Our responsibility Regarding Bullying
Deciding what message to share with you every other week is a daunting task, and it isn’t because there is nothing to say! Just to give you some perspective, I begin thinking about my email to you about 6 days before it arrives in your inbox. In our world today so much changes in six days!
This week I planned on writing to you about the Ministry of Absorption in Israel and the advertisements they put out in the US encouraging Israelis to move back to Israel. The ads were not received well by the American Jewish community or the American press and were subsequently removed by the Israeli government. The ongoing conversation about the ads says much about Jewish American identity and the relationship between American Judaism and Israeli Judaism.
However, on Sunday this video popped up on my Facebook feed. It brought me to tears, and I felt compelled to share it with all of you instead of the Israeli advertisements. Please take a moment to watch it:
This young man’s name is Jonah Mowry, and if you Google him, you will see how much of an inspiration he is to many teens around the world. As of yesterday, his powerful video had received over 400,000 hits. As I watched Jonah painfully tell the world about his life, his cutting, his struggles, and his pain, I thought of all the children in our community who might be silently suffering through similar circumstances.
In Jonah’s brave act we are confronted by the devastating consequences of bullying (amongst other things). Whether in person, over text messages, or online, bullying has become a pervasive scourge burdening our children and grandchildren. Over half of all students in elementary, middle, and high school have witnessed bullying firsthand. According to familyfirstaid.org, almost 30 percent of teens in the United States are involved in school bullying as either a bully or a target. The problem is immense, and it is not going away.
As we all probably intuit, bullying is antithetical to Judaism. My question to you is whether your children or grandchildren know this, as well. Our tradition teaches that every human being is created in God’s image and should be treated with respect. Judaism also teaches that we must continually strive to bring holiness into our world through acts of compassion, for just as G-d is compassionate, so too must we be compassionate. Additionally, the Talmud tells us that when one shames another person in public, it is as if they shed blood. Most importantly, our sage, Hillel, teaches us that the entirety of the Torah is an outgrowth of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”. In a sense, all of Jewish practice and belief works to eradicate bullying.
It is incumbent upon all of us to convey Judaism’s strong denouncement of bullying to our kids and grandkids. They face a complex world with precious few proper role models as they find their way at school, on the internet, and in all their daily interactions with their peers. We can share this wise guidance from our tradition in how to treat others with them just by engaging them in a conversation about bullying. Have they been bullied in the past? Do they have friends who are being bullied or who are the bully? We must also be vigilant in monitoring their online lives and keep an eye out for behavior that might indicate they are acting as a bully or are the target of bullying. Stopbullying.gov is a wonderful resource we can all use to educate ourselves about what youth in this country face and how we can collectively combat bullying in our community and in the lives of our children.
Rabbi Philip Ohriner
For more information on bullying for parents, grandparents, educators, and kids see: