Diana Leygerman: Against Censorship in Schools

"When teachers can't have discussions that help children develop critical thinking, that affects all students and the future of our workforce and country."
By | Apr 16, 2024
JPVP 2024
Diana Leygerman

This interview is part of Moment’s Jewish Political Voices Project. To learn more about the project, click here. To see our other participants, click here. To see all posts from Diana, click here.

Age: 41
Occupation: Project manager, community activist

Location: Warwick Township, PA
Party Registration: Democratic
Jewish Denomination: Reform
2020 Vote: Joe Biden
Current 2024 Vote: Joe Biden
Family: Married, two children

News Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Bucks County Courier-Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic

Is the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 influencing your vote in November?

It’s definitely been eye-opening as to how Jewish people are viewed by a lot of progressive Democrats. I considered myself a progressive Democrat and then I’m kind of like, “Wait, maybe I’m not.” I’ve been struggling with my own political identity because of it. People I thought were allies aren’t allies anymore. I unfollowed a lot of people that I was friends with on social media, just so I don’t have to look at their stuff, even though we have the same goals when it comes to public education and women’s health care. I’ve stayed mostly quiet. I don’t argue with people on the internet. There are a lot of Jewish activists in our (education advocacy) group; we don’t know where we belong. And we all feel a little bit left behind, a little bit betrayed. But none of this changes who I’m going to vote for. I’ll vote Democratic. 

What are you seeing in your area politically?

In our area of Bucks County (PA), the Republicans ran a stealth campaign and took over the Central Bucks School District (CBSD) in 2021. They were backed by Moms for Liberty, a national group promoting a right-wing education agenda. Essentially, MAGA took over our school board. The Republican-majority board proceeded to ban books. They targeted LGBTQ kids. They banned the gay pride flag and wouldn’t allow teachers or students to identify pronouns. They even forced the librarian to take down an Elie Wiesel quote from his 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” It was taken down because they thought it violated their neutrality policy. But then after the community uproar, they put it back up. We formed CBSD Neighbors United to flip the board and to get rid of these harmful policies. Last November, all five of our candidates won! We flipped the board from 6-3 Republican to 6-3 Democrat for the first time in Central Bucks history. This was bigger than just my own two kids who go to the schools. When teachers can’t have discussions that help children develop critical thinking, that affects all students and the future of our workforce and country. I don’t want to live in a place that bans books, bans pride flags.

Has Biden been an effective president?

He’s accomplished a decent amount. The American Rescue Plan raised many children out of poverty. I very much care about students and little kids. I think he could do more for safeguarding public education. But he did accomplish some education loan forgiveness. My husband is an electrical engineer who works in construction. He really likes Biden’s infrastructure plan.

How does your Judaism influence your political views?

We left Uzbekistan and came here as Jewish refugees when I was 11. My parents told me the reason was that after the split of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan was primarily a Muslim country, so things started to change a lot for Jewish people. My Dad had problems opening a business because he was Jewish. We never really practiced; we never really celebrated much—High Holidays, basically, but not much outside of that. I don’t really know why I became a Democrat. I guess my parents were always very, I wouldn’t say, progressive, but they were always Democrats. That’s surprising for former Soviet Jews. Most are Republicans.

In terms of how my Jewish identity affects me, I don’t really know. But here in Central Bucks, with the school board policies and the removal of the Wiesel quote, I refused to be silent in times of injustice. They were going after Jewish kids, and after Black kids, and after all sorts of kids—they said we couldn’t take the kids to the Holocaust Museum in DC because of its political agenda. 

Are you hopeful about America’s political future?

Not at the moment. And it just seems like the same people over and over again, fighting the same political wars. I do wish for a brighter future. But we have Trump versus Biden once again four years later, and it just feels like we’re living in a cycle that isn’t ever going to break. So to answer your question, no, I’m not very hopeful.

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