The Sound of Silence

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with silence. Coming from a long line of noisy Jewish women, it’s never been quite my cup of tea. During the heat of a hectic Manhattan day, though, a bit of silence provides some rare serenity. While I enjoy these quiet moments, from a very young age I learned that when it comes to any of the various and many injustices that plague our world, in most cases, one should never stand with silence, no matter how attractive it may appear.

Growing up with two mothers is surprisingly not as complicated as it may seem. This experience can be characterized with two words: love and noise. Imagine a stereotypically opinionated yet overly affectionate Jewish mother, then multiply it by two and then you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Of course, understanding is a difficult task, as is tolerance—and that’s the notorious root of silence.

A large part of my upbringing was my exposure to progressive education. My middle school was one that nourished not only a love for learning, but a well-rounded approach to diversity in any form it may take, including sexual orientation. However, I learned that even this inclusivity was an extraordinary privilege and not everyone, my own parents included, was raised in such a tolerant community. Even within my very own ‘New York City liberal bubble,’ countless numbers of LGBT youth are forced to live in silence.

So you can assume why, when I first heard of GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) national Day of Silence, I, more so than most middle schoolers, was taken aback. Why on earth would anybody want to spend an entire day secluded from the nonsensible chatter of the 7th grade? Why would anybody want to be completely silent for a day?

But then I realized that one single day of silence paled in comparison to the experience of students my age who feel the need to suppress their identity every day. One day of voiceless restriction was nothing in comparison to the imposed silence and strained relationships that I know my parents have experienced.

That’s why I made the choice to remain silent for one whole day of school. This was an act of solidarity; a promise to stand by those who had similar experiences to my parents, and to those for whom silence is not a choice, but an unfortunate way of navigating an often intolerant world.  

The following year, I gathered a few of my friends, and together we took a vow of silence, and educated others while doing so. Together we sacrificed the mundane luxury of mindless chatter to call attention to harassment that is so frequently swept under the rug.  We gave up our voices, just for a few hours, in solidarity with students who feel victimized by hate speech on a day-to-day basis. We stood in silence for all the young men and women who remain in the closet throughout most of their youth. We stood in silence for the boys who don’t have enough allies to start up a GSA. We stood in silence for the girls like my moms.

Following my graduation from middle school, I jumped into Jewish day school; a whole other animal. This environment was tolerant and nurturing, yet the student body is still characterized by those attributes that are recognized as “classic high school” behavior. In the stairwell on my way to classes, I hear  language like “that’s so gay,” and boys teasing one another with the word “faggot.”

This is one of the many reasons why I was absolutely thrilled to receive an email from my middle school asking me to come back and speak to the student body about initiating  the GLSEN Day of Silence. Speaking to that room of 300 students was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. This is how I left my mark on my middle school. This is how I want to leave my mark on the world. This is the next generation of activists attempting to chip away at prejudice in hopes of creating a little more light. Together, we’ll make a lot more noise for those who are still silenced.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Gayle-Schneider, Eliana. "The Sound of Silence." 8 April 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/sound-of-silence>.

Photograph from an LGBT rights protest at Independence Hall in 1965

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