I am writing to express my horror over the bigotry that is threatening the integrity of my hometown.
The Highland Park Public Library is embroiled in a controversy over a children's book author who was scheduled to appear there this month. The library removed the appearance from its calendar after a vocal group expressed its disapproval, calling the author and her book anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
"P Is For Palestine" is an illustrated alphabet book designed to teach kids about Palestinian culture. It gives literary representation to an underrepresented group of Americans and refrains entirely from political discourse.
Still, the book's author, Dr. Golbarg Bashi, a former Rutgers professor of Middle Eastern Studies, has been in New York before. Some Jewish parents in New York raised a similar ruckus shortly after the book's release in 2017 when Bashi was set to read excerpts at a local bookstore. They took particular issue with the page "I is for Intifada."
"Intifada," they say, is a concept promoting violence against Israelis. But a Facebook user even argues, "it is impossible to be a Palestinian Arab and not anti-Semitic." But Intifada is historical fact and such sweeping generalizations are both false and dangerous. Also noteworthy is that the illustration on the book's cover shows a child waving a peace sign.
I became aware of this latest controversy when I saw a post on the library's Facebook page, saying "the matter has been referred to the Highland Park Public Library Board of Trustees." I promptly ordered a copy of the book and indicated as much in a reply to the library's post. Since then, I have been called a self-hating Jew and told I support a terrorist agenda.
I am a 39-year-old Jewish woman who grew up on Lawrence Avenue in Highland Park. I have a law degree and a bachelor of arts in Jewish Studies from Vassar College. And I cannot stay silent in the face of such blatant racism.
Highland Park is a place that I love and the library is its heart. The community is full of professors and intellectuals who value education and diversity. It is a town where Jewish kids wearing religious garb feel safe from both crime and bigotry even after dark. When Highland Park begins censoring authors and books based on nationality, religion or race, its soul dies.
I urge everyone to buy a copy of Bashi's book, to read it and consider the plight of all American minorities. I trust the library's board will arrive at the only just decision, rescheduling the author's appearance and promoting it with every available resource so that even the book's staunchest opponents may learn something new.
Rachel A. Kleinman is a news editor at Verizon Media who grew up in Highland Park. She currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.