Sunday, May 29, 2022

Schoolchildren Shouldn't Have To Live Like Jews

In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, the internet is replete with proposals on how to avoid or at least mitigate the risks of yet another school shooting. Some in the Jewish community have suggested adopting some of the measures we have taken to keep our schools, centers, and synagogues safe -- things like controlled entry, on-site security, and other forms of "hardening the target".

Some of these suggestions might be good ideas, and most are being made with the best of intentions. But I feel like they overlooking something very important.

Growing up Jewish, these sorts of security interventions are so normal one can almost forget how abnormal they are. Of course there is a noticeable police presence during high holiday services. Of course someone has to check you in at the door before you're allowed to even enter the synagogue. Of course there is onerous keycard entry requirements if you want to access the building for a evening Torah study session. It is jarring to encounter the freedom of places that don't have that sort of security because they don't operate with the background presupposition that someone could be trying to kill their patrons at any moment.

Because these interventions are so normalized, we forget that having to impose these sorts of security measures is bad. These measures make Jewish life worse -- less open and more stressful, less accessible and more cloistered. Does anybody think that the ideal synagogue experience is like this? They may nonetheless be necessary because of the dangers Jews face -- but that's just it: they are reflective of Jews being a persecuted minority who are regularly targeted with violent threats and assaults. What does it mean to cross-apply them to the context of public elementary schools? It's saying that every 5 - 11 year old in America is as vulnerable as a member of the minority group that is, per capita, the most common target of hate crimes in the country! That's terrible! That should be seen as a catastrophe! If that is indeed the state of being a student in America, that is an appalling failure!

The title of this post is deliberately provocative. Jews should not have to live like this either. We should be able to live our communal life open and without fear, not looking over our shoulders for the next active shooter. But we've resigned ourselves to an inability to eliminate the root cause of our problem, antisemitism. We can't do it on our own, and broader society is not interested in investing the effort to make the project a success. So stuck with the reality of persistent violent antisemitism, at least over the medium term, these measures are suboptimal ameliorations of the consequences of our continued marginalization.

If schoolchildren are in the same boat, that must mean we've reached the same conclusion for them: as a polity, we just have given up on our ability to actually eliminate the threat to schoolchildren. We cannot be bothered to make the social and political investments necessary so that the status of schoolchildren is not analogous to that of a persecuted minority regularly targeted by violent threats. We have resigned ourselves to that level of vulnerability for our children, and now just seek to ameliorate the effects. That is appalling. It is appalling that Jews are forced to accept this; and it is a perverse form of justice that this quiescence be extended to every family with minor children.

I do not claim that the experiences of the Jewish community cannot be helpful in building out better security for public schools, in this decidedly suboptimal world where we have apparently decided to just accept this terrible vulnerability as a baseline. But we should not lose sight of the fact that if our experiences are even analogous -- what a striking indictment that is of our society. People should not have to live like this.

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