At Brebeuf Jesuit, students are empowered to live a life of social justice, recognize injustices in the world and work together to overcome them.
Over the past few months, our country has been shaken by new waves of antisemitism, and while we like to believe ourselves immune to such acts of hatred here in Indianapolis, the realization that it is not simply a thing of the past hit close to home with the recent vandalism at Carmel synagogue, Shaaray Tefila.
Following this terrible act, two seniors knew it was time to take charge and begin the discussion at Brebeuf. Alex Weiss and Jade Klain asked the administration to grant them a Diversity Dialogue to discuss antisemitism and its relevance in today’s world. After weeks of planning, they were ready.
The stage: a packed Efroymson Auditorium of teachers and fellow students. The hope: that through candid discussion, similarities overcome differences, and love prevails over hate.
What made you want to host a Diversity Dialogue on this particular subject?
Jade: In terms of relevance, in the aftermath of the vandalism at the Carmel synagogue, Shaaray Tefila, we knew we had to do something. Education was the most effective means to combat anti-Semitism, and luckily Brebeuf gave us the platform to do so.
Alex: I have experienced and witnessed my fair share of anti-Semitic jokes and comments throughout my high school career. It is an ongoing problem that I see everywhere, and I believe it needs to be addressed more. I want my peers to understand that although the Holocaust ended, anti-Semitism exists today in 2018 and it is our job, as the future of our generation, to stop it.
How did you go about getting this program off the ground and how did you plan for it once it had been approved?
Jade: Once Alex and I were given the “green light” with our Diversity Dialogue, planning started immediately. We had to do a lot of preliminary planning, like discussing our goals for the entity of the dialogue and what we hoped our audience would get out of it. Alex and I meticulously planned this dialogue for about a month, with regular meetings with Mrs. Newman and Mr. Pettigrew, while pulling resources from other Jewish students who wanted to be involved.
We made sure to stress the importance of the dialogue being a “safe place” and often mentioned during the dialogue that “all questions were encouraged” and “this dialogue is meant to make the audience uncomfortable, while being very laid back.” Even the smallest of details were planned by Alex and I – all the way down to the position of the chairs in circle, with a gap in the middle for walking space was planned to make the audience feel more comfortable and allow for an intimate setting.
In terms of planning, Alex and I would spend hours at a time planning and drafting the final script, and even went to a “student to student” meeting that teaches Jewish teens how to speak in front of non-Jewish teens, in order to ensure the best dialogue we could offer.
Alex: It was a process. Jade and I had just done a presentation in our club, Jewish Student Union, over the recent vandalism that took place in August at Congregation Shaarey Tefila. Mr. Pettigrew and Mrs. Newman came to me and Jade and asked us if we would like to plan a Diversity Dialogue about the hate crime committed in Carmel, Indiana. Jade and I were thrilled with the idea. After a few meetings, we began to discuss topics like micro aggressions, stereotypes, ignorance, and everything that we believe leads people to practice and act this certain way. Jade and I were given the ability to share our voice on this topic with our peers.
How do you think Brebeuf prepares students to take on, and participate in, a project like this?
Jade: I think Brebeuf does an amazing job preparing student leaders to take on events like a Diversity Dialogue. I think leadership skills are cultivated freshman year, in the religion courses, and by the time students take Moral Decision Making and Social Justice they have a comprehensive idea on “right vs. wrong” and the notion that one should speak their mind in the aftermath of an injustice. If there is one thing I can take away from my experience at Brebeuf it is this: Brebeuf ultimately prepares their students to explore social justice issues and act as a voice to the marginalized.
Alex: I think it is wonderful that Brebeuf allows students to take on projects as big as this one. I was so surprised that Jade and I were able to do whatever we wanted in this Diversity Dialogue. It is truly student run. It was empowering knowing that I helped create this Diversity Dialogue from scratch. We turned one idea into something huge that impacted us and all of our peers. I am so glad that I go to a school that allows me to develop my beliefs in a way that I can share them.
How do you think it went?
Jade: I am very proud of how the dialogue went. During the dialogue, students felt compelled to ask questions. We know in uncomfortable situations students often don’t ask questions with the fear of misspeaking and being insulting, but students asked deep and meaningful questions. Instead of Alex and I talking to a group of students, it felt like a real dialogue or discussion–as the audience participation was great.
In addition, Alex and I wanted the dialogue to be relevant to the average non-Jewish students in the audience, so we asked students to raise their hand if they had ever heard stereotypes towards their gender, race, or religion, to which almost every student raised their hand. The raised hands were a physical representation that stereotypes do not just affecting Jews, but each person is plagued with stereotypes.
Alex: I think the Diversity Dialogue went wonderfully. I felt confident walking into the auditorium. We had prepared this Diversity Dialogue for months and at that moment, everything fell into place. I love that the students and teachers felt comfortable enough to ask us their honest questions. It shows that they want to learn and know what to do next.
What do you hope your classmates took away from this program?
Jade: There was a point in the dialogue where I mentioned my personal experience with anti-Semitism, and I think that shocked a lot of students. I detailed how anti-Semitism had affect me and how it made me feel in the aftermath, which allowed students to empathize with me. I think students took away that actions can have large consequences, and it’s important to step in when you see someone being discriminated against.
Alex: I said this at the end of our Diversity Dialogue, and I would love to say it again. When Jade and I first discussed what we wanted to come from this Diversity Dialogue, we both knew that no matter what we did or talked about, we were spreading awareness on the basics of anti-Semitism, and that is exactly what we wanted. In Jewish Student Union and this Diversity Dialogue, Jade and I drive to inform our peers. We are doing a lot to diminish anti-Semitism in our community and others by just discussing this issue. I know that what we did created conversation, and that is exactly what we intended to happen.
What was your biggest takeaway?
Jade: My biggest takeaway is that hate cannot prevail in this world. There are many people that would like to instill fear and cause pain towards the Jewish community, but I know the Brebeuf community has my back.
Alex: My biggest takeaway was being able to share my voice. I had so much fun organizing this dialogue and I’d love to continue sharing my thoughts on this subject and others.
What’s next? Do you plan to continue advocating for this cause, and how?
Jade: There is still so much to do! It is important to consider that anti-Semitism is still prevalent in America. I hope to bring all the work and experience I have gained from working on this dialogue to college, to educate my non-Jewish peers on a greater level.
Alex: I had so much fun planning this event, and I would love to do something like this again with even more people involved. I would love to have a school-wide function over a similar, related topic.