Alum Points to East Brunswick High School History of Antisemitism

Reprinted Courtesy of TapInto East Brunswick from June 5, 2024 at 5:22 PM
Dear Editor: 

It’s been a while since I have been a student at East Brunswick High School, but I have never been so compelled to reach out and express my deepest disappointment with this year’s yearbook and the lack of accountability within the walls of EBHS.

My sister, Eva Tell ’19, as well as my parents, are longtime supporters of East Brunswick public schools for providing my sister and me with the knowledge and skills to succeed academically and professionally. However, we are successful in spite of acts of antisemitism that occurred in the district when we were students, which were often ignored.

I implore you not to turn a blind eye this time around. We are outraged, upset, confused, and baffled by the blatant act of antisemitism on display in the yearbook and the lack of approval and accountability by the yearbook club members and faculty supervisors.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I am surprised by this incident. Antisemitism has been a problem in East Brunswick schools for years, and I am frustrated with myself for not speaking up about it more during my time there. I remember incidents from Churchill; swastikas on desks, phrases of Holocaust denial screamed out by students during passing time, a teacher who put a question about Zyklon-B (a toxic gas used by the Nazi’s in concentration camp gas chambers) on my 9 th grade Biology Honors test.

At the high school, some “friends” liked to call me the “big Jew.” In some of my classes, classmates rolled their eyes as I gave opinions, whispering “know-it-all Jew” as I spoke. Coded antisemitism came from all types of students, from those on sports teams to AP classes. Finally, there was an incident my senior year that Mr. Yannazzo helped address, in which I was bumped in gym class and called a “stupid Jew”

While that student was swiftly suspended and referred to EBPD, I still regret that I did not do more to raise my voice against such antisemitic incidents as there were many other times that I felt marginalized and singled out for my Judaism. I have always been taught to be a proud Jew by my parents, family, and leaders of my community. But at EBHS, I can’t say I did the best I could calling out the antisemitism that I experienced.

Since the horrendous attacks on October 7th, antisemitism is now “trendy,” emboldened by anti-Zionism and the encampments that spread across the country at colleges and universities. Now more than ever, my Jewish peers feel under attack and the unacceptable actions by the yearbook encapsulate the antisemitism that has been allowed to continue at EBHS like a festering sore.

Never again should a student feel singled out as the only Jew in a class, in a club, or on a sports or academic team. I feel as proud as ever to be a Jew. I stand tall as a “big Jew” even as protestors call for the destruction of the State of Israel and attack the Jewish community I now call home on my college campus. I am fortunate to have been educated at an institution as diverse as EBHS, but Jews are being left behind in these conversations.

Over the years, it has become harder and harder to be Jewish at EBHS, and an investigation into this latest incident is not enough. What is needed is a reckoning, a thoughtful reconsideration of EBHS’ priorities and goals as a diverse institution that educates students of all backgrounds and walks of life. If the last 8 months has taught me anything, it is never too late to speak up and out against the hatred towards Jews anywhere.

A failure to protect Jewish students has occurred at all levels, from students to staff. I beg you to not only do better, but to take meaningful action to help your students, who, like myself, may not always speak up.

Matthew Tell
East Brunswick High School, 2022


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