Recent Wootton High School graduate Rae Weinstein has seen her fair share of antisemitic incidents at her high school. The 18-year-old started writing articles in her school newspaper, Wootton Common Sense, where she also served as editor-in-chief, about her ideas and findings on how to bring awareness to antisemitism at her alma mater. She will speak at B’nai Israel Congregation about this issue on Aug. 5.
What has been your experience with antisemitism in the Maryland area?
There was some antisemitism at schools like Whitman, which didn’t really affect my daily life because I went to Wootton, but it still impacted me because I was very much concerned that it was in my community. Then there were several swastikas drawn all over my school, which was very concerning because we have a large Jewish population. And when the ball started rolling, because I was the one who found the first one, people weren’t really responding to it. And people who did respond to it didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but a lot of Jewish students did think it was a really big deal. So it was pretty difficult to see how people are reacting to it.
When I found the first one, I immediately took a picture of it, like right on instinct, and then I told my teacher. My teacher was like, “Just scrub it off.” I told an administrator, who didn’t really do anything. I then told my principal and an email was sent out. But unfortunately, there was only just so much that he could do, and he did fill out an incident report with the Montgomery County Police. There was an investigation, but I don’t think they really took on the case, which was very frustrating to me. It kept happening and some teachers on the Race and Equity committee at my school, one of them being Jewish, actually tried to do lessons and dialogues and conversations with other people at the school to emphasize the importance of fighting antisemitism. Some people who weren’t Jewish were laughing at it, making fun of it or really ignoring it altogether because they didn’t think it was a big deal, or they were just bored. My teacher actually did come to me and she said, “I apologize for not really reacting to it. I didn’t think it was a big deal.” And that was really hard on me too because my teacher is also in another minority and I thought as someone who’s in a minority they should understand the level of importance that it had, and she didn’t, and that was super frustrating.
How did antisemitism change during your years at Wootton?
Up until this year, I really didn’t experience too much outright that I thought of. But when all this stuff started happening this year, I thought back on my years at Wootton.
Obviously, there is a large Jewish population, but as I started thinking about it, I realized there were little comments, like about my nose because I have a larger nose. Some people said I had a Jew nose or a person in my friend group called me Jew and I would just get annoyed but I didn’t really think about it. Or they were making jokes about the stereotype that Jewish people are cheap. There are a lot of Jewish and Asian people at my school. Some of the schools have nicknames. People will call Whitman “White Man,” and people are calling Wootton “Wonton High,” which doesn’t really quite feel right to me. But it was definitely this year when I realized what was happening at my school.
What was the main way you found worked for advocating for Jewish students?
That’s difficult because as much as I advocated and fought, there was not a big response. Obviously, I kept taking [the issue] up to higher people, going from my teacher to the administrator to the principal for it finally to get a reaction and advocating with the Restorative Justice committee, especially because the newspaper adviser is one of the head people of it and she is Jewish. Talking to her about it and bringing it to students’ attention and fighting for people to take it seriously and realize how big of an issue it is. Even though there are only so many times they can send out the same email that another swastika was found, we’re really fighting for it and having that big discussion and that dialogue. One day, they had all the lit classes watch a Holocaust video and then have a discussion about it afterward, and there were a couple of Jewish people in my class. I talked really passionately, and I don’t know if everyone really heard my point or wanted to think about it but just talking about it was the best way to advocate.
Do you expect to do the same at the University of Florida?
I definitely hope so. I know that there is a pretty large Jewish population at the University of Florida. So I’m really hoping that I don’t experience any super prominent antisemitism, but in reality, it is also Florida.
Is there something students know about antisemitism that adults don’t?
I really don’t know. I think Jewish students do. They’ll know more than non-Jewish adults, but I think overall, if you’re not Jewish, most kids know the same amount as adults, especially because, at least in my school, the Holocaust was a lesson that we had in like 20 minutes and, again, people only think of antisemitism as the Holocaust and don’t really think of the further issue. It’s not widely taught, so I don’t really think that many people are getting the full information.
What message do you want non-Jewish people to take away from this interview?
Really watch what you say, because there are some things you really have to think about those stereotypes because you may think it’s funny or nonchalant or it’s a joke, but we hear it a lot. And people start to take it to heart, which is very unfortunate. ■
Charlotte Freedberg is a freelance writer.