When reports first came out about the anti-Semitic graffiti attack against B’nai Shalom synagogue of Olney, Maryland last summer, it seemed like your typical attack. Swastikas and Nazi references were sprayed on the walls. A suspect was apprehended – a disturbed, homeless young man, sporting Nazi tattoos, and with alcohol problems who was known to the police and whose fingerprints were found on cans of spray paint left behind. Ian Baron is in prison awaiting sentencing for this attack, and he faces up to six and a half years in jail.
Typical right? Except for one thing. Ian Baron is Jewish. In 2008 he went on a Birthright Israel trip. He had a Bar Mitzva, he went to Jewish day school, he attended synagogue services regularly. So what happened?? The Washington Jewish Week profiles Baron, a young man, of Latino birth, who was adopted by a Jewish couple, converted to Judaism and was raised fully Jewish.
Ian had his fair share of problems however. His parents moved when he was 13 and he had a learning disability. Most horribly of all however, he was teased and bullied in Middle School by his new Jewish classmates who would :
…regularly harass Ian, who has dark skin and Hispanic features, 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,Marla and Steven recalled… This type of treatment “was a real shock for him,” Marla added, explaining that Ian would return home from school “distraught” over the name-calling… “He didn’t always fit in, and doesn’t look like your typical middle class, Jewish Olney kid,” said Rabbi Reuben Landman, HTAA’s spiritual leader, who counseled Ian when he was distressed. “He was lost and couldn’t find himself. His own Jewish identity was under question.” … Feeling estranged from the Jewish community because of his looks — and from the Hispanic community because of his faith — Ian became isolated, explained Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz, who’s been visiting him regularly at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds… “He felt like he didn’t belong, that they [the Jewish and Hispanic communities] either hated him or rejected him out right,” said Sikowitz, spiritual leader of Reform congregation Kol Ami in Frederick.
He did enjoy his Birthright Israel trip, but after his return from Israel the situation deteriorated and he became an alcoholic. He moved out of his parents home, lived on the streets, hung out with the wrong crowd and eventually got into the situation that he is in today.
How does something like this happen? I’m no expert of course, but to whatever extent the teasing and the bullying about his appearance that he suffered at the hands of his Jewish classmates contributed to the situation, I would like to apologize to Ian, on behalf of decent Jews everywhere. As anyone who is steeped in Jewish religious law knows, it is a sin to embarrass anyone publicly. It is also especially wrong to question the Judaism of a Jewish convert. Furthermore, Judaism is not a race. There isn’t an official Jewish look or skin color or hair texture or nose size. The only people that believe that are ignorant racists, and the kids at Ian’s Jewish Middle School in Onley.
This should serve as a wake up call to every Jewish community. You better teach your children what it means to be a Jew, and what the ramifications of bullying are. In the meantime, I am glad that some members of the community have lent support to Ian. I am glad that Ian is attending Alcoholics Anonymous, I am glad that Ian is reconnecting with his Judaism while in prison and I hope that the judge shows him some leniency so that he can get the help and support that he needs.
Again, sorry Ian. I am horrified.
“I hope to be home soon,” he wrote in one letter the Barons shared with WJW. “I pray every night that Hashem will return me to my family where I belong.”
I’m praying with you too man. Shabbat shalom.
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