Naftuli Moster: Taj Patterson’s Attackers Learned To Hate ‘Others’ Growing Up In An Insulated World

What Taj Patterson’s attackers would say to him if they knew how …

Dear Mr. Patterson:

I write to apologize for the vicious assault I perpetrated upon you, and to offer some perspective on my behavior.

Let me explain: I grew up in a bubble. As a Hasidic Jewish boy, I attended school in America’s largest, most diverse city, but I was not taught the things that are taught in most schools across America. While state law requires that I learn science, history, geography, art and music, I did not learn those things.

In fact, I barely learned English and math. Like all the children in my neighborhood, I was enrolled in a Hasidic yeshiva and, until I was 13, I studied English just 90 minutes a day. After that, I didn’t study it at all.

My exposure to the world or to people of other cultures was essentially non-existent.

On a regular day in my teenage years, I didn’t exchange a word with anyone who wasn’t Hasidic. That is, white, Jewish, Orthodox, and usually male.

Implicitly, I was taught to hate “others,” supposedly because all others hate us.

This was based on the only history I did learn: the history of the Jewish temples that were destroyed thousands of years ago; the history of the Inquisition, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust.

I never learned that many other groups, tribes, religions, and races were similarly persecuted. You won’t believe this but at age 21, I had only recently learned about the history of slavery. This despite being born and raised here in the United States.

None of my classmates were black or Hispanic. My teachers were all white Jews.

The cashiers at my supermarket, laundromat, and deli are all Jewish. My car service drivers are Jewish. My friends are Jewish.

All my life, any non-identifiably-Jewish people were put in the category of the ‘other” — the ones we talk about when we talk about the people who persecuted Jews. And you know who is most identifiably “other?” A black man.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because it does not have to be this way. No American child should grow up sentenced to the dismal education I received.

No American governmental agency should turn a blind eye to institutions masquerading as schools, but which really teach stereotypes and fear.

Mr. Patterson, please understand that I am in no way attempting to justify my actions, only to explain how a person can do what I did.

Perhaps, someday, we can work together to teach boys like me that men like you are our neighbors, brothers, and even, potentially, friends.

Naftuli Moster is a graduate of a Hasidic Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

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