Was the D. C. librarian anti-Semitic?

December 22, 2021 • 12:45 pm

A few days ago I wrote about Kimberlynn Jurkowsky, a librarian in a Washington, D.C. elementary school who was fired for making third-graders re-enact the Holocaust in the school library. These performances included one Jewish kid ordered to play Hitler and then pretend to shoot himself, children pretending to ride trains to the concentration camps, children pretending to dig graves for other children and then  pretend to shoot them, and children pretending to be gassed. The children reported to parents that Jurkowsky, an African-American women, made anti-Semitic remarks during the grotesque theater, told one child that the Nazis killed the Jews because “the Jews ruined Christmas,” and then told the children not to tell anyone what happened.

To me the most likely explanation for this is anti-Semitism. Why else would Jurkowsky tell the children to keep their mouths shut, and make that remark about the “Jews ruining Christmas”? Could it be that I grossly misinterpreted her gesture, and she really was trying to evoke sympathy for the Jews through this charade?  I doubt it, yet some readers thought that.  Here’s part of one comment from a regular reader:

Ok, reading this I got a different impression. I’m going to make a guess that the librarian wasn’t trying to use this role-playing exercise to make a point against the Jews, but against brutal fascist regimes in general, and/or the Nazis in particular. The “anti-Semitic” comment here might have been a ham-fisted way of saying the Germans did it “for a stupid reason.” She didn’t think the school was doing a good enough job at depicting the horrors and wanted to test out her better idea by “tutoring” them. For real.

I’m not saying there’s not been a rise in antisemitism. There obviously has. But this story doesn’t strike me like that. It would have been different if she’d had the “Jews” rounding up the “Palestinians” for the Death Camps, of course.

Of course I had to examine my conclusions, especially because I know some of these commenters as thoughtful people who shouldn’t be dismissed.  But upon re-examination, and some new information, I stand by my first conclusion: Jurkowski was an unstable woman trying to traumatize children and denigrate Jews out of anti-Semitism.

Some of the reasons are given above, but some readers said the children might have misreported the anti-Semitic comments, or the statement about Jews and Christmas might be misinterpreted. I think the most probable hypothesis is that the children reported correctly. I have no idea about how a statement that “the Jews ruined Christmas” as the librarian’s explanation of why the Nazis killed Jews cannot be plausibly interpreted in any way as sympathetic to Jews.

The woman also has a record for fraud, and was fired from her previous job:

Apparently Jurkowski was suspended from teaching in New Jersey after she was convicted of theft and falsifying documents in a tutoring scam. She also lost her teaching license for three years; and there’s one report that she faced a cruelty to animals charge in 2009. How she managed to get the job in Washington with a record like that baffles me.

Remarkably, her Twitter feed is still up, but appears to have been cleansed of her own tweets and contains mostly retweets.  But the only retweets about Palestine and Israel she made that I could find were these. They surely don’t bolster the idea that Ms. Jurkowski is sympathetic to Jews or Israel:

There are, as Angy Ngo says below, pro-Antifa tweets, and Ngo finds pro-BLM tweets, and pro-Nation of Islam tweets. The Nation of Islam is explicitly anti-Semitic, while BLM is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.

Now I know all the criticisms that have been leveled at Ngo for not being an objective reporter and for being anti-Antifa.  But I don’t think he’d forge tweets.

I’m just wondering whether, in light of this, and in the complete absence of evidence that Jurkowski had any sympathy for Jews (indeed, she evinces the opposite), people still maintain that her actions were sympathetic to Jews, and that the bizarre Holocaust Exercise she promulgated was designed to make her students (probably mostly black, since she teaches in SW Washington, D.C) more fully feel the horrors of the Holocaust.  To maintain that “She didn’t think the school was doing a good enough job at depicting the horrors and wanted to test out her better idea by ‘tutoring” them. For real.” seems to me a misguided attempt to gild Jurkowski’s acts in the face of all the evidence.

Given all of the above, I’d say that the priors make the best Bayesian inference one of anti-Semitism on Jurkowski’s part. If you have other evidence that she is sympathetic to Jews and wanted to impress on all her students the horrors of the Holocaust, by all means tell me.

39 thoughts on “Was the D. C. librarian anti-Semitic?

  1. Even if all of your ideas about Jurkowski is somehow wrong, it isn’t, she should still be removed and not allowed to teach anything to any kids. Her best defense would be to plea mental defect.

      1. I kind of thought I said the same thing you are saying. Her being a bigot is not something illegal in the courts but what she did to the kids, that might be illegal. Something to nail her.

