Jewish teacher was fired after reporting anti-Semitic harassment from students, lawsuit claims

Elise Solé
A Jewish teacher is suing a private Catholic school in New Jersey called St. Joseph Regional High School for terminating his position after he complained about anti-Semitism. (Photo: St. Joseph Regional High School)
A Jewish teacher is suing a private Catholic school in New Jersey called St. Joseph Regional High School for terminating his position after he complained about anti-Semitism. (Photo: St. Joseph Regional High School)

A math teacher alleges he was fired after reporting anti-Semitic harassment from his students.

According to a November lawsuit filed in Newark federal court, Jacob Rabinowitz, a former pre-calculus teacher at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey was harassed on his first day of teaching in 2017 when someone had carved a swastika into the chalkboard. Rabinowitz said two other teachers who shared the classroom were aware of the graffiti.

The suit says students threw coins at Rabinowitz when his back was turned “in an obvious reference to Jewish stereotypes” and in addition to the “ever-present” Nazi symbol, they drew swastikas on their desks and a German phrase which translates to “Six million was just the beginning,” about the Jewish population who died under Hitler’s reign.

(Screenshot: United States District Court/District of New Jersey)
(Screenshot: United States District Court/District of New Jersey)

Rabinowitz alleged a student told the class that his favorite scene in the film Schindler’s List centered on the murder of a Jewish woman, which the teen then acted out.

The administration also discriminated, claimed the 60-year-old teacher. Unlike others who received updated teaching materials such as “Smartboards,” Rabinowitz was apparently given outdated textbooks.

In February, a negative performance review described Rabinowitz’s failings to engage his students. In response, Rabinowitz told principal Michael Bruno about the alleged anti-Semitism, of which he stated Bruno was aware since the principal had personally witnessed the swastika during a previous class observation.

Bruno allegedly responded in a March letter that Rabinowitz’s complaints “seem to be a direct reflection of your inability to manage a classroom” and that Rabinowitz’s students had lodged complaints about their teacher.

“He had a number of things to criticize in his observation, but the swastika on the blackboard behind me was something he failed to notice,” Rabinowitz, who Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach for comment, told the New York Post.

That week, Rabinowitz received a notice of non-renewal. He was allowed to finish the year, but “Everyone was colder to me. I felt like I’d become an outsider,” he told the New York Post.

Bruno allegedly ignored Rabinowitz’s request for a meeting with his attorney, but three days later — and only after the swastika was removed — he advised that complaints could be sent to the Archdiocese of Newark Office of Human Resources.

In an email to Yahoo Lifestyle, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and St. Joseph’s Regional High School said both were “greatly disturbed” by the lawsuit, and that Rabinowitz’s performance was lacking.

The school says in February 2018, Rabinowitz asked the administration if he should make alternate plans for the following school year. Then, six weeks after that, he reported a “small swastika carved into the chalkboard of his classroom and allegedly anti-Semitic behavior of some students in his class. Despite multiple meetings and communications with his supervisors over the preceding months, Mr. Rabinowitz had never once mentioned these issues.”

The complaint was investigated immediately, according to the school, the swastika was removed and Rabinowitz’s accusations about student behavior were referred to the school disciplinarian. “After an investigation, the students were all warned in no uncertain terms that anti-semitic behavior is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and is not tolerated at SJR. Mr. Rabinowitz did not complain of any further incidents, suggesting that any offensive behavior had ceased,” the statement continues.

“Solely because of his performance deficiencies identified months earlier, Mr. Rabinowitz was notified on April 1, 2018 (in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement) that his contract would not be renewed for the 2018-19 school year,” the comment details. “Mr. Rabinowitz was not the only teacher whose contract was not renewed.”

In August, Rabinowitz filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The school says the EEOC summarily dismissed his complaint two weeks later, stating “‘the EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.’”

“RCAN and SJR categorically deny all allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment that appear in this lawsuit, and consider the suit completely frivolous,” says the school and Archdiocese of Newark. “They intend to vigorously defend against these horrific allegations and are confident they will be successful.”

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