Debate Midrash Sparks Debate

By Bailey Spitz (10th) and Ali Smith (9th)

Students were taken by surprise this past Wednesday when the first Debate Midrash of the year turned into a rebuke about a student who defecated on the floor in the boys’ bathroom.

Upon arrival to the cafeteria, students were told that the topic of the Debate Midrash would center around what constitutes a Chilul Hashem, or a desecration of God’s name. After students offered up some answers, Judaics Principal Rabbi Assaraf asked if anyone had examples specific to the school. When no one spoke up, he said a school example would be the recent incident of a student who defecated on the floor in the boys’ bathroom. Most students were completely shocked by the news because they had not heard of the incident prior to the assembly.

“I was confused when I realized it wasn’t actually a Debate Midrash,” said Sarah Attias (12th Grade). “I thought it was kind of weird and slightly inappropriate because prior to this I didn’t even know what had happened.”

Assaraf explained to the crowd that the student who allegedly purposefully defecated on the floor has not been caught yet, but that the administration has been reviewing video footage of who entered and exited the boys bathroom that day. Assaraf said he was especially dismayed that students who entered the bathroom did not report the incident to the administration.

“Yesterday’s message that I hoped to teach to the school was that the entire school, each and every student, made a Chilul Hashem,” Assaraf said. “Why? Because they are part of the high school population, and yesterday there was a public Chilul Hashem made on behalf of all the high school students.”

Although students were appalled upon hearing about the incident, they also said they were disappointed that the first Debate Midrash of the year turned into a school-wide rebuke.

“Today’s Debate Midrash was not ultimately structured for us to voice our opinions and learn the opinions of our classmates,” said Shiraz Bachar (10th). “The debate we had today was not really much of a debate it was more of a teaching moment.”

Even though majority of the student body was confused and upset, Assaraf said addressing the issue at the Debate Midrash was necessary. He originally had an entire debate about the Israeli elections planned, but once he learned of the incident on Tuesday afternoon, he quickly changed plans to discuss the issue. Although, he acknowledges that the Debate Midrash may have not been the best forum for raising the issue, Assaraf said there was no other time to do it without losing class time.

“I am very sad I had to use this situation as a Debate Midrash,” said Assaraf. “That is not at all what a Debate Midrash is going to look like. As a matter a fact there was nothing to debate yesterday. It was a matter of me having to use this time that was already cut out for us to make a very clear public statement about what happened and that everyone should feel a little bit of shame.”

Some students did feel that the assembly was the right place to discuss the issue.

“I felt that what Rabbi Assaraf was talking about was a little bit relevant to all of us because we are all in the same school, so if something happens it’s relevant to everyone,” Simcha Bortunk (10th) said.

Others said that even with the change of setup, the Debate Midrash still served as an opportunity to learn and grow as a school.

“I think that it was a productive and unique way to educate us on how we as students should act,” said Sara Reinberg (9th).

Keeping the Debate Midrash a safe space has always been a goal of the school, and the administration intends to keep it that way even with the slight change during the first one of the year. A new student-run Debate Midrash committee is in the making, with Alina Sterenfeld(11th) and Brielle Katz (10th) already on board. Sterenfeld said she and Katz are already planning for the next debate.

“We are looking forward to giving the student body controversial and interesting debate topics where we can share our opinions and gain new perspectives,” Sterenfeld said.

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