WASHINGTON, August 23, 1999 - In response to a policy forbidding students from displaying the Star of David because of its alleged connection with gang violence, Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today sent a letter to the Harrison County (Mississippi) School Board. In his statement, Pelavin noted that: "Fundamentally, the Star of David is the primary symbol of the Jewish faith, dating back to the early Third Century of the Common Era. The potent historical symbolism of the Star is not and cannot be abridged by any contemporary, temporal appropriation, even by a gang."
The complete text of the letter follows:
On behalf of the 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America, I write in the strongest protest of your policy prohibiting students from displaying the Star of David.
Fundamentally, the Star of David is the primary symbol of the Jewish faith, dating back to the early Third Century of the Common Era. The potent historical symbolism of the Star is not, and cannot be, abridged by any contemporary, temporal appropriation, even by a gang. The Hebrew term for Star of David — Magen David — actually means "Shield of David." The Star has served as a badge and a protector of our people through centuries of persecution and Diaspora. It is ironic that in this great country, the nation friendliest to organized religion of any in the history of civilization, we face a challenge to our centuries-old shield.
In these days of far-too-frequent violence in our schools and drugs in our communities, the Reform Jewish community — and I, personally, as a parent — share your deep-seated desire to craft policies that will enhance values and eradicate violence in our schools. However, it is fundamentally inappropriate and unacceptable to trample on the Constitutionally-guaranteed right to religious liberty as a means to that ends.
I earnestly hope that you will see how inadvertently hurtful your policy is to Jews in Harrison County and across America. Let me pledge that the Jewish community wants to work with you and not against you to curb drug use, to eradicate gang violence, and to improve our children's schools. We would welcome the opportunity to be your partners in Constitutional pursuits of all of these goals. To this end, I have enclosed a copy of "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement on Current Law," an explanatory document which is the product of cooperation between numerous religious and civil liberties organizations. If there is any way in which I can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call on me.
Thank you for your understanding.
Mark J. Pelavin
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.