Yael and David Magan and Yael's father, Sam Mendlinger, at a pro-Israel protest in Boston following Oct. 7.

Marblehead High student peacefully resolves contested curriculum on Israel

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Marblehead High student peacefully resolves contested curriculum on Israel

Yael and David Magan and Yael's father, Sam Mendlinger, at a pro-Israel protest in Boston following Oct. 7.

David Magen, a 14-year-old Israeli-American, came home one day this past October during the fall of his freshman year at Marblehead High School, and showed his mom one of his homework assignments. It included an abbreviated history of the Jewish people. In it, they described the land that Abraham went to as “Palestine.”

“This summary was talking about 2000 B.C. until 515 B.C.,” David said. “Literally, the word Palestine did not exist in that time period, as that name was only given to the land by the Romans after kicking all the Jews out.”

David was upset with the summary, as were his parents; they said it was antisemitic and inaccurate. The family – both sides are descended from Holocaust survivors – has long been an advocate of Israel and Judaism. Yael, his mother, is a lawyer who grew up in Israel and the U.S., and has been involved in the pushback against the Israel/Palestine curricula in the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Asaf, his father, works in sales and marketing, and also grew up in Israel.

“As a parent, the Jewish identity and the Israeli identity was super important to me and to my husband,” said Yael. “It was really important for me for my children to know where they came from.” She said she even named her son “David” so that he would embody that unmistakable symbol of Jewish pride – the Magen David, the star of David.

David grew up, as he describes it, trained to “look for keywords and definitions.” When he wanted something as a kid, his mom would always ask why, so he got comfortable advocating for himself and making clear and convincing arguments from a young age.

David decided he had to do something about the assignment. After consulting with his parents, he wrote out an answer to the homework that was more an “educational protest” than anything else.

“Palestine is a name given to that area by the Romans around 135 A.D. after ethnically cleansing all the Jews in order to erase any memory or existence in their ancestral home of Israel/ Judea,” he wrote. He also wrote that the assignment was “riddled with inaccuracies, pseudo facts and pure fantasy,” presenting Judaism as a “biblical legend and folklore” and Palestine as “an existing entity 4,000 years ago.” In all caps, he wrote: “THIS IS ANTISEMITISM.”

Yael, while proud of her son’s initiative and passion, emphasized to him that he did not need to turn the paper in, and that there might be consequences with his new school if he did. She offered to go speak with his teachers instead.

David refused. “I felt like it was my responsibility,” he said. “As a fourth-generation Holocaust survivor, as someone who was raised by Jewish parents, I felt like I had to do it.”

“I was very proud of him, of course,” said Yael.

Eventually, John Wilkens, David’s history teacher, called him in to speak with the lead teacher of Social Studies at Marblehead High, Robert Colfer. In the meeting, David meticulously went through the texts and textbooks, explaining what he found fault with, and outlining the specific inaccuracies or limitations of the assignment (the use of the word Palestine, the limited explanations of Judaism, etc.).

“When David pointed out that the inclusion of the word ‘Palestine’ on that particular sheet – it’s sort of ahistorical in terms of the chronology of events – I thought he had a valid point,” Colfer said.

David told Colfer – as he had previously strategized with his parents – that he didn’t want this homework sheet to be given to students at Marblehead High School ever again. Colfer not only agreed, but also offered David the chance to write out some ideas to further round out the Judaism section of the curriculum, and thus play a part in what students at MHS will learn for years to come.

“[The conversation] was very good,” David said. “I give a lot of kudos to the school for that.”

“I was glad to be able to give a positive response to a legitimate point,” said Colfer. “He’s very well-informed compared to the average ninth-grade student.”

Colfer said that he felt the situation had been handled as well as it could have been – with the student coming directly to his teacher with a concern.

“That’s the way it should be,” he said. “If you have an issue or a problem, have the moral courage to bring it to the teacher, instead of the parent bringing it to the teacher’s boss, which frequently is the pattern. David was obviously sincere in his objection.”

Since that day, David has become a spokesperson for student advocacy around Israel and Judaism. He’s given talks in front of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, CAMERA, Lappin Foundation, IAC, and the Kraft Foundation. He’s been featured in several news outlets and – along with his parents – has founded a nonprofit devoted to combatting antisemitic curricula and incidents in schools. One of the main goals of the organization, FAIS – Fighting Antisemitism In Schools – is to empower teens to be the first line of defense against antisemitic curricula by teaching them skills to either take action themselves or bring the problem to an adult.

David said he wants his peers to think, “If he can do it, why can’t I do it too?”

“It’s very important for me to get that message across,” he said. “If we have people standing on the sidelines, being scared to make a change and not being educated enough to know when to make a change, it’s just going to grow exponentially, and it’s not going to be able to be stopped.” Θ

2 Responses

  1. David, You are such a hero! Thank you! One person can make a difference. You sure did at your school.
    I have been defending and speaking up for Israel all my life and will never stop. I know you will never stop either.
    Good wishes to you and your family.

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