Jewish teacher who complained about anti-Semitism sues NJ school

Jewish teacher from New Jersey files lawsuit against Catholic school, says he was fired after complaining about students' anti-Semitism.

Ben Ariel,

Swastika (illustration)
Swastika (illustration)
Thinkstock

A Jewish teacher from New Jersey has filed a lawsuit in federal court against an all-boys Catholic school, claiming he was fired after complaining about rampant anti-Semitism among students, The Hill reported Tuesday.

The teacher, Jacob Rabinowitz, last week accused St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale and the Archdiocese of Newark of religious discrimination, unlawful retaliation and creating a hostile work environment, according to the report.

Rabinowitz, who was hired to teach calculus for the 2017–2018 school year, says he was exposed to anti-Semitism from students on the first day of class.

“The conduct he was subjected to was not kids being kids but conduct highly offensive to a Jewish individual who had to stare at a swastika every day,” Rabinowitz’s attorney, Justin Santagata, told NJ.com on Tuesday.

The teacher said there was a swastika carved into the blackboard in the room he shared with other teachers. It reportedly was not removed until several months later.

One student reportedly wrote on a desk “sechs millionen waren nur der anfang,” which translates from German to “six million was just the beginning.”

Another student told the class that his favorite scene from the famed Holocaust movie “Schindler’s List” included the murder of a Jewish woman, and he then acted out the scene, says the lawsuit which was obtained by NJ.com.

Rabinowitz said students would throw coins at him when his back was turned, writing in the lawsuit that the act was “an obvious reference to Jewish stereotypes.”

He also accused the school of purposefully giving him inferior teaching materials that differed from other teachers, including a 30-year-old textbook and no smart boards.

When it came time for his performance review in February, Rabinowitz said he was criticized for not engaging with students. Rabinowitz documented “a litany of anti-Semitic and other discriminatory behavior he experienced” in his response to the performance review.

The lawsuit alleges that the school's principal told Rabinowitz that the students' anti-Semitic behavior “seems to be a direct reflection of your inability to manage a classroom. He was later informed that he would not be employed the following school year and says the notice came almost a month before the April 25 deadline required by the teachers’ bargaining agreement.

Rabinowitz is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, damages for emotional distress and attorneys fees, according to The Hill.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the diocese, told NJ.com that Rabinowitz did not notify the school about the students’ anti-Semitic behavior until he “received a less-than-satisfactory evaluation.”

"It is important to note, however, that the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) reviewed Mr. Rabinowitz’s complaint earlier this year and advised him that it was unable to conclude that the school violated any federal statutes,” he added.

The US has seen an increase in incidents of anti-Semitism in recent years. According to an FBI report published last month, hate crimes against Jews in America rose by more than a third last year and accounted for 58 percent of all religion-based hate crime.

There have been several anti-Semitic incidents in the past few weeks alone. On Sunday, Nazi-themed posters were hung at the State University of New York’s Purchase College.

Two weeks ago, the office of a Jewish professor at Columbia University was spray painted with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Swastikas were spray painted on two walls of the office of Elizabeth Midlarsky, professor of psychology and education, at Columbia Teachers College. The word “YID” also was spray painted on a wall of the office of the professor, who is Jewish and who researches and publishes about the Holocaust.

In mid-November, a swastika and an upside-down cross were painted on a decorative post in front of a Jewish center in Miami Beach, Florida.

At the start of that month, a synagogue in Irvine, California, was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.


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