Jews and tolerance: Fighting stereotypes through awareness

By Haley Abramson, John Burroughs High School

While many youngsters attend Sunday school and religious classes each week, often their knowledge about religions other than their own is lacking. Even teens with a good understanding of their religion don’t always know exactly what they are worshipping or why.

Statistics from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life show that teens could answer only 40 percent of questions about religion correctly, and adults only 50 percent. These questions included facts about all religions, though questions about Judaism went widely unanswered. Only 45 percent of teens knew Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, 37 percent did not know Genesis was the first book of the Torah, and 83 percent (according to an informal poll taken among students at John Burroughs High School) were unaware that the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry gives to all people, not just Jews.

Fortunately, Jews knew the most when quizzed on all religions, while Protestants and Catholics knew the least. This could be in part because of the wide variety of education Jews receive on this topic. For example, at Congregation B’nai Amoona, its ninth-grade Sunday school class spends the year learning about the most prominent religions in the world. Teens learn to accept everyone and show that there are connections among religions since so many developed from a common ancestry, Judaism. Even in school, students take World Civilization classes where they learn about the history of different religions from a hopefully impartial standpoint. But clearly, this is not enough.

A lack of knowledge can result in stereotypes and disturbances. There are many stereotypes about Jews that hurt students every day. This includes telling people they are “such a Jew” when they make a bad decision or say something unintelligent.

“No one feels any better by hearing those hurtful comments, but still I hear them all the time,” said a John Burroughs student who requested to stay anonymous. “One time, somebody next to me was taking money out of their wallet, and I was watching for no reason in particular. They looked up and saw me, and said ‘Quit looking at my money, Jew.’”

This hateful act should not happen again. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 37 percent of all hate crimes and 85 percent of religious hate crimes committed in New York in 2009 were directed against Jews. The FBI found that in the entire United States, Jews were the target of almost 72 percent of all religious hate crimes. Although this is not Missouri specifically, it is still a solemn statistic.

According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, as people become more educated, they know more about religion. So the key, it seems, is better and more education about religion, like the classes taught at B’nai Amoona. Teens are curious people who should get the opportunity to ask questions and learn about how other people pray each week. At schools, teens are taught about ancient civilizations, but do not expand on the modern religious ideas. This does not mean teachers need to impose personal beliefs during school, but rather that at churches, synagogues, mosques and the like, there should be programs to teach kids about religions other than their own. In this way, the world can lower, if not stop, discrimination against different faiths.