By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
A teacher-training applicant was told by his interviewer that Jews were white and thus not “diverse” after he gave her an example of a Jewish professor in Nazi Germany as a “diverse mathematician,” The Jewish Chronicle (TheJC) reported Thursday.
Izzy Posen applied on July 20 for a scholarship from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), a British professional society for qualified and practicing mathematicians.
The recent Master’s program graduate in physics and philosophy from Bristol University was shocked at the response,.
“I just had an interview with a prestigious scholarship awarding body to help with math teacher training,” he tweeted. “They asked for an example of a “diverse mathematician.” I gave Emmy Neother, a Jewish woman expelled from her position in Nazi Germany in the 30s.
“The interviewer said, ‘She’s white and we asked for someone who is diverse.’ So I said, ‘I don’t think that a Jew in Nazi Germany in the 30s is not diverse.’ Her response was, ‘You did say Germany, which is a white country, and your pupils might not know about the Holocaust.’”
“So a Jew in Nazi Germany is not diverse enough because my pupils don’t know about the Holocaust. So instead of using this as a teachable moment about the Holocaust, I cannot use a female Jewish mathematician, literally faced with extinction, as a diverse example!” he wrote.
Posen told TheJC that to him, “a diverse set of backgrounds meant somebody who overcame lots of odds; the system was rigged against them,” and was not solely a matter of ethnicity.
He believes that he, too, is a product of a diverse background, as until age 20 he was a member of an ultra-Orthodox London community and had studied only Jewish religious texts – in Yiddish.
He secretly taught himself English, and then read his sisters’ textbooks in math and science, as unlike boys, the girls in his community are exposed to a secular education. He left the yeshiva world and religion, got a certificate of higher education while working nights, and was accepted into Bristol University, where he worked extremely hard to obtain his degree.
He works today as a math tutor, Yiddish researcher and translator, and gives talks about the Hasidic and ex-Hasidic communities.
Discussing the interview, he told TheJC he felt that “I wouldn’t be appreciated for the odds I’ve overcome, I wouldn’t be accepted as a Jew. I’m not enough.”
The institute reacted with understanding after the story went public.
“Please be reassured that we take this very seriously and stand with the Jewish community who have suffered and continue to suffer from persecution, prejudice and discrimination,” said IMA’s executive director, Rosalin Azouzi, in a statement.
“The stories of Jewish mathematicians and particularly those identified by Izzy were fantastic examples of diversity in mathematics.”
Still, Azouzi defended the interviewer, saying that she had only been questioning “whether it would be challenging to tackle this subject in a maths lesson, particularly if pupils had not yet been taught about the Holocaust.”
David Rich, head of Policy at the Jewish Community Security Trust, said that Posen’s encounter was not uncommon, TheJC reported.
“This is awful, and not isolated,” he tweeted. “I’ve heard other examples from adult educational settings of the Jewish experience being excluded from discussions of racism & exclusion.”