Marblehead School Committee Votes Unanimously In Support of Superintendent’s Statement on Israel
During the regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday evening, October 19, 2023, the Marblehead School Committee voted five-zero for a motion “to find no wrongdoing by acting superintendent Michelle Cresta in the complaint brought forward by Kristi Warab on 10-12-23.”
As Marblehead Beacon previously reported, Warab sent an official complaint to the School Committee in response to a district-wide email sent by Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta. With a subject line that read “Stand with Israel,” Cresta’s statement began, “On behalf of Marblehead Public Schools, we unequivocally condemn the acts of terrorism committed by Hamas against the people of Israel.”
In calling the meeting to order, School Committee Chair Sarah Fox noted, “I am very happy to see so many people here tonight as well as on Zoom, which I’m assuming is in support of the letter that Michelle Cresta wrote.”
A number of Marbleheaders came forward to express support for Cresta’s message.
“It was a message of compassion and support for the victims of terror,” said Brenda Kelly Kim. “Now is not the time for ‘what about me?’ Now is the time to stand with Israel and with Jews around the world, full stop.”
Nicole Cohen spoke directly to Cresta, saying, “You do have a lot of support from the community, and I’m sorry you are going through this, and I hope that once the new superintendent comes in place you can go back to the job that you love doing.” Cresta, who has served as the assistant superintendent of finance and operations for the past four years, stepped into the acting superintendent position when former superintendent John Buckey reached a resignation agreement with the School Committee. While she has been open about her preference for her finance role, she agreed to fill in during the search for a replacement superintendent. Theresa McGuinness was recently offered the interim superintendent position, which she is scheduled to start in early November.
Averi Kaplowitch, speaking online, noted that she graduated from Marblehead High School in 2018, and that she and a friend brought the Anti-Defamation League to Marblehead to address an issue with discrimination that took place during her high school years. “I was hopeful that bringing this into the community would stop the issues that we are seeing, and the last few days I have been proven wrong,” she said. “I can’t leave my apartment in New York City because if I do I’m asked if I’m Jewish and screamed in my face. I’ve been told that I should be killed or I should be gassed because I am Jewish. My brother who is a junior at Marblehead High School is scared to wear his Jewish star, the star of David.”
Yael and Asaf Magen both spoke very personally about their close connections to Israel and their sense of concern and despair in the wake of the recent attacks.
“It was a massacre, butchering entire families, beheading babies, kidnapping children and elderly,” Yael Magen said, noting that she is Jewish, American, and Israeli. “The Jewish people have not lost so many people in one day…since the Holocaust.” She went on to praise Cresta’s statement, expressing her appreciation “because it made us feel safe, it made us feel seen and it made us feel that our lives - literally our lives - matter.” Referencing Warab’s complaint, which said that her children had felt bullied as a result of Cresta’s message, Magen acknowledged that “bullying is horrific.” However, she continued, “on Friday morning, after there was a call to kill all Jews in the world,” all of the Jewish parents were wondering whether or not to send their children to school. “I told my son,” she said, “if you hear anything, you run, and if you can’t run, you fight.” Finally, addressing her support for Cresta, she said, “we will support and stand behind anybody who stands behind Israel because you aren’t just standing behind Israel. You are standing behind truth and peace and freedom and democracy and human rights and women’s rights and children’s rights and education and anything that we uphold in this country. We must denounce anybody who tries to take that away, who tries to terrorize us, who tries to kill us.”
Yael’s husband, Asaf Magen, also came forward to speak, taking the opportunity to say that, as an Israeli, he knows many Palestinians from Gaza. “My heart breaks for them as well,” he said, but “two days ago they blew up their own hospital and every news channel in the world blamed me, my family. They blow up their own hospital, we get blamed. There is no moral equivalency.” He addressed the fear he feels. “I want you to know that I feel threatened as well. I was in the army. I’m not afraid of a lot of things. I feel really stressed, but I’m not going to write to the paper or to the School Committee that I feel my son is being bullied.” He has talked about that possibility with his son, he says, but then shrugs philosophically, “So what? Part of life.”
Karen Tal-Makhluf also expressed her appreciation for Cresta’s message. “When I saw your email, it made me feel good,” she said, “like there was hope, like the world wasn’t as evil as it was looking like. I just want to thank you for doing that, because it took courage.” Tal-Makhluf also noted that a petition had been circulating in support of Michelle Cresta, with language stating that Cresta "supported humanity and stood with Israel and the Jewish people, after the Hamas terrorist group massacred, tortured, raped, kidnapped, set on fire and killed thousands of innocent Israelis, Jews, Americans, Arabs, Germans, Muslims, Christians and people from all faiths and nationalities. We will not be silent to terrorism and antisemitism nor will we be silent to bullying and intimidation in the name of supporting terrorism and antisemitism.” The petition had been signed by over 1,500 people as of publication time.
Following public comment, Cresta was invited to make her own statement. “As you know, I did waive my right to discuss this in executive session,” she said. “I feel that this is a matter that we should not be hiding behind closed doors. As the acting superintendent and as a mother of two, I stand behind my statement of Thursday, October 12. The statement made was to publicly share support for Israel and to condemn the horrific actions of Hamas. The intent of the statement was to plainly condemn terrorism and to affirm the support for all individuals to live free from fear of terrorism and violence. I do not believe it is the place of a school administrator to further opine on such a complex geopolitical situation but rather it is our job to support our staff, our children, and our school community. I would like to reiterate a portion of my October 12th message. 'Our time is better spent trying to create an environment that fosters love and acceptance in our community. We are committed to promote a world of tolerance and peace where all may feel respect, love, and belonging.'”
All five members of the School Committee then took a moment to speak, expressing their admiration for Cresta and recognition of the courage it took to come forward.
“I appreciate the message you sent,” Meagan Taylor told Cresta, and I hope that you feel the support of both this committee and this community, because I personally think you did the right thing. I do stand with Israel and I stand against terrorism in any form.”
“I want to thank you for that letter you wrote,” Brian Ota told Cresta. “I think you did a great job.”
Alison Taylor, Jenn Schaeffner, and Fox expressed similar sentiments to Cresta and also took the opportunity during the meeting to draw broader conclusions.
“This is also an opportunity for us to be modeling behavior for our students and our children,” Schaeffner said. “There are times in our lives when there is moral clarity, what is right and what is wrong, in a world that is often gray, and there is a lot of moral relativism. This is not that time. It is clear where we stand and what we need to stand for, for the people that have suffered in Israel."
Fox noted that there had recently been an increase in the volume of bullying complaints in the community. “Disagreeing with someone’s words is not the same as being bullied or threatened," she said. "The weaponization of these safeguards harm our staff, our students, and our community while simultaneously diminishing the validity of the effects bullying has on its victims.”
Alison Taylor made a plea for more harmony, expressing her hope that, despite disagreement, everyone can try harder to “believe that other people we are speaking to are coming from a place of good, whether they agree with you or not.”
Editor’s note: School Committee member Jenn Schaeffner is a Marblehead Beacon founder and editor. She is recusing herself from Marblehead Beacon’s coverage of the School Committee and anything pertaining to Marblehead Public Schools.