families, "We don't want them in our town.")
The article had an immediate effect: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a joint statement with New York Congressman Patrick Maloney, pledging "a full state and federal response" to the allegations. Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter/press release to State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, asking if his department had heard about these incidents, and informing him that the state police and the Division of Human Rights would be investigating.
Pine Bush superintendent Joan Carbone also released a statement, saying that while the district was unable to comment on a pending lawsuit, "We are hopeful that at the conclusion of this litigation, Pine Bush Central School District's actions will be vindicated. We certainly believe Pine Bush is a tolerant community." She added that the students are shown several presentations about "diversity and tolerance for all," and said, "The district's administrators and staff respond promptly when instances of bullying or discrimination are reported and take appropriate remedial action."
On social media, the reactions from Pine Bush residents were divided between people who said they, too, had experienced or witnessed prejudice, and those who were shocked, shocked to hear that such a thing might be taking place in their town. A Jewish dentist named Stuart Feuer wrote a widely shared open letter to the NYT on Facebook, saying that he and his wife and daughters had never experienced anti-Semitism.
"This is a ridiculously one sided piece," he wrote. "Obviously it was not thoroughly researched. 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." He said the entire school district is in "an uproar" over the story, and expressed doubt about the allegations of coin-throwing:
I truly don't believe student claims that they were "pelted with coins". This is something that may have been experienced by Jewish immigrants to this country at the turn of the century. How would a teenager of today know of this archaic practice? It would mean nothing to them.
Meanwhile, a local author named Michelle Zink wrote her own post, called "Anti-Semitism Is Alive and Well in My Town." She recounted witnessing quite a few racist incidents as well as anti-Semitic ones, writing at one point, "Just last week my son stood by while a student went on a hate-filled rant about how much he 'hates Jews' -- in full view and earshot of a teacher who said and did nothing."
But the most revealing responses were from Pine Bush teenagers and young adults. Some of them wrote on Twitter and Facebook about being "embarrassed" or "ashamed" by the article. But others seemed to not quite grasp what the problem was:
Seriously though that's some crazy ass shit. Pine Bush was a nice little town. If anyone was drawing swastikas it was just people being dumb— Lincoln Logans (@buttoflogan) November 8, 2013
Like literally no one in Pine Bush cares that you're Jewish or not except that guy in the article. I swear he's the only one.— Lincoln Logans (@buttoflogan) November 8, 2013
Some of them thought there was no way the incidents could have taken place:
@brunetti_joey lol that article is retarded.. No one threw coins at the fuckin jews— Amanda Parisella (@mandda13) November 8, 2013
And some of them were pretty sure the town's Jewish residents were to blame:
Fuck all ya why cause more drama then there already is in this town. The jews just needa go back to kj where they belong— Christian Yeadon (@christiany2112) November 8, 2013
I dont care i think its funny that we are getting sued for our heritage lmfao— Christian Yeadon (@christiany2112) November 8, 2013
(Update, 11/12/13: Mr. Yeadon appears to have deleted his tweets. Screengrabs can be found here.)