Ian Baron, Synagogue Vandal: Please accept our apologies

baron

When reports first came out about the anti-Semitic graffiti attack against B’nai Shalom synagogue of Olney, Maryland last summer, it seemed like your typical attack. Swastikas and Nazi references were sprayed on the walls. A suspect was apprehended – a disturbed, homeless young man, sporting Nazi tattoos, and with alcohol problems who was known to the police and whose fingerprints were found on cans of spray paint left behind. Ian Baron is in prison awaiting sentencing for this attack, and he faces up to six and a half years in jail.

Typical right? Except for one thing. Ian Baron is Jewish. In 2008 he went on a Birthright Israel trip. He had a Bar Mitzva, he went to Jewish day school, he attended synagogue services regularly. So what happened?? The Washington Jewish Week profiles Baron, a young man, of Latino birth, who was adopted by a Jewish couple, converted to Judaism and was raised fully Jewish.

Ian had his fair share of problems however. His parents moved when he was 13 and he had a learning disability. Most horribly of all however, he was teased and bullied in Middle School by his new Jewish classmates who would :

…regularly harass Ian, who has dark skin and Hispanic features, according to his parents. They would call him “kike” or “spic,” but would also shout, “You can’t be Jewish” because of his physical appearance,Marla and Steven recalled… This type of treatment “was a real shock for him,” Marla added, explaining that Ian would return home from school “distraught” over the name-calling… “He didn’t always fit in, and doesn’t look like your typical middle class, Jewish Olney kid,” said Rabbi Reuben Landman, HTAA’s spiritual leader, who counseled Ian when he was distressed. “He was lost and couldn’t find himself. His own Jewish identity was under question.” … Feeling estranged from the Jewish community because of his looks — and from the Hispanic community because of his faith — Ian became isolated, explained Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz, who’s been visiting him regularly at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds… “He felt like he didn’t belong, that they [the Jewish and Hispanic communities] either hated him or rejected him out right,” said Sikowitz, spiritual leader of Reform congregation Kol Ami in Frederick.

He did enjoy his Birthright Israel trip, but after his return from Israel the situation deteriorated and he became an alcoholic. He moved out of his parents home, lived on the streets, hung out with the wrong crowd and eventually got into the situation that he is in today.

How does something like this happen? I’m no expert of course, but to whatever extent the teasing and the bullying about his appearance that he suffered at the hands of his Jewish classmates contributed to the situation, I would like to apologize to Ian, on behalf of decent Jews everywhere. As anyone who is steeped in Jewish religious law knows, it is a sin to embarrass anyone publicly. It is also especially wrong to question the Judaism of a Jewish convert. Furthermore, Judaism is not a race. There isn’t an official Jewish look or skin color or hair texture or nose size. The only people that believe that are ignorant racists, and the kids at Ian’s Jewish Middle School in Onley.

This should serve as a wake up call to every Jewish community. You better teach your children what it means to be a Jew, and what the ramifications of bullying are. In the meantime, I am glad that some members of the community have lent support to Ian. I am glad that Ian is attending Alcoholics Anonymous, I am glad that Ian is reconnecting with his Judaism while in prison and I hope that the judge shows him some leniency so that he can get the help and support that he needs.

Again, sorry Ian. I am horrified.

“I hope to be home soon,” he wrote in one letter the Barons shared with WJW. “I pray every night that Hashem will return me to my family where I belong.”

I’m praying with you too man. Shabbat shalom.

Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.

9 Comments

  1. Tiff

    4/1/2011 at 12:39 pm

    kids are such big jerks.i remember being a kid – i was a total jerk.

  2. Melissa

    4/2/2011 at 9:46 am

    Great post covered via an interesting angle. What a black mark on the Jewish community of Onley. I’d like to think that the bullying Ian was subjected to was atypical. I’d like to think that. Thanks Jewlicious for bringing this to my attention. Good luck Ian.

  3. Michael

    4/2/2011 at 10:10 am

    I cannot even begin to describe how sad it made me to read this post. Does anyone know how we can help Ian? Can we send letters to judge asking for leniency? Ian seems to have made great personal progress while in Prison. I don’t see how a possible 6 years of incarceration can help him. Maybe the Rabbi of B’nai Shalom synagogue should visit Ian and work towards mutual reconciliation?

  4. Cynthia

    4/5/2011 at 12:02 am

    This poor kid has been through the mill. It hurts me to think that the only form of rehabilitation for Ian, would be to have him languish in a prison. This young boy was bullied beyond belief, he was obviously in a great deal of pain. I would imagine that any one of us, having been put in his position would have reached our boiling point. I actually feel, that the kids that chose to bully him, and the teacher/teachers who had to of known that this was happening,and who did,nt put a stop to this harrassment, should be held accountable. Letters, from every last one of the students who pushed this kid, should be sent to the judge who will be sentencing Ian. Letters explaining their culpability, and they should be begging the judge for lieniency. They should write letters of appology to Ian. This is a very sad commentary as to the result of bullying.Truthfully, if i was an attorney, I’d sue the school, and the teachers for closing their eyes, and looking the other way.Yes, this young kid needs serious help, but i don,t feel that prison is the answer. He should be placed in a facility,that would help rid him of his alchol addiction, and at the same time, continual counseling. Shalom to Ian,I wish him well.

  5. Gillian

    4/5/2011 at 6:22 am

    Ian reminds me of a Separdi Jew but there are Jews from many different backgrounds including Ethiopia, Barbados, West Africa, Iran, Spain and Asia as well as the Ashkenasi Jews from places like Poland and Germany. Do Jews not have sufficient enemies that we must taunt and abuse one of our own? It goes against everything that Judaism stands for! The school needs to be investigated by whoever runs it and serious changes made, teachers punished or sacked, if appropriate as well as additional training for all staff. In addition, sessions of what it takes to be a good Jew/person should become part of the curriculum.

    As for Ian, sadly he broke the law but there are many mitigating factors which, any decent judge should take into account when sentencing. Personally, I would like to see an equivalent to a British punishment where a supervision order is made which means Ian has to work on his alcohol problem with a specialist and, perhaps, getting him into work.

    I pray for Ian that he will find peace and happiness and would like to reassure him that there are good Jews, like his adoptive parents, out there too.

  6. observer

    4/16/2011 at 4:13 pm

    But but jews are gods perfect angels,gods chosen,they are not supposed to discriminate right???

  7. Blossom

    5/7/2011 at 11:24 pm

    Sort of good news on the Ian Baron front. Or at least as good as his family could hope for. This from today’s Washington Post. washingtonpost...

    This whole thing is an embarrassment to the synagogue that could have just reduced the charges when they found out he was Jewish…but chose not to. It could have been done privately. This is NOT The first time a congregant has done this to synagogue property. Its just been handled different.

  8. Irato

    4/15/2013 at 2:23 pm

    Cry me a river, Blossom & Cynthia. He tried to kill someone while robbing them at knifepoint in Baltimore. The only person who needs an apology is his latest victim:

    “A 25-year-old Northeast Baltimore man convicted two years ago for vandalizing a synagogue, has been charged with attemped murder after police said he attacked two men with knives in the Upper Fells Point area, severely injuring one of them.”

    “I’m running out of chances,” Baron said at his sentencing hearing, according to The Gazette.

    Yeah, I’d say so, Ian.

    articles.balti...

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