I just saw this new documentary, Bully. It was hard to even speak as I left the theater.

For those of you who don’t know it, Bully is a film that follows the lives of five different students. Two of the stories are about young kids who take their own lives because they just can’t take it anymore. The other stories range from the courageous, resilient Kelby who is a target because she is a lesbian, to the numb Alex who stops feeling anything because he is routinely pummelled on the bus and in school.

The stories are heartbreaking. Simply heartbreaking. But rather than for me to write a review, take a look at the trailer and then scroll below it because…well, we have work to do.

One of the most significant parts of attending the viewing of this film was the discussion in the theater afterwards. What emerged started off as a sharing of feelings — outrage, inspiration, disbelief, anger, and so much more. There was also a sharing of students and parents who were exasperated by not finding the support of schools or local officials. Students are missing school, their grades are dropping, the health is less secure, or they are leaving their schools altogether to be home-schooled because our public and private schools are not truly safe.

Their parents weren’t people who didn’t fight for their kids. These were parents who advocated, fought and lobbied to try to insure the safety of their children. Nothing less than that…their safety! And yet, they were frustrated from the brick wall of school administrators more interested in “Schools of Excellence” rather than citizenship, or that a slogan of “Bully Free Zone” will do the trick.

I saw people with pain today. The stories of these families in the film and the stories of the families in the theater ought to ignite a raging intolerance for this bullying in our schools.  We have to fight it because…it isn’t really bullying…it is abuse, assaults, and harassment.

I think right away to our Torah. Look at the very beginning of the Book of Numbers. It says that God instructs Moses to take a census. That makes sense since they were embarking on a long journey towards the Promised Land. They needed to know how many soldiers they would have during their travels. But the Hebrew is: S’u et rosh kol adat b’nai Yisrael — “lift the head up” of everyone in the community of the children of Israel. While the idiom used is simply for a census, I am struck by the idea that in order to take a count, we need to life up the heads of the people and have them feel like they count.

WOW! So to count heads is not enough. If we want to shape a good society and have everyone count, then we have to play a role and lift up the head of our neighbor. It isn’t enough to just take a count; we have to communicate that everyone counts! Everyone matters! Raise up their heads! This community can only make it to the Promised Land if we make sure that everyone is able to hold his or her head up high. Some of them might need some help.

Well, the same is true for today. That is the very least that we can do in our own communities, schools, synagogues, youth programs, and places of work. If someone’s head is down, we must raise them up.

As parents, educators, clergy, mentors or friends, we need to share with our young people that it isn’t only about getting good grades. As important as it is to reach your academic potential, it is just as important to stand up for your peer and take a stand against an injustice.

It’s that simple.

I was glad that our Jewish community got behind this film. The audience today was brought together by BBYO, NFTY-SAR, and a host of Atlanta synagogues and Jewish organizations (click here for info about the pledge to end bullying and who sponsored this gathering). I believe that this is something the Jewish community ought to talk about. It is not only that it is happening to kids in our community, but this is what we have been talking about for the entire past week — being redeemed from Mitzrayim/Egypt and the degradation of slavery. We know what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land, so we cannot tolerate it when it is done to others. Instead, we raise up the heads of others and have them feel like they count.

If there is one thing that I find myself saying over and over again…it is that the synagogue has to be a place where everyone feels safe. Not only is it a no bullying zone, it is where everyone gets to be themselves and be accepted.

I believe with all of my heart that every single person is created in God’s image. If that is our TRUTH, then we must live that way.

What are your thoughts?

Have you been a victim of bullying? How did you get through it?

Have you stood up for others? (Remember: “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”)

Here are a few other things to look at:

The Bully Project – there are great resources for parents, educators, and teens here.

Facebook.com/groups/standforthesilent

My wife’s blog on the film: Puzzled.

And to help you get started in this important task…here is a little inspiration —

A new announcement:

Please join us:

The BULLY Conversation (free to the community)

Sunday, April 29, from 2-4PM, MJCCA

Facilitated by Rebecca Stapel-Wax, Director, The Rainbow Center of Jewish Family and Career Services

For all parents, families, preteens, and teens who are ready to turn the tide on an epidemic of violence that has touched every community.

Registration will be open on Tuesday, and we will forward that link out to all of you as soon as it is up. (Check in with the MJCCA’s Teen Department).

Participation is not limited to those who were with us at the April 15th screening. Everyone is welcome. We recommend that you see the movie prior to this event, but it is not required.

 

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