Teen anti-Semitism vic­tim reaches out

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - KAILENE PIL­LAY | kailene.pil­lay@inl.co.za

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

HELLO ev­ery­one.

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.

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