Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School “Replaces Maimonides with Marx”

September 7, 2021

Progressive politics is the new religion at a “Chicagoland Jewish institution”

In interviews with current and former students, parents, board committee members and administrators, Chicago Contrarian has learned that there is no longer a tolerant Jewish Day school on the Chicago Northside, but rather an illiberal institution that tolerates hate among faculty when it fits the progressive narrative, constantly tells middle-school Jewish students to consider their privilege, blames anti-Semitism only on “white supremacy” and demonizes liberal and conservatives voices alike.

“The very notion of a liberal Jewish education is dead at Bernard Zell,” says a parent who left the school. “The school has denied parents and students who disagree with the progressive narrative a chance to be heard while at the same time justifying the position of Ms. Johanna Thompson who led diversity and inclusion programs in 2020-2021.” According to current parents, even after making national headlines in the Daily Wire for singling out male students for different activities (a violation of Illinois harassment law) and demonizing anyone but radical progressives on social media, Ms. Thompson remains on the school faculty.

“Ms. Thompson brought with her a bigoted diversity agenda to Bernard Zell,” the parent suggests. “When we spoke up to administrators and the board to suggest that Ms. Thompson should be removed from the position based on her in-school track record of harassment and sexism towards boys, we were told the school was united in its commitment to diversity and equity and would not discuss HR issues.”

A Jewish philanthropist interviewed for this article suggests that “progressive leaders at schools and institutions like Bernard Zell use large boards to push through their radical agendas in the dark of night. Many board members are either not aware of what chairs or committees are working on, too busy, worried about appearances if they dissent or simply not involved until it is too late to shape policy,” he suggests.

The indoctrination of students, administrators, faculty and parents continued unchecked in the 2020-2021 school year until graduation. “Ms. Thompson was allowed to continue to spew hate in diversity training sessions for administrators, faculty and students, including asking students, faculty and administrators to consider what they were going to do about their white and Jewish privilege,” a parent suggests. “To defend her position that Jews were racist and needed to be made anti-racist, Ms. Thompson’s external diversity consultants even dug up the one plantation owner in the Antebellum South with Jewish roots.”

The parent continues: “Ipso Facto, in the progressive and illiberal world of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, the one Jewish plantation owner was proof that Jews throughout history could be racist and practice microaggressions towards black people — except perhaps the half of the Jews on earth that perished during the holocaust, but we can conveniently forget about them since they do not fit the anti-racist narrative and ashes do not have a voice.”

The school’s own mission statement on diversity echoes the progressive and activist narrative:

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School will review its curriculum and instructional practices in order to improve, enhance, and expand its teaching of diversity, anti-racism, anti-Semitism, and justice. Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School will engage its students in learning opportunities around issues of diversity, using Jewish values as the lens through which social, ethical, legal, and governmental issues are addressed.”
“Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School will train students on issues of implicit bias, and will engage in discussions regarding how students of diverse backgrounds are, and should be, treated. Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School will teach students about diversity within the Jewish community, including the history and experiences of Jews of Color here, in Israel, and around the world.”

What students say

Recent graduates of the school validate what parents told the Chicago Contrarian in terms of intolerance and radicalism — and the decline of spirituality and Judaism. One former student who spent eleven years at the school before graduating, suggests the school “became more concerned with left wing politics than being Jewish.” 

He notes that upon returning from the COVID lockdown, “The first thing that caught my eye were the dozens of BLM stickers throughout the school despite BLM’s public anti-Semitism.” The student shared a quote and imagery from Twitter with Chicago Contrarian:

“I told my teachers that BLM hated Israel and no one cared. And I told my parents the BLM fist is no different than the Communist fist (look it up), except the color. The BLM fist is black. The communist fist is red."

The recent graduate also notes that the school had a track record of progressive illiberal intolerance, which started with its head of diversity and equity. But with parents absent from the premises during COVID, “my school went into radical overdrive.”

