With the first anniversary of Connecticut’s Sandy Hook school shooting just three months away, Congregation Beit Shalom of Monroe Township will hold a Town Meeting on violence prevention.
A panel of six professionals — each coming from a different vantage point — will discuss various aspects of the topic, including the prevention of bullying, the role of law enforcement, and teaching tolerance in the schools.
The Town Hall meeting — a first for Beit Shalom — will be held Sunday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. It will be free and open to all area residents.
“We are fortunate in Monroe Township to have relatively few, and mostly minor, violent incidents among our students,” said panelist Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, superintendent of the township’s public schools. “Nevertheless, we must remain proactive, adhere to a zero tolerance policy for weapons, and hold random locker searches in our middle school and high school.”
Hamilton told NJJN that at the meeting he will emphasize that teachers and staff are trained to inculcate an attitude of respect for others, beginning in kindergarten and throughout all 12 grades.
“We reinforce positive behavior in teaching students to settle conflicts peacefully, accept diversity — not just in race, but in all ways — take a problem-solving approach, and practice anger management,” Hamilton said in a phone interview.
Joining Hamilton on the panel will be State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Dist. 14); Chief Michael Lloyd and Sgt. Richard Stemming of the Monroe Township Police Department; Cantor Eli Perlman of Beit Shalom; and Susan Schenker-Strumpf, a school counselor from Union County.
Mildred Goodwin, a synagogue member and a retired professor of media and English studies at Hudson County-based New Jersey City University, will moderate the program.
Schenker-Strumpf, who had 20 years of experience on child study teams and is beginning her third year as a counselor, said she works primarily with children four through 10.
“I see some hitting, but nothing nearly as dangerous as might occur in the higher grades,” she said. “Most of my focus is on prevention of bullying, which among boys usually involves name calling, and among girls involves exclusion.”
In her two decades as an educator, Schenker-Strumpf said the trend has been toward bullying beginning at younger ages.
To combat this, she said, the first week of October has been designated statewide as a Week of Respect.” Students are required to formulate and follow their own “recipes for respect, with teachers reminding them that hands are for helping, not hitting, and urging them always to be a good friend to others.”
Lloyd, who has been a member of Monroe Township’s police force for 25 years and its chief for the past 10 months, said the area has the second-lowest crime rate in Middlesex County — about seven incidents a year for every thousand residents.
“Our most serious responsibility is to prevent crime, and for this reason we maintain uniformed patrols around the clock,” Lloyd said. “It’s impossible to estimate how many violent incidents we are preventing, but we know that our constant presence and visibility in the community are important factors in this regard.”
Perlman said he plans to speak about violence within the clergy. “We Jews have the same problems as all other religious communities,” he said in a phone interview.
But too often, he said, “a veil of secrecy surrounds incidents that should be brought to light. People mistakenly believe that it is too embarrassing to talk about incidents of abuse or wrongdoing. There may be only a handful of bad actors among the thousands of clergypersons throughout the country, but we have to bring these few to public attention, or they will never stop.”
Greenstein is expected to explore what New Jersey and its Legislature are doing about violence and whether the state is prepared to react to it. She is vice chair of the Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee, and a member of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools.
Lloyd and Stemming will give law enforcement’s views on the subject.
Maurice Mahler, president of Congregation Beit Shalom, and Sybil Grossman, chair of the education committee, both credit member Manny Strumpf with broaching the idea for the Town Meeting.
“As a former newsman and public relations executive, I believed that our shul could benefit from more visibility as a secular as well as a religious community resource,” Strumpf told NJJN. “The subject of violence in our culture seemed natural, especially after Newtown and all the other violence we read about, see on television, and hear on the radio.”
Mahler suggested that the topic resonates with Beit Shalom’s congregants, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. But, he added, “we are not limiting this meeting to a Jewish viewpoint. Our panel will discuss violence not just here, but everywhere, and among all groups.”
WCOC, the closed circuit TV station located at Monroe Township’s Concordia community, will tape the program.