  2. These are 8 year olds. She wasn’t trying to teach them, she was trying to make them paranoid and racist, prejudiced bigots like she is.

  3. My only objection to your original take on this incident was the claim that Jurkowski “forced” the children to enact these scenes. It evokes the picture of the students standing there in tears while the teacher barks instructions to them. If true, then it’s the right word. Without evidence that she forced them, I suspect she just used her normal authority as a teacher. The students probably did as she instructed even they thought it was strange and later told their parents.

  4. At the time I too was privately wondering if the activity was some some of attempt to get kids to think about atrocities, and that she may have as likely gotten them to play out a skit about slavery and slave owners.
    But the above paints a clear picture about antisemitism. And of course incredibly poor judgement.

    1. Two days ago, reader j a higginbotham had a link to a story of her from April 3, 2019, of dogs left out in the freezing cold until they died. She was charged with “four counts of animal cruelty and four counts of abandoning a domesti cated animal.’

      No food, no escape, and a very horrible way to die. Her problem is more than just incredibly poor judgement.

  5. I tend to look at this through a free will skeptic’s lens. Restraint, rehabilitation restoration and finally deterrence. I will set aside the “d” for now, apparently deterrence is the weakest of the responses. It would be wise for now that she is restrained and not in a position to perform this enactment again. The question then becomes can she be rehabilitated and is restoration possible. I am to far removed from her ‘mind’ to comment on her intent.

    But then as free will skeptic I can’t help thinking she is a product of her environment and perhaps we could try and fix that.

    Of course there is a fourth “r” … retribution.

  6. Because I have family members with autism and other mental conditions, I feel particularly disgusted by the tweet about the autistic Palestinian. I’d be quite OK if disability advocates write about this case, provided that they cover also similar cases in their own country and other countries; but it stands isolated, a tragedy used as a mere propaganda tool against Israel by a person who never before or afterwards cared about autistic people.

  7. The background history obviously makes a difference, so I now think it less likely that the exercise was more anti-fascism than anti-Semitic.

    In fact, if most of the students were black and she picked out white Jews to play the villain, it becomes very likely she was saying something negative about Jews (and being white.)

    I have no idea about how a statement that “the Jews ruined Christmas” as the librarian’s explanation of why the Nazis killed Jews cannot be plausibly interpreted in any way as sympathetic to Jews.

    Absent having the actual wording and context, I still think this could have gone either way.

    “Teacher, why did the Nazis want to kill the Jews?”

    “Because they were filled with irrational hatred. ‘The Jews caused the War, the Jews charge too much interest, the Jews polluted society, the Jews ruined Christmas and eat little Christian babies.’ Once people find a group to despise, anything and everything can be invented and used against them.”

    Vs

    “”Because the Jews killed Christ, and ruined the promise of Christmas.”

    Either one is conceivable. She shouldn’t be fired for the 1st as if it was equivalent to the second. But, given her background, the 2nd is now at least as likely as the first — and the entire traumatic role-playing lesson worthy of sanctions regardless of her motivation. College students have trouble dealing with that, even decades ago.

  8. I am not sure how people can say she’s not anti-Semitic when one of her direct quotes to the kids was “the Jews ruined Christmas”

    1. Because it is disputed that she actually said that. If she said “the Jews ruined Christmas”, that is an anti semitic statement. If she said “the Nazis thought that the Jews ruined Christmas”, she is reporting what she believed the Nazis thought. It’s not antisemitic to report other people’s antisemitic views. It’s quite possible she said the latter but was reported by children to have said the former.

      It may astonish you to lean this, but children are just as capable of misreporting events as anybody else, perhaps more so if they don’t understand the nuanced difference between “I think” and “the Nazis thought”.

      1. And certainly those parents can twist the story too. We’re probably getting the whole thing 4th or 5th-hand. I’m sure there are plenty of parents motivated to catch a teacher doing something stupid and cast anything they hear from the student in the worst possible light.

      2. What’s not being disputed is her support of explicitly of an explicitly antisemitic organization. Why are so many people leaving this out when the entire point of this post was to provide this further information, so that the idea of antisemitism wasn’t based on something “disputed” and reported by children? I’m asking you this in good faith, as you’ve done it multiple times now.

  9. The only caveat I would throw in – if it is one – is that I think the history of fraud and so on is irrelevant to the current case, and is potentially prejudicial. There are many ways in which a person can commit crimes, or be convicted of them even if they didn’t commit them (not that I have reason to doubt that she did), and they are not necessarily relevant to other character attributes and actions.

