Today’s necessary reading is a profile of Ian Baron as seen through the eyes of his parents and teachers. Two years ago, he was taking pictures at the Western Wall during a Birthright trip. Today, he’s in prison with an SS tattoo, facing six years for defacing a synagogue.

There’s a lot that should disturb you in this story, like Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explaining “It is not uncommon for Jewish kids to get involved with Nazi or white supremacist groups. ‘It happens much more often than people expect.’” Or, Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz, who has visited Ian eight times in prison, and acknowledges that, “He knew what he was doing, but was angry at the world and himself. He hated the Jewish part of himself and was looking for something that symbolized that hatred.”

Those are just the end products of Baron’s sad journey; what kicked me in the gut is how he got on that path.

Classmates would regularly harass Ian, who has dark skin and Hispanic features [He was adopted from Panama], according to his parents. They would call him “kike” or “spic,” but would also shout, “You can’t be Jewish” because of his physical appearance, [his parents] recalled.

Feeling estranged from the Jewish community because of his looks—and from the Hispanic community because of his faith—Ian became isolated, explained Rabbi Sikowitz.

Earlier this week, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding set off a wave of hand-wringing with a poll suggesting http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/03/30/3086626/disparities-between-jews-latinos-on-israel significant amounts of prejudice between the Jewish and Latino community. Predictably, and perhaps understandably, the focus of most of the statements and editorials in response were about combating Latino Anti-Semitism, and trying to build a political coalition between the two minority groups. Those are admirable goals, but what they didn’t address was 30% of Jews with Anti-Latino beliefs. Not only is it ridiculous to only discuss how to make sure Latinos are Good For The Jews,” but Baron shows that Jewish prejudice doesn’t only hurt others, but our own community as well.

Ian Baron has issues beyond the bullying he got in school, but somewhere along the lines those kids—Jewish kids—were taught what a Jew looks like, and that it wasn’t Baron. I don’t want to overly connect the poll with Ian Baron—but somewhere between his Bar Mitzvah and jail, something went wrong in his life that took him towards incredible choices. We need to do some soul-searching on what drove him there, if it is systemic, and if we can fix it.

A few weeks ago, after the Census was released, the L.A. Jewish Journal wrote a great long article on the Latin-Jewish coalitions in L.A. and their political clout. It ended, however, on what should be a cautionary note, with a quote from State Senator Alex Padilla of San Fernando. He had Jewish friends growing up, he said, but “The first Seder I got invited to was when I got into office.” It should always come sooner.

‘What Went Wrong’? – Profile of a Jewish Shul Desecrater [WJW]
Many Latinos See U.S. Bias Towards Israel, Poll Shows. [JTA]
Latino-Jewish Challenge [Jewish Week]
The New Power of a Latino Jewish Coalition [Jewish Journal]