The progressive intolerance and double standard was nothing new at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. But COVID isolation and parental distancing from the classroom allowed it to grow without counter argument and debate, and without parents even being aware of what was happening, the graduate suggests.

“This started in middle school science more than three years ago. My teacher, Ms. Thompson, would be extra critical of me and other boys. It got so bad that not only parents of the boys said something to the school, parents of the girls did as well. I will never forget how she singled me and other boys out to do extra work because in her words ‘it was not the 1950s anymore’. My older brother had Ms. Thompson previously and I remember him saying that she told his class “a black person cannot be racist, only white people can.’”
“But throughout my final year of school is when it got more absurd. For example, I learned that we should support BLM (there were decals and stickers in classrooms) despite the fact it denies Israel the right to exist and advocates for its destruction, violent protest is acceptable to address racism, Republicans are racist and Israel is racist. This one surprised me the most but a teacher told us that Israel is racist in class.”

He notes that Jewish law and history is referenced less and less in the school, and Jewish identity outside of white guilt is discouraged. He observes: “My friends do not know what to think anymore. Many of them came away questioning exactly what they were supposed to believe. They’re confused now, especially when it comes to Israel and Jewish identity. Should we love Israel or hate Israel? Is Israel racist? Should we apologize for being Jewish? Should we stop being Jewish?”

Maybe this is the Guide to the Perplexed for the current generation. The recent graduate observes:

“I learned in class that anti-Semitism only comes from the right. But if the left wants to destroy Israel, we are told that is OK. My holocaust teacher, “Doc Ellison,” said that “white supremacy” is the only cause of anti-Semitism in America. There was never any mention of AOC and Ilhan Omar who would like to blow Israel off the face of the planet. The school never once called the elected, progressive left anti-Semitic, always blaming it on ‘white supremacy’ and Trump instead.”

He suggests that Republicans were never given credit for their contribution to Israel:

“We never once heard that Trump did anything positive for Israel or the Middle East. Some of my teachers openly said they hated Trump in class, including Doc. Most constantly criticized him until after the election. There was no mention of bringing peace to the region and normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE, Sudan, Bahrain and Morocco. The school also never mentioned moving the embassy to Jerusalem. I guess that communicating any of this to students would not support their argument, but I did tell my friends, many who secretly agreed.”

On the Capstone field trip for the 8th grade class in 2021 to Georgia, which prior to COVID was in Israel and is supposed to define Jewish identity for the graduating class, the theme was not Jewish law and life but “white privilege,” “Jewish privilege,” and “anti-racism”. The trip included daily indoctrination in privilege and the group was told by a guest speaker who supposedly championed civil rights: “All lives do not matter — only black lives matter.”

Rachel Jury, a teacher at the school who multiple parents and students describe as only tolerant of progressive views, would accuse a group of boys of racism on the trip based on their choice of “ancient English” words during an anti-racism poetry writing class — verse which they penned in protest and jest of the substitution of progressivism for Judaism as the spiritual theme of the trip.

“Every day all we heard again and again and again was privilege this and privilege that,” he suggests. “We had to make fun of this craziness, but when we did, no surprise, we were labeled as racist by Ms. Jury.”

“Progressive political indoctrination is as important as a religious and spiritual upbringing”

Community members tell Contrarian that Bernard Zell Anshe Emet day school continues to alienate those that disagree with the school agenda although it welcomes their tuition dollars if they “put up and shut up.” One parent who left the school suggests that, “If you believe the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is anti-Semitic and voice opposition, you are unwelcome here. If you believe that anti-Semitism in the world stems from anything but white supremacy, you are unwelcome here. If you believe that religious and spiritual upbringing and grounding matters more than teaching kids to become social justice warriors, you are unwelcome here. Judaism now takes a back seat at Bernard Zell to illiberal indoctrination and the progressive agenda.”

