Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's Time to Take a Stand

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, bully meant lover. A sweetheart. A fine chap. How do we know? It derived from Middle Dutch boele, meaning lover, and its first use in the 16th century. As an adjective, it once meant excellent in the 17th century. Bully for you! Bully indeed. And then?
1 to treat abusively
2 to affect by means of force or coercion
What happened?

When I was a kid and eczema began to plague my legs and arms horribly, I became the focus of bullying. I had weird legs, weird sores, weird skin. People didn't want to touch me. I was different. 

When I entered middle school in Joplin, MO, I was taller and larger than just about everyone I knew. I had my first period before everyone else. In home room, my purse was stolen and thrown around the room; I had pads. Every girl goes through it, but I went through it before everybody. I felt out of place, large, big. I spent the second semester of 6th grade throwing away my lunch and drinking only juice boxes. The difference in my 5th and 6th grade bodies is stark. I was different. 

When I was in middle school in Lincoln, NE and at the Belmont swimming pool, a classmate sang the Butterball Turkey theme song to me as I swam. He called, "Beached whale!" And to this day, I don't like to swim, I don't like to be in the water or near it, and I went nearly 10 years without owning a swimsuit. I was larger than other girls my age. I was different.

When I was in seventh and eighth grade, a boy decided that my body was meant to be objectified. He emotionally assaulted me with his inappropriate thoughts, harassed me in class, and his friend prodded him on. We went to the administration, and nothing happened. Nothing ever happened. I had a figure, and I was different. 

For some reason, when I got to high school, I blended in. I was in choir, honors classes, volleyball. I covered my bases in order to survive. But my older brother had bullies -- jocks who thought they were funny -- and those bullies became my bullies. I was associated with different. 

In college, my Jewish neshama burned bright and woke me up. I felt relieved, excited, eager. People who I'd considered friends began bullying me about being interested in Judaism online, making anti-Semitic jokes, and everyone egged everyone on. I consistently shrugged it off, until I couldn't, and then I removed myself from the situation. Years later, some apologized. Being Jewish meant it was okay to bully me. After all, I was different.

After college, when I lived in Chicago, Jews bullied me. "You'll never be Jewish, because you don't have Jewish blood," they said. I was "too Jewish" in their eyes. I was proud to be something that they deemed that I wasn't. I was scared to go out, I was scared to leave my apartments. And it all happened online. But the threats were vivid, scary, and I crumbled under them. I was different. 

And then, as my blog became more well read, I experienced the bane of the internet: anonymous, hate-filled bullying. That is, at first a lot of it was anonymous. As time has progressed, the bullying has come from those I once considered friends who probably don't consider themselves bullies. "To treat abusively" covers many bases, not just physical. Emotional abuse is perhaps the worst of it all, and the emotional abuse that I've received for being me continues to amaze me. Why am I a target of bullying by other Jews? Because I AM DIFFERENT. 

The funny thing about the Jewish community, I've realized, is that we're the perfect community to combat bullying and yet we are horrible, horrible bullies. Jewish ethics and values tell us that man was made in the image of G-d and should be treated accordingly. How poorly we follow through. How badly we treat one another on behalf of differences. I wonder if some of the things people have said to me they would be willing to say to HaShem. Our values teach us that we are responsible for repairing a very broken world. Hatred, abuse, and bullying exist at every stage of life, and while we should be fighting these abuses, we're allowing others in our community to participate in further breaking into pieces this world we live in. 

All of this comes because I saw the movie "Bully" tonight, and it left me outraged. Sick to my stomach. An 11-year-old boy should not have to carry the casket of his best friend (also 11) to a hole in the ground because that friend killed himself because he was being bullied. Eleven. Years. Old. I cried. I cried, and I cried for the parents that lost or were losing a child from something they could not control and something that school administrators refused to change out of stubbornness or ignorance. It made me sick. 

They call it "Bullycide." Every year, 6.3 percent of high school students attempt suicide. With that, I am a statistic. I did a quick search of recent bully-based teen suicide. In the past month ...
  • Grace McComas, 15, killed herself on Easter in Howard County, MD. She was cyberbullied. 
  • Kenneth Weishuhn, 14, killed himself on Easter in Paullina, IA. He was bullied for being gay.
  • Ted "Teddy" Molina, 16, killed himself in on April 2 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He was part Latino and part Asian and was bullied for being "mixed."
  • Rafael Morelos, 14, killed himself in late March in Cashmere, Washington. He was bullied for being openly gay.
I'm sure there are more. Many more. 

And then there are cases like Austin Rodriguez of Wellsville, OH, who attempted suicide in late March -- entering a coma. He was bullied for being gay. Imagine how many other suicide attempts there are everyday because of the despair of bullying? 

We think that words are simply words, but words are the worst daggers of all. We have a responsibility to stand for one another, to give a voice to the voiceless, and to make sure that children reach adulthood and can experience life. What am I going to do? I'm going to create a resource at work as a means of education for parents and teens in what to do if they are being bullied online and how to make it stop. 

And I advise those who wish to come to this blog and bully me, that I will no longer stand for hate, judgment, or abuse. This blog is a bully-free zone. If you can't handle that, then you need to reevaluate what the Torah, the Talmud, and our sages have to say about repairing the world and treating those who inhabit this world.