Israelis Discuss Prejudice

By Bari Nirenberg
Makif Alef High School, Israel

I have managed to discuss the questions you sent about prejudice with my ninth and tenth graders. The conversation that I had with my ninth graders was shocking. Some of them said some of the most prejudiced things that I have ever heard, and this started a very loud argument among the students. When I tried to convince them that what they were saying was illogical and unfair, they refused to be convinced. I suppose that these were things that they heard at home, and the influence that their parents have over them is stronger than the influence that I have. In any case, I was very saddened by their words, and I was not able to continue.

Yad Vashem: Last Car

My tenth graders, on the other hand, are much more open-minded and had some interesting things to say. Below are their answers to the questions that you asked. At this point, I feel that I must add that most young Israelis have no idea what it feels like to be the victim of prejudice.

As a Jew growing up in the United States, I remember having pennies thrown at me in junior high school and having a college roommate who had to whisper when she said the word "Jew." In junior high, I even had a fist-fight with a girl who was pointing out all the Jews in the cafeteria to her friend. (I managed to hold my temper until she got to a girl named Tara Colligan.) To this girl, Jewish wasn't a religion, but a way of behaving. Whoever she thought was obnoxious must have been Jewish.

Because my background is so different from that of my students, I sometimes find it hard to relate to their ideas. Having experienced antisemitism, I try to be very open-minded about people who are different from me, and I try to pass this on to my students. Unfortunately, I have reached the conclusion that in order to be sensitive to others, one must understand what insensitivity feels like.

I think that it is terribly important to teach young people to be tolerant, but how can we convince them when the message they receive at home is so different? Sorry if I've been rambling, but I haven't been able to get this off my mind for several days. I'd be interested in hearing your comments.

"Prejudice comes from jealousy because when someone gets something that someone else doesn't get, he becomes jealous, and from here prejudice starts. Also, sometimes something that happened in the past is remembered for generations. If we could speak to somebody from another country about prejudice, we would ask him what he thinks about prejudice. We have never been in this situation and we don't want to be. We should try to stop prejudice, but we cannot stop it completely because prejudice is fixed in people's minds."

Guy Damri, Keren Swisa, and Igal Dahan

"Prejudice comes from society, and from jealousy, and from the family. If we could talk to someone from another country about prejudice, we would ask him if he has ever been the victim of prejudice and when. We have never been the victims of prejudice. To deal with prejudice, the victim and the perpetrator need to meet each other. You can't change prejudice in a person's mind."

Ofir Ben-Sanan and Eynat Torjeman

"Prejudice occurs because some people are jealous when someone does something better than they do. If we could talk to someone from another country about prejudice, we would ask him what prejudices there are in his country. We were victims of prejudice in the U.S.S.R. People hated us (Jews) because they thought we were smart. The way to deal with prejudice is not to pay attention. We don't think that there is any way to change a prejudiced person's mind."

Oleg Dorfman, Arkadi Raider, and Viki Kantor

"Prejudice comes from jealousy. For example, in Nazi Germany, the Germans were jealous of the Jews because they were so successful. If we could talk to a person from another country about prejudice, we would ask him where he thinks prejudice comes from. We have never been the victims of prejudice. We think that the best way to deal with prejudice is to ignore it. We don't think that it is possible to change a prejudiced person's mind. People will always be prejudiced."

Uri Almoznino and Ariel Dahan

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