Teen anti-Semitism victim reaches out
THE 17-year-old victim of an antiSemitic voice message has been lauded for her reconciliatory response and request to get the perpetrator to learn about Jewish history.
Matric pupil Danni Heymann received a voice recording from a Treverton College pupil, telling her she should have died in the Holocaust.
The message created a stir within the Jewish community and on social media this week.
However, Heymann has been praised for her mature approach. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has since intervened and the 14-year-old offender was flown to Johannesburg to apologise to Heymann in person on Wednesday.
Heymann told The Mercury yesterday the incident happened when she confronted the boy and his friends about allegedly bullying a boy she was going to start tutoring next year.
Heymann said the youngster she stood up for was well known to her.
“He messaged me and said ‘Dan, I am being cyberbullied and he is threatening me and I am not sure what to do’. I asked for the boy’s number and when I contacted him, I warned him that if he did not stop I would make sure there were serious consequences.”
Heymann said the boy replied with a voice note on WhatsApp telling her “you need Jesus”.
“I sent a voice note back beginning with ‘I am actually Jewish’. He did not reply, then I got that voice note from another number, someone from Treverton,” said Heymann, who attends a Jewish school in Johannesburg.
“What this boy did was horrifying. I have never been affected by something to such an extent. But because I am the victim, I am able to see the bigger picture,” she said.
She said an apology from the boy and the school did not seem enough, but for her “it was the halfway point to amending the trauma”.
Heymann said she arranged to speak to Treverton College acting head Kean Broom and also reported the incident to the board, to initiate educational opportunities for the boy.
“My intention was never to get him expelled or suspended or to take legal action. I simply wanted to use the situation as a platform to build up awareness of a far greater problem than a 10-second voice note from a child who clearly has not been educated on this topic,” she said.
Broom said a tough road lay ahead that would include discipline and justice but also education and growth.
He said that despite a natural desire to want justice immediately, it was equally important that due processes were followed and the decisions they made were constructive and helped build lasting change.
SAJBD director Wendy Kahn said they had engaged the offender’s school and the Durban Holocaust and Genocide Centre to initiate a process of Holocaust education. The boy’s family also visited the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre yesterday.
“We believe that wherever possible, educational processes, with a view to behavioural change, are critical in addressing anti-Semitism and all forms of hate in our country. This is especially true when the perpetrators of such hatred are still young. Our responses to anti-Semitism, wherever possible, should not be about vengeance, but changing attitudes.”
Kahn appealed to the Jewish community to approach the situation with pride rather than anger.
On Tuesday night, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies became aware of a deeply offensive recording by a pupil at Treverton College in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal. Throughout Wednesday, they engaged Danni Heymann, the matric pupil targeted by this anti-Semitic voice note, the perpetrator and the schools they attend. Heymann was given an apology. The board described her as an inspiration to the youth as she displayed forgiveness, social cohesion and ubuntu in an open letter to the perpetrator. Here is her letter
My name is Danni Heymann and I am currently a matric student at a Jewish day school in Johannesburg. I am also the unfortunate victim of what took place yesterday.
I cannot imagine how deeply this must have affected the entire Jewish nation and I cannot express how this has affected me, too.
The last 36 hours have been an absolute emotional roller-coaster for me and many tears have been shed due to an unbearable feeling of being far too overwhelmed. I have read all these comments and I can clearly see how angry my community is.
But I just want to remind you all that you cannot educate a child with hatred. You cannot turn a negative situation into a positive situation with nothing but anger.
What this boy did was horrifying, and I have never been affected by something like this to such a large extent. But because I am the victim of this situation, I am able to see the bigger picture.
Perhaps an apology from the boy and the school seems like it wasn’t enough. But for me, it was the halfway point to amending the traumatic situation.
The boy I heard on the voice note I received and the boy I heard on the phone today sound like two completely different people.
In relation to that, I can see this situation has affected him to the point where the only thing left for him to do is change. My intention with this situation was never to expel him, suspend him or take legal action.
I simply wanted to use this situation as a platform to build up awareness of a far greater problem than a 10-second voice note from a child who clearly has not been educated on this topic.
Both his family and he were happy to let me know that they are very excited to start the educational process the wonderful board has arranged for them, and the father sincerely states that he is planning to send the young boy to Israel eventually to truly understand our wonderful nation.
I am asking my community, with all the love I have in my heart, to not approach this situation with anger, but rather with pride that we are such a strong nation.
This situation is not about the boy for me, it’s about the opportunity this situation has so gratefully given me to make a change, spread awareness of such an important issue and speak not only for myself, but on behalf of my entire nation which has been dealing with anti-Semitism for centuries.
Please approach my story with positivity and support, and do not let anger take over the special and big hearts that our community has.
I thank you all for your support and for allowing me to realise that I can truly make a difference now, and I am.
I even mentioned to him, while explaining to him why I chose to make this public, that if I had replied to his text telling him the exact same thing I shared online, he would have never taken me seriously.
I explained to him that I am sorry that this was the only way he would be able to learn a lesson, and after hearing how sorry he was, and this was genuinely the most sincere and meaningful apology I have ever received, I knew in my heart that not only did these consequences force him to grow up, they also changed him into a better person.
He has clearly never been educated on our history, and he showed absolute gratitude that the board has given an opportunity for both him and his family to go through intensive education.
The outcome for him, for which I am very hopeful, is that this has not only taught him a lesson but also brought a sense of passion for this subject into his life, and hopefully he will use that passion to be another simple kid who is trying to make a difference, like me.
I truly hope I inspired him. I have never been one who believes that these situations could be solved with expulsion because he would simply attend another school and, without thinking, do it again.
I think educating him will not only make a difference in his life for the short term, but also the long-term as I know that what has happened in the past 36 hours is something he will never forget.
ASKED whether she felt she had received a heartfelt apology, Danni responded:
At around 2pm today, I received a phone call from the young boy. We spoke for almost an hour over the issue.
What he said to me was so much more than an apology. His words, which truly expressed his remorse, made me understand how I was able to teach this boy such a powerful lesson.
I explained to him why he had received these consequences, and the apology he gave me implied that I had truly inspired him.
Yes, this type of situation surely forced him into apologising, but that doesn’t mean that his apology meant nothing to him.
Unfortunately, what I feel so many people have failed to understand is that he is a 14-year-old boy who has probably made the worst mistake of his life.
I have a little brother exactly his age. My brother was involved in a similar situation (though far from how extreme this situation was, and it was not about anti-Semitism), for which he got into a lot of trouble.
This is because he did not think carefully before saying something. I remember being so angry over the way he was punished because I just kept thinking “He’s a little boy and he is still learning.”
While dealing with this boy, I constantly thought about the consequences for my little brother – how it affected him emotionally – and his apology was meaningful, too.
So why should I stoop to such a low level as to reject this young boy’s apology? I am a very positive person, with a strong and determined mindset. I have learned over my 18 years of living that the only way to move forward is to be open to forgiveness. That, too, is what the Torah has taught me.