(New York Jewish Week via JTA) — Jewish parents at P.S. 145, the only public school in Manhattan with a Russian dual-language program, are speaking out against the war in Ukraine.
PTA co-president Sasha Stashwick said that it was important the school makes it clear that its families do not stand for this war. “We all stand together as a Russian-speaking community,” Stashwick told The New York Jewish Week. “What’s happening in Ukraine, it’s not acceptable.”
She added that while Ukrainian people are the victims, it’s important to recognize that Russian-Americans should not be unfairly treated in New York. “Russians live in an autocratic country,” she said. “Nobody asked them if they wanted a senseless war. There is a generation of Russians who are having their futures taken away from them as well.”
Located on West 105th St. in the Upper West Side, P.S. 145, also known as The Bloomingdale School, has a diverse range of pre-K through fifth-grade students, including Jewish families from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
On Monday, students, parents, faculty and elected officials — many of them Jews — held a rally at the school to show support. Children and parents made gold and blue signs to show their support for Ukraine.
Stashwick’s parents came to America as political refugees from Ukraine in the late ’70s. “My parents have friends who chose not to leave,” she said. “Their children are growing up there. All of that has been completely disrupted.”
Tatyana Margolin, a Jewish parent from Belarus with twin boys at the school, told The New York Jewish Week how her husband’s parents are still in Russia, and the family is very worried. “I fear how we will be able to see my kids’ grandparents,” she said. “It’s a deep psychological wound.”
Margolin also said that what is happening in Ukraine is reminiscent of the Holocaust, with both Ukrainian and Russian Jews being affected. “We’ve seen tons of images of religious Jews taking up arms in Ukraine,” she said. “There are also many Russian Jews who stayed in Russia who are now trying to figure out how to immigrate to Israel.”
Stashwick said she heard parents feared their children would be bullied for speaking Russian, adding that she was also worried that Russian businesses are being negatively affected by the war. “Nobody should be afraid to speak Russian or any other language,” she said. “That is a value of our school, that we are going to love and protect each other.”
She added that, through the Russian dual-language program, it’s been helpful to know that there are others within the community who are going through the same experience. “It’s been a nice refuge in this moment,” Margolin said. “But our kids cannot be protected forever from what’s going on in the world.”
The dual-language program was established in 2017, and now has 72 families enrolled in the program. The students currently in fourth grade were the first class to start with the program; and now there’s a Russian dual-language class that begins each year with kindergarten, alternating between English and Russian over a variety of subjects. Despite the wave of Jewish immigrants who came to New York from the former Soviet Union, most of the families are not Jewish.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine attended Monday’s rally, as did Councilmembers Shaun Abreu and Gale Brewer.
Brewer said it was extraordinary to see the students of the school stand up for Ukraine and voice their concerns over the war. “The kids were really stunning,” she said. “They stole the show. They wanted people to know that Russians here support Ukraine. Some people were just in tears.”
Stashwick said that her son “notices everything,” and many of the kids seemed to understand the reality of the war. “Our third and fourth graders were circulating a petition at the playground saying no to war,” she said. “They all made signs. They live here in New York, but they don’t see differences among themselves.”
Margolin said the rally was a great way for kids to learn from and exchange their opinions with one another. “It was a wonderful opportunity for them all to come together, to understand that we’re united on this issue,” she said.
Stashwick said that while she is Jewish, it’s her ties to New York that made this rally so special to her. “We really are a community,” she said. “Being Jewish is part of that community, but it’s the language that is the uniting force for us.”