We suspect most, if not all, of you know someone who is a bully or has been bullied.
Maybe that someone is you.
If you were bullied, you know it can be a life-scarring experience, something that affects your self-worth, your courage and your willingness to take chances and grow as a human being. It also affects those who love and care about you.
If you are a bully, then you, too, are a victim, because bullying isn’t genetic; it’s learned. Maybe one of your parents taught you this behavior — by example if not actual word. Maybe you were bullied and learned the wrong lesson from the experience, becoming a bully yourself. But you’re still culpable for the mental and physical pain you inflict.
Bullying is a scourge on society. To the highest degree possible, it must be stamped out.
That’s why we were heartened that the Agency for Jewish Learning, through its J-Site director, Beth Goldstein, put on a program last week designed to shed light on the ravages of bullying while giving participants a chance to open up about the problem.
First, they watched the eye-opening documentary: “Bully: The Move” at the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill, then they discussed the film, and bullying in general, at the Jewish Community Center across the street.
The discussion at the JCC was a no-holds-barred event.
“It blows my mind how long we’ve known about [the problem of bullying], and it just keeps going,” one parent said. “There just needs to be more outrage.”
We can’t be satisfied to know our day schools and religious schools have zero-tolerance policies for bullying and gossip-free zones in place. All that is commendable, but it is not enough; the problem persists.
And mark this well: Bullying doesn’t end when we leave our school days behind. Bullies grow up, and they continue to hurt in new and critical ways. A bully who is your boss has your livelihood in his hands. A bully who is your city councilman can scandalize your community. A bully who is a rabbi or lay leader can retard your religious experience.
By far, though, the worst form of bullying occurs against children, when they live in fear of boarding a school bus, walking down a hallway, changing for gym class or logging on to Facebook.
They fear laughter from others, taunts, threats, physical pummeling and cyber attacks.
We are grateful to Rabbi Scott Aaron, our community scholar, for courageously calling out bullying in our community during the AJL event.
“We lag on it (the bully problem) in the Jewish community because there is almost no research effort,” he said.
He noted that Jewish parents are frequently loath to believe their kids — boys and girls alike — are bullies. “We [Jews] are historically victimized,” he said, “so to recognize that we’re engaging in behavior that is aggressive is problematic.”
We agree, and we would go one step further: Parents are loath to believe their kids are bullies because doing so means admitting they bear some responsibility for it.
We don’t know what the answer is, but we believe Jewish Pittsburgh must declare war on bullying, by making it one of our highest priorities.
Sound extreme? Consider this: The kids who are bullied in Hebrew school could be turned off to Judaism, perhaps for all time.
It happens; we’ve seen it. And we can’t afford to let this happen any longer.