Students and parents told Chicago Contrarian that the school removed all BLM and other progressive decals for the 2021-2022 school year just in time for the High Holiday services at the Temple which shares a common set of facilities. Yet the same people behind the philosophy that prioritized politics over Judaism remain, including Ms. Thompson, the head of school, Gary Weisserman, and the Board Chair, Deborah Cooper.

A community member who was married at the synagogue that shares some of the same facilities with the school suggests that, “Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School has decided progressive political indoctrination is the only priority.”

“My children were made to believe that non-conforming perspectives were not only unwelcome, but morally at odds with the school’s progressive philosophy. Members of the community who challenged the school were met with a social justice wall that defended individuals and the ideology, rather than acknowledging or addressing underlying intolerance,” says the parent. “Race-base Marxism had replaced Judaism as the primary belief system at the school.”

The parent notes:

“The fact that Ms. Thompson remains as an educator at the school speaks volumes about how Bernard Zell has come to prioritize political activism over Jewish values. Parents who identify as anything but progressive first (and Jews second) should ask their children what they are being taught on a daily basis. The 70-80 percent of parents who are not far left will be shocked at what their kids are learning in middle school.”

“For example,” he continues. “Students in 7th grade health class lost points last year on graded tests if they listed genders as male or female which apparently are not correct anymore; the holocaust curriculum prioritized the oppression of special interest groups under Nazi rule over Jewish prosecution and murder; and the rioting and looting in Chicago was cheered by certain teachers in the spirit of an overthrow of whiteness and an uplifting of the oppressed both in the classroom and on social media — yet students were not even told about the “death to Israel” BLM/pro-Palestinian marches that took place less than five miles from the school in the heart of the city this year.”

“BLM’s articulated goal of destroying Israel was entirely swept under the carpet, given the prioritization of social justice over Judaism,” he adds. “BLM leadership going on the record hating Jews and Israel simply doesn’t fit the narrative.”

“What was a Jewish day school, has become a progressive indoctrination center under the guise of Judaism, albeit with a strange double standard,” says another community member. “How this school could so vociferously attack Donald Trump’s behavior and ignore his contributions to building a stronger Israel, yet defend even more hateful language from a member of the faculty within its own ranks is baffling — Marx over Maimonides captures the essence of what Bernard Zell has become.”

The community member adds: “Starting in pre-school, dolls of different races with attached stories of oppression and victimization serve to indoctrinate young minds into thinking about the sins of their Jewish forefathers who oppressed the world with their whiteness — even before they open the Torah.” 

Progressivism and intolerance is not good for the bottom line

“The invisible hand rather than spirituality may be the one thing that curbs progressivism as the school’s primary agenda,” a donor suggests. This and other sources tell the Contrarian that enrollment is down by as much as a hundred students in recent years; full-fare tuition parents appear to be leaving or graduating in disproportion; the entire “rockstar” development fundraising team has left; the “super talented” COO/CFO who kept the school open during much of COVID resigned at the end of the last school year; and many community members are up in arms over Ms. Thompson’s behavior and national attention, despite the fact she remains an employee of the school.

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School’s mission is “To teach them diligently” or “ושננתם לבניך” in Hebrew. “The American Jewish legacy is one of tolerance for diversity and debate,” says a parent who removed a child from the school. “That Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School now tolerates progressive hate by faculty members, tells students that Israel is racist, quashes debate and prioritizes politics over Jewish values, is an unforgivable scar on the legacy of this great institution and the Chicago Jewish community that founded it. Bernard Zell Anshe Day School must get back to its roots and embrace plurality and a ‘big tent,’ or it may not be around to serve the next generation.”

“Let us hope the year of 5782 returns Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day to its rightful place in educating the next generation as liberal and curious and that it teaches students to love Israel, rather than being told to constantly consider their Jewish privilege, question their past and admonish their white guilt. Israel and America are great countries defined so much more by other factors than race, racism and personal demographic identifiers,” she concludes. 



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