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Column: ‘Dream Job’ In Rural Michigan Becomes Nightmare for Jewish Educator

A “dream job” destroyed. Middle school students denied the opportunity to attend classes.

After nine days as dean of students at a middle school, Michael Woodberg resigned. The offense? Being Jewish.

His bosses are not antisemitic. Nor is there evidence of rampant antisemitism among the students. In early January, the Richmond Community Schools received frightening threats directed at Woodberg and other staff at the middle school. The school district serves a rural area 45 miles northeast of Detroit.

The first threat, on January 3, targeted Woodberg specifically with anti-Jewish language that included details about his family and personal information, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. It took the form of a physical note found in one of the school district’s buildings.

While I experienced extensive antisemitism at three different workplaces, never was I physically threatened. Nor did I have a family to think about.

Very probably, Jews in the past have quit jobs because of direct threats or an informed fear of violence, but in modern times Woodberg’s experience is the first such instance that has been publicly known, and this is an incident in which a senior manager was victimized.

I wish that Woodberg had stuck with the job. By stepping down, Woodberg sent these goons the message that they could drive Jews – and anyone else, for that matter – from the workplace with threats of violence. Had he remained, maybe they would have backed off, knowing their ploy had failed.

They might have also harmed Woodberg and his family in following through with the threats. We cannot sit in judgment. I understand that he has legitimate concerns about the risks of keeping the job. There may be other facets which Woodberg, school officials and police have not made known publicly.

I have left jobs partly because I had to contend with antisemitism, but any departure occurred over time and there were other prevailing reasons to quit. However, standing up to these hoodlums is the most effective way of ending their tactics. While Woodberg’s response is understandable, it can only encourage his tormentors.

The threat to Woodberg and another email threat to a different administrator prompted school closures for the first week of the winter semester, according to JTA. Local leaders made certain to voice their support for Woodberg.

District Superintendent Brian Walmsley wrote in a Jan. 8 email to parents: “The Dean of Students position was, as Mr. Woodberg stated, ‘a dream job.’ He was excited for his first administrative experience and (to) work with outstanding administrators, teachers, and support staff – all dedicated to the success of students.

“As you can imagine, the threat affected Mr. Woodberg and his family and permanently changed the way they operate and view the environment around them. While Mr. Woodberg is going to be missed, I support the decision he made for his family and himself and wish him nothing but health, happiness, and success in his future endeavors.”

During a City Council meeting, Richmond Mayor Tim Rix said, “These threats are not reflexive of the Richmond community. We have a great community made of residents, families, businesses, schools and organizations which all work together to make Richmond a place we all call our hometown. The actions of one or a few will not drag our community down.”

Despite his fine intentions, Rix misspoke. These actions did “drag our community down.” An agonizing incident transpired in Richmond that cannot be undone. The culprit or culprits drove a Jewish educator out of Richmond no less than the way Hitler drove Jews out of Germany before he murdered 6 million more Jews.

Perhaps Michael Woodberg’s experience was an isolated incident or Richmond is a breeding ground for latter-day nazis. But it happened. Nobody can deny it happened and forget about it. The police can investigate and hopefully bring them to justice, and the people of Richmond can do their best to prevent anything like it from happening again.

What happened is nonetheless history. It is part of the history of Richmond, the history of Michigan and the history of America.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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