Sunday, Feb. 24, 4 pm
Although she has never been bullied, Arianna Gershon was moved by discussions at BBYO over the past year to spearhead an event at the Simon Family Jewish Community Center and make it her senior project at Norfolk Collegiate School.
The Bully event is made possible through a grant from the Simon Family Foundation in support of the local Panim program. Panim provides innovative teen program opportunities that combine service, advocacy and philanthropy, focused on Jewish values and issues that make a difference in the world.
An active member of BBYO, Gershon has participated in two events dealing with teen social issues at the JCC this year. This third event, led by Gershon, features the film Bully and Kirk Smalley, whose family story is portrayed in the film.
Directed by Lee Hirsch, the documentary follows the lives of five students who daily face bullying in school. Hirsch, who was a victim of bullying as a child, spent the 2009-10 school year tracking the cases of five abused kids, including two who committed suicide. Smalley is the father of one of the teens who died.
BBYO has been showing and promoting the film nationwide with the goal of having 1 million teens see it and sign a pledge promising to take a stand against bullying. The BBYO curriculum includes supporting and encouraging Jewish values such as saving a life, avoiding public humiliation and avoiding verbal humiliation.
As a dancer, Gershon witnessed many of her gay friends getting bullied. She’s also bothered by the harassing her brother gets at school for wearing a yarmulke, which he does out of a commitment to support Jews in Bulgaria who can’t openly practice Judaism. “If people only asked questions and got to know why he wears one, he probably wouldn’t even get teased.”
Smalley, whose son committed suicide after being bullied, knows only too well about the perils of being bullied. As the audience will hear, Smalley is convinced that if he were a politician instead of a “nobody,” laws would be passed to prevent bullying. Smalley has started an organization called “Stand for the Silent” to help end these actions.
Gershon will introduce Smalley and the movie to an audience of what she hopes will be several hundred people. According to Ellie Bernstein, director of teen services and BBYO, the response has already been overwhelming. “Many of our area guidance counselors and principals are enthusiastically on board and encouraging their students to attend.”
“Bullying is too pressing an issue to ignore,” says Alvin Wall, president, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater. “The UJFT is proud through the annual campaign to support BBYO, and now jointly with the Simon Family Foundation, to support this program that combats cruel victimization.” The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
by Leslie Shroyer