A public charter school located at a Los Angeles Jewish synagogue has ousted two teachers for sharing “a lesson on the genocide in Palestine” with first graders, school officials announced on Friday.
The teachers are employed by Citizens of the World Charter School, which has classrooms at Adat Ari El Synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, and the lessons were among several points of conflict.
In the days after Hamas’s Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israeli civilians, the synagogue hung Israeli flags around its campus in solidarity with the grieving nation, Senior Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei explained at a news conference on Friday.
On Oct. 16, Schuldenfrei says he received an email from the charter school’s principal relaying the concerns of “certain teachers” and asking when the flags would be removed.
“I know that this is a time to hold your community close, and perhaps the flags are intended for that – but do you know how long they will be up?” the email read.
After explaining to the principal that he found her suggestion offensive — equating it to asking Americans to take down their United States flags immediately after the 9/11 attacks — he says the principal apologized.
Schuldenfrei says he then became aware of the purported “human rights” lessons taught by the same teachers who had complained.
“After the lesson, one of the teachers proudly shared on Instagram, and I quote, ‘LOL but I did a lesson on the genocide in Palestine today w my first graders…,'” he says. “The teacher went on to boast: ‘My fav was a kid who was like ‘What if they just gave the land back to Palestine and find somewhere else to live.”
“The teacher punctuated the quote with a heart emoji.”
This was offensive on several levels, the rabbi says.
“The world needs to know that anyone who calls for the eradication of Israel is expressing a pernicious form of antisemitism, a denial of the right of Jews to live in our ancestral homeland. The heart emoji … is perverse punctuation, dressing up hate in the guise of love.”
In announcing that both teachers had been removed, but not fired on Friday, CWC executive director Melissa Kaplan apologized and promised a thorough investigation.
“CWC unequivocally condemns the social media posts by our staff members, including the use of the word “genocide” to describe Israel’s [response to the attack],” Kaplan said in a statement. “CWC unequivocally condemns the disturbing suggestion that Jews should leave the region, and we unequivocally condemn any lesson that creates bias or fear among our students.”
The school’s principal, Hye-Won Gehring, also apologized — again — and announced she was taking a two-week leave of absence for sensitivity training.
“I did not understand the impact of my actions, and am committed to creating a safe environment for my Jewish students, staff and families,” said Gehring.
Schuldenfrei says the ordeal has been traumatizing for the community, but hopes it somehow produces good.
“It is heartening to see Citizens of the World take these first steps. We remain committed to working with them to ensure that this is a learning moment for everyone.”