An East Brunswick synagogue hosted a touring educational production about the dangers of cyber-bullying.
Written by Princeton University acting and playwriting teacher R.N. Sandberg for the George Street Playhouse, In Real Life featured a teenager who tries to commit suicide after a her friend creates a hurtful website about her.
Miriam Eichler, a religious school director at Temple B’nai Shalom, said the Nov. 16 presentation demonstrated that cyber-bullying is also “a hate crime of invasion” and a violation of Jewish law and practice.
That point is being driven home in religious school classes where concepts such as the prohibition against lashon hara, or malicious gossip, and the commandment to treat others with respect are being updated for the Internet age.
“There have been incidents like this,” said Eichler. “Whether or not there have been incidents at our synagogue among our student population, we consider it our responsibility to discuss this with them and to look at it from a Jewish perspective.”
The play was commissioned by the New Brunswick theater last year through a grant from the New Jersey State Bar Association; it tours throughout the state, said Jim Jack, the theater’s director of education and outreach.
He said the play gained added relevance after a Rutgers University student killed himself after his encounter with a man was broadcast on a website by his roommate.
“Studies have shown about 40 percent of students nine to 18 have been cyber-bullying victims,” said Jack. “About 20 percent of those are also cyber-bullies themselves. What happens is that often the victim goes off and attacks somebody else. It’s a pretty astonishing problem.”
The actors conducted a dialogue with the audience following their performance.
Audrey Fishman of East Brunswick came with her 16-year-old son Robbie, a junior at East Burdick High School.
Robbie said he got the play’s message “that small decisions can actually bring about a big reaction and to think about what you are doing.”
“I will be thinking about my actions more thoroughly than I would have before,” he said, but added he never heard of any cyber-bulling at his school.
Fishman said she was not so sure her son’s assessment was correct as she cited the ease with which youngsters connect to the Internet.
“It goes on all the time,” she said. “I definitely see it when they play computer games. I think it goes on much more than parents realize because they are not in touch with what their kids are doing.”
Lori and Scott Salowe of Dayton came with their children, Emily and Daniel.
“I thought the program was really good and the situations were real,” said Daniel, 11, a sixth-grader at Crossroads South Middle School. “The lesson I learned was to listen more and to talk to an adult if you have any trouble. It got me thinking about what would actually happen if this happened in real life. How could I change it?”
His 15-year-old sister said she had never heard of such an incident at South Brunswick High School, where she is a sophomore, but learned a valuable lesson.
“You should ignore a cyber-bullying message because you don’t know who is on the other end,” she said. “You should tell someone and not get involved.”
Scott Salowe said that children are naive and trusting and often don’t realize the dangers.
“We wanted them to learn some sense of vigilance so we can trust them to make the right decisions,” he added.