(JTA) — A Jewish woman in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says her child learned “how to torture a Jew” in a public school Bible class.
The woman, Juniper Russo, wrote about the incident in a Facebook post that is no longer public. In it, she alleged that the teacher had engaged in “blatant Christian proselytizing” in a Bible history class that was supposed to be “non-sectarian.”
Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga’s public school district, is investigating the incident. Michael Dzik, president of the Jewish Federation of Chattanooga, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he believed the district was taking the investigation seriously.
But Dzik said the topic wouldn’t be on the table Monday night when the federation co-hosts a conversation with Jewish cartoonist Art Spiegelman about a nearby county school board’s recent decision to withdraw his memoir on the Local Program “Maus” Holocaust. .
“It’s not going to happen,” Dzik said. “We’ve had a few questions from people but… we’ll try to stay on topic. This [Hamilton] is obviously an important topic too, [but] we want to focus on the Art and its book” for the evening.
Russo’s daughter’s class was part of an initiative by Bible in the Schools, a Chattanooga-based nonprofit that promotes Bible study in public school classrooms. Classes officially study the Bible as literature and for its historical value in a “non-sectarian” manner, according to the organization’s website, allowing classes to be taught in public schools.
“[The teacher] wrote an English transliteration of Gd’s Hebrew name on the whiteboard. This name is traditionally not spoken aloud and is traditionally only written in the Torah. She then told her students, “If you want to know how to torture a Jew, have him say it out loud,” Russo wrote, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which first reported the story. “My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher explain to her peers ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me on her way home from school that she did not feel safe in the class.”
Jews do not usually pronounce the name of God as it is written in some parts of the Bible, but rather pronounce it as “adonai”, which means “my lord”.
Russo, whose family belongs to the Reformed Mizpah Congregation of Chattanooga, told the local newspaper that she reported the matter in her daughter’s class to the Anti-Defamation League, which collects and responds to allegations of anti-Semitism.
The incident comes just weeks after the McMinn County School Board, located about 50 miles northeast of Chattanooga, removed ‘Maus’ from its curriculum after parents complained about the appearance of swearing and nudity in the book. The book, which tells the story of the author’s father during the Holocaust and depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats chasing them, is frequently used to teach middle and high school students about the Holocaust.
Dzik said that while the alleged incident in the Bible studies class would not be part of Monday’s conversation with Spiegelman, the conference would continue over time “back and forth, for sure.” About the Bible in schools, he said conference officials were “looking forward to meeting them” to discuss the initiative, whose teachers include many trained in Christian seminaries.
“I hope this is an opportunity for them to reflect on that and look at the curriculum and see how the teachers present the material, to make sure that – the term we used is – there’s “education, not indoctrination,” Dzik said. .