The audience collected around a local Marshalls in 80-degree weather, listening to various voices advocate for not tolerating intolerance from a minimalistic stage. After each speech, many attendees cheered, clapped and honked their horns from their cars.
Students, teachers and parents at Solomon Schechter Day School, a majority white and entirely Jewish school, gathered on July 19 alongside other community members to denounce racism and promote messages of unity, joining together with the Black community.
“It was super meaningful to see the Jewish community and community of Black folks get together and show a tremendous amount of care for one another; a kind of commitment to trying to learn more about each other’s struggles, each other’s plights and how they can improve on their habits,” said Cristian Gaines, an African American rising senior at Newton North High School who spoke at the event.
Though many members of the Schechter community, both students and staff, spoke at the event, several outside speakers also used the event as a platform to make their voices heard. Alongside Gaines, the Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond, pastor and co-founder of Bethelame Church, Newton School Committee member Bridget Ray-Canada and Families Organizing for Racial Justice co-founder and board member Erica Streit-Kaplan all spoke.
Schechter’s director of innovation and enrichment Penina Magid said that, after she brought the idea to head of school Rebecca Lurie, Lurie acknowledged that some people might be upset and continued with the project anyway. Magid explained that she coordinated the event in conjunction with Kim O’Donnel, a teacher who was working with students on topics within Facing History and Ourselves, a curriculum based in learning about and reflecting on historic events.
This is the first protest the school has ever held, but Magid and Lurie felt the need to show support for the African American community and to inform their students about the issues at hand.
“As educators, we see it as our role to educate our students about the injustice that exists in the world,” Lurie explained in her speech, “and the role that our students, even the littlest ones, can play to put an end to it.”
According to rising seventh grader Henry Goldstein, he and the three other members of the Schechter student council, Orly Bolan, Jonah Nathanson and Eli Schwartz, worked alongside faculty members at the school to coordinate the protest. “I helped reach out to kids in the Schechter community to find people who wanted to come to this event,” he said. “That, in some ways, was a lot harder than it seemed and in some ways was a lot easier.”
According to Magid, the protests were especially important to her: “There’s been this moment before and nothing came of it. I feel very strongly that this is the moment and that if we don’t keep pushing, then once again there’ll be a lot of noise and nothing will come of it.” She added, “I thought it would be good for our school to take a stand and, educationally, for students to really work with this.”
The goal of the event was “to bring the community together and create a beginning of participation, learning and activism,” according to Magid. She added, “This was meant not as a ‘protest,’ but more as a beginning for the community to come together so we could get involved; it’s like a jump-off point.”
Schechter’s curriculum often centers around biblical lessons and analysis of passages from the Torah. In his speech, Rabbi Ravid Tilles, Schechter’s school rabbi, said that truly embodying these Jewish texts means standing up against injustices when you see them, rather than being passive and only focusing on your own beliefs.
“I thought, ‘We really need to have protests for people who are worried about COVID-19,’” Magid said, “and I thought, ‘OK, I want to create a car protest.’” According to Goldstein, once the speakers finished talking, the audience and presenters drove to Newton City Hall.
Magid explained that Schechter is planning a change in their student curriculum, as well as a social justice group students can join that has a dual emphasis on both learning and action.
According to Gaines, “It was really inspiring and really astonishing to see so many young kids who were really committed and who were the masterminds behind the whole protest. There were sixth graders and seventh graders and rising eighth graders, and to see them have that passion and motivation, particularly as white Jewish students, gave me a lot of optimism for our future.”
Jacob Zalis is an alumnus of Solomon Schechter Day School.
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