Phillipian Commentary: To Everyone Who Didn’t Listen at ASM

Dr. Albert Silverstein, a Holocaust survivor and professor who fled his hometown of Graz, Austria in 1938, presented at All School Meeting (ASM) last Friday. Dr. Silverstein’s talk combined history, personal experiences, and current events to stress the importance of learning about xenophobia and historic events. As a member of the Jewish community, it was especially empowering for me to see the school acknowledge Holocaust Remembrance Day with such an impactful speaker.

And yet, rather than focus on Dr. Silverstein’s talk and important message, I noticed that a significant amount of my peers decided that they would rather nap, do homework, or be on their phones during ASM.

When I looked behind me about halfway through the speech, it was hard to miss the heads facing downwards and bored stares of my peers. As Dr. Silverstein discussed the xenophobia his family faced that caused their separation from one another and forced them to flee their hometown, with only the faint hope of being reunited one day, students decided to spend their energy playing iPhone games and checking the time every five minutes.

I understand that ASM can be long and tedious. I understand that people are tired. I understand that some people weren’t “in the mood” for a talk like that. But to the peers who decided that it was not worth giving a Holocaust survivor their undivided attention, I ask them to consider what their actions imply. If you aren’t willing to listen during one ASM, how can the Jewish community expect you to stand up for us, make the effort, and listen to the struggles we go through? To put it bluntly, it is awful how people were not willing to make an effort to respect Dr. Silverstein. [a][b][c][d]When we decide that our personal conveniences are more important than educating ourselves about horrible historical events, we run the risk of being unprepared when the time comes to stop the rise of another. When we decide the fact that we are tired, or “not in the mood,” is more important than the issues at hand, we allow for xenophobia, oppression, and hate to continue. All of these issues thrive on complicity.

When people sit back, don’t take the initiative to educate themselves, and allow for learning opportunities to pass by, hate thrives. Allyship is incredibly important in creating change and fighting hatred. However, allyship requires you to be willing to step up, even if you aren’t energetic or “in the mood” at the moment. So, while it may seem like a flippant and unimportant decision in the moment, paying attention to Dr. Silverstein was a crucial display—or lack thereof—of allyship and solidarity by the Andover community. Had one paid attention to Dr. Silverstein’s talk, they would have learned about the rise in intolerance that led to the Holocaust, prompted by nationalist and xenophobic ideas. They would have heard about the people who forced him to flee his country, but also the people who supported him as he started a new life. They would have heard about the incredible courage of his mother and father, who left everything behind in hopes of safety. They would have heard how hateful attitudes lead to injustice, and that, in the face of this injustice, solidarity leads to powerful change.

It’s more important than ever to remember that anti-Semitism still exists. There are people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, or downplay its significance and the effect it had on the world. Attacks on Jewish people occur almost every week, and a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League (A.D.L.) highlights the apathetic notions people have towards anti-Semitism and issues related to the Holocaust. According to the A.D.L., about 1 in 5 Americans believe that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” 61 percent of Americans believe at least one anti-Semitic trope, such as “Jews have too much power” or “the media is run by Jews.” In addition, 11 percent of adults “harbor deep-seated anti-Semitic attitudes, believing in at least 6 classic stereotypes about Jews.” Andover students have a responsibility to combat this kind of hate in the world, starting with educating themselves and being willing to give up an hour of their day to simply listen to someone whose story matters. To do this, students have to put their personal conveniences and comfort aside to show up for the Jewish community. For too long, ignorance and apathy have fueled the hatred levied against marginalized communities. One of the most powerful ways to combat that is by educating ourselves, and that starts by listening.

I’m frustrated with the disrespect that a large portion of the Andover community showed Dr. Silverstein last Friday. The number of living Holocaust survivors is dwindling, and we have to take the opportunity to hear from them and hear their stories while we can. So, to the Andover community, I implore you: educate yourselves about anti-Semitism. Take one hour off from looking at your phone to be attentive and alert, so that you can hear the words of someone who has endured so much trauma and pain. Be allies as we struggle to make Jewish voices heard, and step up when we ask you to. And, perhaps most importantly: listen.