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Controversy Over Worksheet at Orthodox School in London

A worksheet’s reference to ‘evil goyim,’ stirs controversy in London, but context does matter.

Jas Chana
September 03, 2015
woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia Commons
woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia Commons
woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia Commons
woodleywonderworks / Wikimedia Commons

An Orthodox Jewish school in London has sparked furor after a worksheet for three year-old students described Nazis as “evil goyim.” An anonymous whisteblower sent a copy of the worksheet, written in Yiddish, to The Independent, which broke the news about Beis Rochel school.

The uproar, though, may stem in part from vague writing, rendered even more ambiguously through an imperfect translation.

The Independent‘s translation of the worksheet into English includes the following line: “What have the evil goyim (non-Jews) done with the synagogues and cheders [Jewish primary schools]?” The correct answer is listed as “Burned them.”

The anonymous source told The Independent that “[the worksheet is] a document that teaches very young children to be very afraid and treat non-Jews very suspiciously because of what they did to us in the past.” Emily Green, who used to teach at the Beis Rochel secondary (high) school, told The Independent that “It’s not uncommon to be taught non-Jewish people are evil in ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. It is part of the prayers, teaching, their whole ethos.” Green now chairs Gesher EU, an organization that helps Orthodox Jews leave the community.

That may not be the whole story. According to a PR spokesperson for the school, Shimon Cohen, The Independent failed to appreciate the context in which the term goyim was used.

Cohen told The Jewish Chronicle that “the leaflet that the Independent refers to was handed out on the 21 Kislev, when the Satmar Jews celebrate the rescue of their founding rabbi from Bergen-Belsen.”

“The questions were only talking about the specific event, but there is no Yiddish word for Nazis. The suggestion that children are being taught that non-Jews are evil is nonsense and simply false. They are being taught that Nazis are evil.”

Cohen continued: “It is almost like, if you are sitting around a seder table and you say that the goyim made us build pyramids, you are obviously talking about the Egyptians. You’re not talking about the Welsh. It’s just daft.”

The controversy follows a media uproar in June, when it was discovered that a London Belz-Hasidic school had sent a letter around the community explicitly banning women from driving their children to the school.

Related: The Blame Game

Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.