    Animal cruelty may NOT be irrelevant in this case, as it is often a hallmark of those who end up diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, though that’s certainly not the only problem associated with animal cruelty, and we don’t seem to have any details about that charge or claim.

    The history of her tweets is much more convincing, assuming those tweets were indeed shared by her, which, again, I have no current reason to doubt.

    If she had CLAIMED that she was trying to make the kids understand the horrors of the Holocaust and that she had just ended up missing her target, so to speak, I would at least have been willing to give the benefit of the doubt. I dislike judgments that smack of mind-reading; I’ve never met anyone who is any good at it, nor seen evidence that anyone IS particularly good at it…more often it at least SEEMS as if the people passing judgment are expressing their own biased interpretations.

    Nevertheless, given the combination of her actions, her apparent lack of any statements to the contrary, and her tweets being at LEAST arguably anti-Israel (and NOT arguably pro-Semitic, if that’s a word), and the emotionally manipulative (toward children, anyway) statement that “The Jews had ruined Christmas”, or whatever that specific quote was, the evidence points toward an anti-Semitic bent.

    At the very least, the overall story gives the impression of someone who is emotionally unstable.

    1. “and her tweets being at LEAST arguably anti-Israel (and NOT arguably pro-Semitic, if that’s a word)”

      There’s no arguing about it. The Nation of Islam is an explicitly antisemitic group led by an explicitly antisemitic person.

      1. While I am convinced you are correct, I would as a matter of principle say there is no case where there is no arguing about it. Dogmatism must be absolutely forbidden, always!

        Wait…

        1. LOL. You’re right, of course. I shouldn’t automatically pass judgment. But it does bother me to see how many people are explicitly avoiding the very point of this post… (not you)

  10. “the Jews ruined Christmas”

    Far as I’m concerned, it was just one Jew, Irving Berlin, and all he did is write that one damn tune made famous by Bing Crosby that is absolutely, excruciatingly inescapable this time of year.

    And don’t get me started on “Easter Parade.” That one puts Berlin up there with Caiaphas. 🙂

    1. Yes, but he also wrote “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which is a good song. And don’t forget, buddy, that without Jewish songwriters there would be almost no good Broadway musicals (or comedians).

      1. Okay, I’ll grant you “Puttin’ On the Ritz” as well as “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” and a few other Berlin tunes. (And far be it from me to disparage in any respect the copious contributions Jewish-American composers and lyricists have made to The Great White Way and to American entertainment more broadly.) But when it comes to “God Bless America” I gotta side with Woody Guthrie.

      2. And without Puttin’ on the Ritz,” we might not have Young Frankenstein!

        Although that’s not really true, as I remember seeing a Mel Brooks interview in which he said that the scene was Gene Wilder’s idea; Brooks thought it wouldn’t work, but loved it once he saw it. It wasn’t in the original screenplay.

        But we definitely wouldn’t have that scene!

    2. Not to mention cultural appropriation, making gobs of money and lasting fame by writing songs celebrating holidays he didn’t believe in…. I’m kidding, of course. But Jewish writers of Christmas songs is the example I always bring up when pointing out the absurdity of being outraged over cultural appropriation — one woke friend thought for a second and replied that it was taking from white Christians, so it was ok 😁.

  11. It might be selection bias, but I never seem to hear of these role-playing exercises going well. Certainly, it strikes me that it is an inappropriate exercise for young students. I am not sure, in fact, that it serves a purpose that could not be explained by saying “imagine that you. . . .” In any event, it seems like something that would need special training to facilitate, so that students don’t actually get treated badly in the guise of showing them what bad treatment was.

  12. Regardless of her intention, taking third graders through something as horrifying as a holocaust role-play is reprehensible. Some of these children will be traumatized for much of their lives.

  13. One thing seems to be missing here. A good first step towards learning a person’s intention is to ask. Has anyone asked her what she was trying to do? Without this all is speculation–even though in this case the facts do suggest that the speculation here is probably accurate.

  14. Jurkowsky’s reported behaviour is reprehensible. The allegations about her treating d*gs badly doesn’t help that narrative.

  15. I don‘t think it necessary or helpful to pathologise the behaviour, or trying to reduce it to some sort of essentialt trait, “antisemitism” or otherwise. Doing that is rather an impediment to understand what exactly is wrong with her behaviour, and what makes us offended by it. Words like antisemitism, but also all the other istophisms (sexism, misogyny, homo-, islamo-, and transphobia etc.), start as heuristics but become crutches. At some point, people don’t know anymore what precisely makes a behaviour wrong, but they see it’s similar to other things that were deemed offensive before, and the present case is offensive rather as a matter of perceived consistency, or principle. In the end, when pressed, a reason can be found by rationalisation.

