“Nestled at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains approximately 20 miles west of the Hudson River and 75 miles north of New York City, the Pine Bush Central School District covers seven townships located in portions of Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange counties.” That is the down-home description of the Pine Bush school system found on their website. But in an article published in the Nov. 7th edition of the New York Times, questions are being raised about the Pine Bush community and the seemingly high levels of anti-Semitism that prevail in their neighborhood schools.
“For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.
They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted “white power” and made Nazi salutes with their arms.”
Last year, three Jewish families decided the situation had grown intolerable and filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief from “pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.” The complaint lists a series of allegations against the school system, citing defamatory instances of name calling, crude jokes about the holocaust, pervasive displays of swastikas on school property, Jewish students being pelted with coins, and one child being held on the ground while another student forcibly drew a swastika on her face.
The lawsuit also alleges a failure by school system administrators to appropriately address complaints of anti-Semitic behavior. A section of the Times’ story reported:
“T.E. testified that when she was in seventh grade, she and O.C. were reporting anti-Semitic graffiti and other behavior to a Crispell administrator, who discouraged them at one point. “We would write it down and bring it to him, usually at the end of the week,” she said. “He told us we were now just looking for trouble and that we were causing our own problems.”
Jerrold R. said that he once asked an assistant principal why his older son, A.R., then in middle school, was disciplined for defending himself against a student who had grabbed him after taunting him about the Holocaust.
The school official replied, ‘We have a zero-tolerance policy on fighting,’ the father recalled.
“And I said, ‘How about a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism?’ ”
The article also reports a long history of racial and anti-Semitic activities in the small community:
“In the 1970s, Pine Bush was the home of the grand dragon of a Klan chapter that became embroiled in a legal dispute with the state attorney general’s office, which had demanded that it reveal its membership list. The group, Independent Northern Klans Inc., which was represented by the American and New York Civil Liberties Unions, successfully rebuffed the effort. The Klan leader’s wife had been a member of Pine Bush’s school board.
The Anti-Defamation League, which said then that the chapter had about 200 “activists” in the region, says today there has been little evidence of organized Klan activity in the state in recent years.
Mr. Steinberg, in interviews, said he asked the parents who had sued why they chose Pine Bush. I said to them, ‘If being Jewish is so important to you, why would you move into a community that does not have a synagogue?’
‘If you want your kids to hang out with more Jewish children or have more tolerance,’ he added, ‘why would you pick a community like Pine Bush?’ “
It’s interesting to note that Mr. Steinberg, the system superintendent, is also Jewish and claims his own family has been affected by anti-Semitic forces in the community. The Pine Bush school system is taking an aggressive stance in defending system employees cited in the lawsuit. Their basic argument is that small groups of people in the community are solidly and openly anti-Semitic and that the school system is not to blame.
Watch a local news report on the story below: