Keren Claster, a 32 year-old mother of four who lives in Efrat has started a group to raise awareness of and to combat bullying in local schools. The group is called HaZchut L’Chavod, “The right to respect.” I became curious about the group on a professional level since I work for an organization that funds educational initiatives for children, Kars for Kids, and on a personal level as well, as a mother of many children in Efrat. Here I speak to Keren about the new group.
V: What is the aim of the group you’ve formed Keren, HaZchut L’chavod?
Keren Claster: The aim of the group is to make sure the adult population is doing everything in its power and abilities to ensure that our children’s basic rights are being fulfilled, and the most basic right is respect. We want to do this within our own daled amos (4 cubits) by working within the school system and making changes through the school system. The proposition that we come with is two-fold. The first speaks to education and awareness, the second is about proper supervision. These are the two main targets of the campaign.
V: Why did you put out the call in Efrat? Is bullying more of a problem there than in other communities?
Keren Claster: Bullying is alive in every single school in every country around the world. Efrat is a strong enough community to not be afraid to say there is bullying here and to offer prevention. What’s different here is that we are a strong smart community willing to deal with it. Bullying? It’s everywhere. The question is whether you’re willing to call it by its name and deal with it.
Keren Claster is spearheading a campaign against bullying in Israeli schools.
V: Have a significant number of parents heeded your call to do something about bullying in the schools?
Keren Claster: Since I put the call out I’ve been finding out about a whole world of people whose kids have been bullied and who have been strengthened to speak out about it as a result of forming this group.
V: Why you? What made you want to do something about this problem?
Keren Claster: I have a BA in education and sociology and an MA in organizational development. But I’m also a mother. So I can speak to this subject on both a professional and a personal level. I have the ability to make this happen.
V: What ages are the children of your group members?
Keren Claster: All ages. From Kita Alef (first grade) through high school.
V: What do you see as the main struggle involved in combating bullying in Israeli schools?
Keren Claster: Here in Israel we need to educate people and make them aware of the full scope of biryanut, bullying. When you speak of biryanut to an Israeli, he will assume you are speaking of physical brutality. We need to make Israelis aware that bullying can be verbal or emotional, every bit as much as it can be physical.
V: What have you done thus far in your search for a solution to bullying in the schools?
Keren Claster: I have contacted different organizations with curricula that teach and talk about bullying. There is one called S.O.S. here in Israel. They have their own program. There are branches in England and in Germany.
I am also seeking professional materials that could be implemented in Israeli schools. I have been looking into the relevant local legal clauses by examining the contract of the Education Ministry and I’m also looking at comparable situations as they might be treated by the Histadrut.
I am looking into such issues as how much supervision the schools must offer and speaking to lawyers about accountability for such items as, for instance, recess duty. I am compiling a lot of information on supervision from the legal side of things.
I’ve also been meeting with movers and shakers in Efrat to try to get the schools to partner with us. We’ve secured the support of the rabbi of Efrat, Rav Shlomo Riskin, a local school, Aseh Chayil, and many parents. We’ve held parent meetings. We have parents with fundraising skills who are willing to raise funds to help develop educational programs within the schools but in order to receive the funds we raise, the schools will have to develop proper supervision methods. There will have to be coordination so that money and cooperation will go hand in hand.
V: Have a significant number of parents come on board?
Keren Claster: I’d say it’s significant. We have 197 parents who have joined our Facebook group and I also received a great deal of email in my response to my initial call, as well as some 40-50 expressions of support offline. We have also had a few people outside of Efrat join our group, including one Jerusalem psychologist.
V: I’m curious about the name you chose for the group. The original name reflected the fact that the group deals with bullying. Then you changed the name to Hazchut L’Chavod, the right to respect. I get that bullying betrays a lack of respect for the victim.
But the new name doesn’t include the word “bullying.” Wouldn’t that be somewhat confusing or misleading for someone who is looking for a parents’ support group on bullying?
Keren Claster: If I had started out with the group’s current name: The right to respect, I would have received zero respect. People initially said that Efrat property values are going to go down because I used the “bullying” word. I saw there was so much negativity and fear of this word. Once I got things going and people understood, I was able to get the main message across: “Let’s step back and focus on what we want to endorse.”
We want to endorse respect. I feel this is the only way I can make this work. In every grade that I speak to about this it’s not about negotiating skills. We’re talking about bullying and how to stop bullying. But bullying is about taking away respect. If you respect a person, you won’t use your power over them or against them. Once we get this point across, then we can consider bringing “bullying” back up as a subtitle. It’s a semantic distinction, but an important one.
V: What else would you like to add?
Keren Claster: People see this group as a rebellion, but that’s not it at all. This is NOT a rebellion. I am so desperately trying to make people see this as an initiative and a responsibility. We want to do something about the problem of bullying and we would love for this effort to be together with the schools. We’re not coming to work against the school. It’s really, really not what we’re trying to do. We are only endeavoring to give our kids a safe environment. Let’s think how we can all work on this together, as a partnership.