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Day schools laud Ridgewood principal for Facebook stand

It seems like everybody these days is on Facebook — well, almost everybody.

Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, made worldwide headlines last week after he sent an e-mail to parents urging them to take their children off the social networking site. Speaking to The Jewish Standard earlier this week, Orsini said the general reaction from the local community has been one of gratitude. Some parents have heeded his advice while others have ignored it, he said, but his e-mail succeeded in getting people to talk more about Internet safety with their children.

“I was simply imploring them to look out for the safety of their kids,” Orsini said. “I also made very, very clear that obviously it’s a family choice and I respect any choice a family makes.”

The Standard turned to area day-school leaders to see if they agreed with the principal’s actions.

At Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, Facebook is blocked on all of the school’s computers. Social networking, said Robert Smolen, general studies coordinator and middle school director, is meant to be face to face.

“We know that the Ridgewood principal is correct,” he said. “The use of the Internet for communication that can be very negative and bullying and provocative is something we are not in favor of. We have gotten feedback from time to time about children using it inappropriately and taken them to task for that.”

Smolen acknowledged that Facebook can be used positively. But children, he said, don’t always keep things in perspective, and the site can have a negative impact and lead to cliques.

A recent “South Park” episode lampooned those who get so caught up with the site that their non-virtual relationships are defined by their popularity status on Facebook. In the episode, the main character Kyle befriends a third-grader named Kip Drodry who has no other Facebook friends. Kip is ecstatic, but Kyle watches as his own friends count drops because of his association with this perceived outcast.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, the sixth- and seventh-graders receive formal education in Internet use, said Larry Mash, principal of SSDS’s middle school.

“Our position is we encourage smart use by our students and we encourage careful oversight by parents,” he said. “The parents need to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet and how much they’re using the Internet.”

The Moriah School in Englewood holds a program every year, with local police, on the dangers of Facebook. The school has in the past urged parents not to let their children use the site, but realizing that’s not always realistic, the school asks parents to monitor their children on the Internet, said principal Elliot Prager.

“What a child does in his or her free time, if it involves another child in the school [negatively], Moriah will take all necessary steps, including expulsion from school if necessary,” he said.

Last year Moriah instituted a new cyberbullying policy, considering cyberbullying an offense whether it takes place in or outside of school. After letters about the policy were sent home the school issued a handful of suspensions for violations, but has not had to respond as harshly this year.

“From what we can see and what we know, the policy has had a very positive impact on the behavior of the kids,” Prager said.

Arthur Poleyeff, general studies principal at high school Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, not only agreed that middle school students should stay off Facebook, but added that high school students should not use the site either.

“There is very little benefit for students being on Facebook in middle school or high school,” he said. “Parents should take control over what their kids are doing online and not allow them to have computers in their bedroom where they’re locked away all day and night.”

Gerrard Berman’s Smolen urges parents to closely follow what their children do on the Internet. Facebook, he said, is just one of many opportunities children have to interact online and if it’s taken away, they can easily find another vehicle.

“Parents have given their children a tool, and the children need to have an accountability for that tool,” Smolen said. “IPhones, iPods, and iTouches all have Internet capability. It’s like giving them the keys to the car and letting them go wherever they want.”

Orsini said he has heard from more than 100 parents about his e-mail. Some have disagreed with him but most have been respectful. He is amazed, he said, that news of his request has grabbed international headlines.

“It hit a nerve,” he said.

 
 

‘Drawn Together’ creators, from area, decry anti-Israel accusations

The Jewish creators of the Comedy Central series “Drawn Together” have a message about a perceived affront to Israel in an Internet game based on their equal-offender series: Watch the movie before casting judgment.

Cable network Comedy Central drew fire from Israel activists because of its Website game “I.S.R.A.E.L. Attack!” — later changed to “Drawn Together: The Movie: The Game” — based on the “Drawn Together” animated reality TV series and movie. Media watchdogs such as Honest Reporting interpreted the character Intelligent Smart Robot Animation Eraser Lady — I.S.R.A.E.L. — as a slander against the Jewish state.

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Matt Silverstein and Dave Jeser are the Bergen County natives behind the Comedy Central series “Drawn Together,” which sparked outrage over the Website game “I.S.R.A.E.L. Attacks!” based on the show.

“Drawn Together” places parodies of video game and cartoon stereotypes together in a house à la “Big Brother.” The series ran four years on Comedy Central before cancellation. After that, Dave Jeser, originally from New Milford, and Matt Silverstein, originally from Oradell, created “Drawn Together: The Movie,” which featured a fictional network out to erase the reality show characters with the I.S.R.A.E.L. robot.

Jeser, who comes from what he described as a very Zionist family, told The Jewish Standard that he understands how the character, taken out of context, could be seen as anti-Israel, but that’s not how it was written for the movie.

“The characters in the show are very simplistic, misguided, and uneducated characters, so when they heard that I.S.R.A.E.L.’s coming after them they’re going to be as afraid as the typical Hollywood folks we work with,” Jeser said. “We turned it on its head when you find out I.S.R.A.E.L.’s there to save the day.”

“It’s less a comment on Israel and the world than a comment on the silliness and stupidness of the characters on the show and their unwarranted fears of the unknown,” Jeser said.

Honest Reporting in particular lashed out at the game, alleging that the I.S.R.A.E.L. robot “plays on an association of Israel as a child killer.” The group also castigated Comedy Central for the character Jew Producer, the executive who runs the reality show and has a loudspeaker for a head.

“Some people seem to think or suggest in the game I.S.R.A.E.L. the robot was running around killing children, which is not the case,” Jeser said. “In the end, I.S.R.A.E.L. comes to her senses, doesn’t want to fight, wants to peacefully coexist, and saves the day. It’s probably the least offensive part of the movie. It just happens to be what spawned the game.”

As for Jew Producer? “That is me or Matt,” Jeser said. “We are the Jew producers of the show. We relish in that title because ultimately we are the ones who get to tell the characters in the show what to do.”

Jeser, a graduate of Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, met Silverstein while attending Dwight Englewood School in Englewood. The two write for Fox’s “The Cleveland Show.”

After changing the game’s title, Comedy Central pulled it in its entirety from its Website last week. The cable network, part of Viacom, did not return calls for comment.

The network put together the game on its own, and Jeser said he and Silverstein didn’t even see it until they heard about the controversy.

The “Drawn Together” incident comes just weeks after Comedy Central censored the image and name of Mohammad on two episodes of “South Park.” This led to accusations from Honest Reporting of double standards at Comedy Central toward Muslims and Jews.

Jeser and his partner supported “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker but understood Comedy Central’s dilemma in trying to protect its employees.

“We’re dealing with a culture that’s living in almost medieval times that wants to kill and stone other cultures for offending them,” Jeser said. “While the rest of the world is living in the 21st century, where they start Facebook pages when they’re upset.”

This isn’t the first time “Drawn Together” rubbed some people the wrong way. One episode upset a number of Asian advocacy groups because the Pokemon parody Ling-Ling tried to get his driver’s license and turned out to be a horrible driver.

“We make fun of everyone and everything,” Jeser said. “There’s really nothing off limits. The last thing we wanted to do was make fun of everyone but not ourselves and our own people. Laughter’s the best medicine and we’re all very sick and need more of it.”

 
 
 
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