    It’s good case to think about this situation without crutches. I have the hunch the offensive dynamite is much more in making children reenact truly horrific events of history in a roleplay manner. I think it would be already offensive if they were to graphically reenact the murdering of clergy in Lindisfarne by viking raiders, or a kid was to play out the suicide of Alan Turing. Of course, the Holocaust, and making children reenact Hitler are about the most ‘serious’ of examples, making the juxtaposition and tension of child’s play with mass-grave serious of history all the greater.

  16. Firstly, I don’t think Jurkowsky’s prior criminal record is relevant to her alleged antisemitism. That is, unless somebody has a study that shows a correlation between committing fraud and antisemitism. I’m not sure it even says anything about her qualities as a teacher, although I clearly wouldn’t put her in a role that involves handling money.

    Secondly, I do not have the same faith as you that the children have reported her quotes correctly. Children often misreport things and they often miss nuances that adults get. Who is to say that a child didn’t report “the Nazis thought that the Jews ruined Christmas” as “the Jews ruined Christmas”.

    Thirdly showing sympathy to Jews and being antisemitic are not the only two options – it’s a false dichotomy. The Baysian argument fails with that observation alone, I think.

    I think it’s entirely plausible that she was simply trying to instil an understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust into the children. If so, her methods were reprehensible but not necessarily antisemitic. Yes, she asked some of the children to role-play concentration camp guards but she also asked some of them to role-play being the Jewish victims.

    I think we can all agree that her methods were unacceptable but charges of antisemitism hinge on what one child said who might have missed what Jurkowsky was really saying or might have misremembered or might have perceived a net benefit to themselves by pointing the finger at the teacher.

    For now, I’m sitting on the fence.

    1. Why didn’t you address her support for the Nation of Islam, an explicitly antisemitic organization with an explicitly antisemitic leader, and her support of other groups that just barely skirt the line of being antisemitic (and I say that with the utmost charity toward those groups)? The Nation of Islam seems to be the most convincing thing here, and you simply leave it out.

      “Thirdly showing sympathy to Jews and being antisemitic are not the only two options – it’s a false dichotomy. The Baysian argument fails with that observation alone, I think.”

      I’m open to hearing of a scenario in which you have children, some of them Jewish, reenact the death of Jews in the Holocaust and the killing of them by Nazis by both shooting and gas chamber, while being both not sympathetic to Jews but also not being antisemitic.

      EDIT: “…” but charges of antisemitism hinge on what one child said….” Literally the entire point Jerry’s post here was to provide more information showing antisemitism, and you didn’t address any of it.

  17. Your knowledge of DC geography leaves much to be desired. Watkins Elementary School is on Capitol Hill, and many if not most of the students are white. A number are Jewish which one reason this episode came to light. The perpetrator is among a growing number of people from her community who are openly antisemitic. You can see it in the rantings of groups like the Black Hebrews, who appropriate Jewish traditions and make proclamations about actual Jews being “fake Jews”. It may be that very few Black people actually subscribe to these views. But one real problem is that very few of them dare to rebuke the antisemites in their communities.

    1. I appreciate the correction (one source said that the school was in SW D.C. and I lived in Arlington for a year.

      HOWEVER, your civility leaves much to be desired. Do you see that you could have corrected me without making an insult? Read the Roolz before you comment here again.

  18. Could Jurkowsky be related at some level to Jurkiewicz? When I first moved into my present house, letters kept coming for a Mr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz. The immediately previous occupants were named Nygaard, but I assumed the Jurkiewicz couple were much earlier occupants, and perhaps were still haunting the house. I never actually saw them, but other ghostly events hinted at their presence: a faint smell of pierogi in the kitchen now and then, and the sounds of Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude which could be heard in my basement every year on the Feast Day of St. Andrzej and on the birthday of Paderewski.

  19. She’s an unhinged weirdo that shouldn’t be put in a position of authority over children… I feel like dithering over whether she is or isn’t antisemitic misses that very important point.

  20. I think that there a several factors at play here, but it’s not rocket science. First, the woman is an idiot. Second, she is antisemitic. Those factors explain the stupid and antisemitic “play” that she choreographed. Perpetrating this on innocent children adds a third factor—evil—to the mix. It is pure evil to use helpless children—children who have no choice but to accept the authority of the librarian—to make whatever point she was trying to make.

    In my view, this librarian’s motivations comprise a rotten stew that cannot easily be disentangled. The sickly brew stands on its own. And, seeing as she is also a felon, we must also put some focus on the question of why she had a job at all.

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