Alameda student Natasha Waldorf, seen here with parents Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey at her bat mitzvah (Photo/Courtesy Mel Waldorf)
Natasha Waldorf, seen here at her bat mitzvah with parents Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey, received anti-Jewish text messages from a classmate at Alameda High School. (Photo/Courtesy Mel Waldorf)

Alameda High fails to protect my daughter and other Jewish students

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I have lived in Alameda with my wife, Jessica, for 17 years. We have raised our daughter, Natasha, here, and she’s been fortunate enough to grow up on our beautiful island and attend our local schools.

Unfortunately, last year, as a freshman at Alameda High School, Natasha was subjected to multiple anti-Semitic threats. In January, she received anonymous texts calling her a big-nosed kike, was told Hitler’s biggest mistake was not killing our family and that people hate Jews because of “that little country of yours,” meaning Israel. Then there was “JEWS ARE EVIL” graffiti on a desk.

She reported all of this to the Alameda High administration. Two of the offenders were contrite and apologized, but three of the kids who threatened her were not even required to apologize by the school administration.

The administration showed little concern for Natasha’s well-being. Her harassers remained in her classes where she had to face them day after day. None of the incidents were documented by the school, and none were reported to the school community.

For nine months, we’ve tried to reach out to Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, explaining our concerns and suggesting improvements in the way anti-Semitism is handled. He said repeatedly that he reviewed the school’s actions and believes that the school handled the incidents appropriately.

Anti-Semitic texts sent to Alameda High School freshman Natasha Waldorf by classmates in two separate incidents
Anti-Semitic texts sent to Alameda High School freshman Natasha Waldorf by classmates in two separate incidents

Last week, a noose was found at Alameda High. The response was prompt, robust and unequivocal — a robo-call and email to all families, offers of counseling to all students in the school and an immediate police investigation as a hate crime.

As awful as this act is, it’s a generalized threat against no specific student. Remember that the first threats our daughter received were anonymous texts to her cellphone, targeting her directly, calling her a kike, telling her that Hitler’s biggest mistake was not killing our family and that flowers would be put on our murdered relatives’ graves.

To put this in context, imagine a black student receiving anonymous texts calling them the n-word, saying that their whole family should have been lynched and that their murders would be celebrated.

This goes far beyond the level of insult. These are threats, and these are hate crimes.

Our daughter was one of at least six Jewish students in the district threatened by anti-Semitic acts last year. The response by the district has been a weak and shameful contrast compared to the strong and swift response to the noose incident.

The district claims that “Everyone Belongs Here.” In a June 20 letter to district families, Mr. McPhetridge claimed, “[W]e denounce anti-Semitic speech as completely unacceptable.”

At a Sept. 12 Board of Education meeting I attended, he submitted a resolution that states hate speech is wrong and intolerable. Yet everything about the way he handled the threats against our daughter since he first learned of them nine months ago suggests otherwise.

What is it going to take for the district to show, decisively, that anti-Semitic acts have consequences? What will it take for them to protect Jewish students? Does one of our children have to be physically injured first?

The superintendent has had ample time to create a plan and put it into action. We have repeatedly offered constructive, concrete suggestions and assistance. He has chosen to abdicate his responsibilities under California and federal laws. We are not the only members of this community who are disappointed and indeed outraged.

We filed a complaint against McPhetridge with Steven Fong, the district’s chief academic officer, on Aug. 24; as of Sept. 13, we had not yet been contacted by an investigator.

I turn to the Board of Education, which oversees the Alameda Unified School District, and say the responsibility is, ultimately, yours. It’s time to act decisively to protect Jewish students before it’s too late.

Mel Waldorf
Mel Waldorf

Mel Waldorf is an Alameda resident and member of Temple Israel of Alameda.