Charlotte, N.C.—When Charlotte’s three Jewish schools decided to initiate a joint fundraising project last year, they all agreed that a program for both parents and educators would best suit their goals. As a result, the Joined in Education symposium was born, offering two days of speakers, classes and workshops.

This year’s program, “Stand Up to Bullying,” featured Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary Bully. He and other speakers discussed the film, as well as The Bully Project, a nationwide anti-bullying campaign. More than 600 people from the community attended Hirsch’s talk last week, and another 225 participated in workshops the following day.

Lee Hirsch urges parents and teachers to stand up to bullying
Lee Hirsch urges parents and teachers to stand up to bullying

“We live in a ‘me’ generation, filled with children who do not necessarily realize the impact that they have on others,” says Mariashi Groner, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Charlotte and director of the Charlotte Jewish Day School, one of the schools that organized the symposium. “We really need to encourage and empower kids to stop these behaviors. And it’s best to start teaching them how to treat one another while they’re younger because it’s hard to undo [their behavioral patterns] once they’ve grown.”

According to Groner, bullying can be detected even in preschools. That’s why the program is relevant for parents and educators of children of all ages, she notes. The communitywide symposium drew attendees from both private and public schools, mainly because, as Groner puts it, “this issue crosses all races, religions and economic groups.”

“Each year we try to bring educationally relevant workshops for parents and teachers in the entire community,” says Elka Bernstein, director of the Charlotte Jewish Preschool, one of the other schools involved in JIE. “If you teach your children to speak up to a bully, then bullies will go away. We hope to create a community of people who stand up against bullies.”

For Amy Mullen, whose children attend CJDS, Jewish education itself can be a way to prevent bullying.

“One of the reasons I choose to send my children to day school is for these types of issues to be taught in everyday life,” says Mullen, who believes this is not sufficiently taught in public or secular schools. “A stronger connection to Judaism is most beneficial in terms of how to treat others. We can use Torah to teach our children how to stand up for themselves and how not to treat people inappropriately.”

Donna Lerner, whose two teenaged children are graduates of the Charlotte Jewish Day School, hoped to gain practical tools for dealing with bullying, even though she has never dealt with it firsthand.

“I want to be able to help my children deal with this issue as they get older because the truth is, it’s not just a school issue; it’s something you deal with your entire life,” she says.

Bullying is a new topic for Heather Salam, whose children attend both Charlotte Jewish Day School and the Jewish preschool.

“I just want to be aware of what’s out there because it’s a real problem,” says Salam. “I want to know what to look for, and this program helped me to figure out a way to start a dialogue about it with my kids.”

It is the organizers' hope that the symposium will positively affect the Charlotte community at large.

“People need to be educated on creating a kinder environment. Yes, kids will be kids, but they do need proper guidance and discipline,” says Gale Osborne, director of advancement at Charlotte Jewish Day School. “As Judaism teaches us, one good deed begets another. It’s a fundamental commandment to treat each other well, so even a little bit of growth in this area can effect a great change.”