Jewish teacher sues Catholic school after pupils “threw coins at him,” decorated desks with “swastikas and anti-Jewish language.”
By Shiri Moshe, The Algemeiner
A former teacher at a Catholic high school in Montvale, New Jersey, alleged in a lawsuit last week that he was wrongly terminated after sustaining anti-Semitic abuse.
In a complaint filed in federal court, Jacob Rabinowitz said he experienced a “litany of anti-Semitic and other discriminatory behavior” while working as a pre-calculus teacher during the 2017-2018 school year at St. Joseph Regional High School.
Both the private, all-boys school and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, which oversees it, are listed as defendants in the case.
Rabinowitz said that he found a swastika carved into the blackboard in his classroom on his first day, claiming in the lawsuit that it was “unmistakable and could not have gone unnoticed” by administrators or other teachers who shared the space.
He recalled that for several weeks, students “threw coins at him whenever his back was turned in an obvious reference to Jewish stereotypes.” The pupils’ desks were also “frequently adorned with swastikas and anti-Jewish language,” Rabinowitz alleged — with one featuring the German sentence, “Sechs millionen waren nur der anfang,” which translates to, “Six million was just the beginning.”
He recounted one incident when a student announced to the class that his favorite scene in the Holocaust film Schindler’s List involved the gruesome murder of a Jewish woman, and he then proceeded to act out the murder.
Rabinowitz indicated that the discrimination also extended to distribution of resources, as he was only provided with “30-year-old textbooks” and no “smart board,” while “other teachers received better materials.”
The lawsuit acknowledged that he received a negative performance review in February, which accused him of failing to “engage” his students. Yet Rabinowitz argued that the review took place the day before a test, when pupils were primarily focused on studying. In a letter responding to the review, he mentioned the abusive behavior he encountered while at St. Joseph.
School principal Michael Bruno — who conducted the performance review — replied to Rabinowitz less than a week later, suggesting that the students’ behavior was “a direct reflection of your inability to manage a classroom.” Bruno claimed that this failure was why a Geometry section was taken away from Rabinowitz after the administration had attempted to intervene in the classroom, and after the teacher was “made aware of a myriad of parent and student complaints both about your instruction and the classroom environment.”
School response ‘tone-deaf and antiseptic’
While the lawsuit described Bruno’s response as “tone-deaf and antiseptic,” it also highlighted it as evidence that “St. Joseph’s administration was aware of at least latent anti-Semitism and other discriminatory animus” in Rabinowitz’s classes — an animus that, according to the lawsuit, was adopted by the school when it informed the teacher days later that his contract would not be renewed. The swastika was still on his blackboard at the time, where it remained until late April.
Jim Goodness, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark, told The Algemeiner in a statement that while the church did not typically comment on ongoing litigation or personnel issues, the case at hand involved “a first-year teacher who did not raise any complaints about anything until after he received a less-than-satisfactory evaluation.”
“It is important to note, however, that the EEOC [US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] reviewed Mr. Rabinowitz’s complaint earlier this year and advised him that it was unable to conclude that the school violated any federal statutes,” he continued.
Yet Justin Santagata, an attorney for Rabinowitz, told The Algemeiner that the EEOC statement “is a standard response that most litigants receive before proceeding with a lawsuit,” and did not certify that St. Joseph or the Archdiocese were in compliance with federal law.
“Saying Mr. Rabinowitz ‘did not raise any complaints…’ is not an answer for what St. Joseph’s and the Archdiocese allegedly permitted to happen before and particularly after Mr. Rabinowitz’s written complaint,” he added.