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BBYO embraces anti-bullying documentary

Youth group takes its message to Jewish teens

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A still from the documentary “Bully” — BBYO has teamed with The Bully Project to bring the film to Jewish teens. The Bully Project

WASHINGTON – Emotional. Raw. Frustrating.

That’s how Oz Fishman describes his reaction to “Bully,” a documentary that follows five students who face bullying daily. The movie also focuses on two victims of bullying who killed themselves.

“I think every single person who wants to be a member of any community should see this film,” Fishman said.

As international co-president of the Jewish youth group BBYO, Fishman has been in a position to help make “Bully” available to Jewish teens and their parents throughout the country.

BBYO has partnered with The Bully Project, which made the documentary, to bring the film to Jewish teens. “Bully” opened in limited release on March 30; two days later, the youth organization held the first two of 15 private screenings that it will host nationwide.

The much-discussed film has fueled the national conversation over how to prevent bullying. The Bully Project aims to have one million teens see the movie and sign a pledge promising to take a stand against bullying — “stick up for others who might be in need of my help” — and be role models by not spreading hateful rumors nor ignoring those who do.

“Bully” filmmaker Lee Hirsch is delighted by BBYO’s participation.

“BBYO has rallied around this film in a way that has absolutely been inspirational to me as a filmmaker and as a Jew,” Hirsch said. “It’s been an extraordinary thing to witness.”

The youth organization’s February convention in Atlanta included a preview of the film. BBYO members also were trained as facilitators for discussions that follow the screenings.

The discussions use a Jewish study guide developed by BBYO. The guide provides a Jewish foundation for the teens to talk about the film and about bullying, according to Rabbi David Kessel, BBYO’s chief program officer. It is used as a supplement to “BULLY: Fostering Empathy and Action in Schools,” the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum created for The Bully Project.

The BBYO curriculum includes distributing cards that contain Jewish values such as “pikuach nefesh,” or saving a life; “hochai’ach tochee’ach,” you shall rebuke; “halbanat panim,” avoiding public humiliation; and “ona’at d’varim,” laws aimed at avoiding verbal humiliation.

“When you’ve seen a movie like ‘Bully,’ it’s personal in a way because all of these teenagers have seen bullying in real life, know a friend who’s been bullied,” Kessel said. “The values give them a Jewish way to talk about it.”

Fishman, 18, was particularly struck by remarks in the film from the father of one of the suicide victims.

“The father said, ‘We’re nobody; we’re just some random people. Had this happened to a son of a politician, it would have been on the front pages everywhere,’ “ Fishman recalled. “It is shocking to me that anybody would ever feel so worthless and meaningless that their child, having been bullied to a point of suicide, wasn’t worthy of the world’s attention.”

As Jews, he said, “It’s part of our values to do our best to stop [bullying]. That’s how we build a better world.”

BBYO officials say the film dovetails with the group’s Stand Up for Each Other Campaign for Respect and Inclusion, a project that began a year and a half ago and is “designed to raise sensitivity, to teach teens to create open communities,” Kessel said.

“The concept behind The Bully Project is that it takes a movement, it takes a village” to change attitudes, “and you can be that change,” said Estee Portnoy, who chairs BBYO’s international board of directors. “That really aligned” with BBYO’s Stand Up campaign.

As part of the Stand Up project, BBYO joined with Keshet, a gay and lesbian Jewish group, to get signatures for Keshet’s “Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives,” which commits signers to speak against homophobic bullying and harassment.

The youth group also put together “a resource guide with a number of different model programs that you could run at a convention, shabbaton, leadership event,” Kessel said.

The rabbi says he already sees a culture shift. People are more aware, for example, of the kind of language they use.

“We looked at terms like, ‘That’s so gay,’” Kessel said, and tried to make people understand that it’s pejorative.

“We haven’t solved the problem,” he said, “but we’ve taken a major step forward.”

For Adam Greenburg, 18, who was bullied as a child — for being “the only Jew for miles” and for being overweight — BBYO already is a safe haven.

“We don’t put up with bullying at all,” said Greenburg, of Redondo Beach, Calif. “Jews are really big on doing the right thing, and I think with the Stand Up cause, it gives us the opportunity to do the right thing.”

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Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.


Shabbat in the White City

Fair Lawn man aims for Guinness-record dinner in Tel Aviv

Jay Shultz is determined to set a new world record while promoting Tel Aviv — usually cited for its nightlife and startup culture — as a great place to spend Shabbat.

The 37-year-old Fair Lawn native, who has lived in Israel since 2006, has earned a reputation as the “International Mayor of Tel Aviv” after a series of grand-scale initiatives geared at positioning his adopted city as welcoming haven for young professional immigrants.

His latest exploit: Through his popular White City Shabbat program, which offers communal meals for young Israelis and immigrants at local synagogues, Mr. Shultz launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to sponsor the world’s largest Shabbat dinner.


Lighting up Africa

Frisch raises money for solar technology with fashion show

What do the students at a New Jersey Jewish high school and 450,000 residents of rural African villages have in common?

Since 2008, the nonprofit agency called Innovation: Africa — iA — has brought Israeli solar technology to provide clean water, drip irrigation, and refrigeration to villagers in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. And for the last three years, this UN-award winning program has been a focal point for the Frisch School in Paramus.

An African Encounter Night and Africa-themed fashion show held last month exposed students and parents to iA’s work and raised another $3,300 toward Frisch’s goal of contributing $10,000 to light up a sister school in East Africa using solar panels.

“The fact that Frisch has decided to educate children on wider global issues is remarkable and demonstrates a break from the norm,” said Emma Goldman, Innovation: Africa’s outreach coordinator.



Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would launch an international campaign to cancel the Goldstone Report after its author, ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone, wrote in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War, withdrawing a critical allegation in the report.

Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.


Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”


Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

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