MONROEVILLE (KDKA) — A Gateway School Board member has resigned a few weeks after he was accused of making an anti-Semitic joke to a rabbi.
It started at a recent school board meeting where Gateway School Board member Steve O’Donnell reportedly asked Rabbi Barbara Symons, who was wearing a skullcap, or kippah, “Do you know you have a thing on your head?”
“I felt disrespected and I said, ‘There are a lot of things going through my head right now, a lot of responses, but I’m not going to give voice to any of them,'” Symons said.
The comments led to a confrontation between O’Donnell and Reverend David Morse, with the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium Alliance.
“There are some things that you don’t joke about that are especially dear to a person’s identity. One’s gender, one’s race, one’s faith, one’s cultural background are things that really are not a matter of humor,” Morse said.
O’Donnell says he made the comments trying to lighten the mood after an intense zoning board meeting and he meant no harm.
“It’s really unfortunate that the rabbi didn’t take it that way, but even more unfortunate that it’s been blown into this claim that I’m anti-Semitic,” O’Donnell said.
The Ministerial Alliance spoke out in support of Rabbi Symons, seeking a public apology after she wrote a letter. O’Donnell responded to criticism as an elected official.
In a school board meeting, O’Donnell said, “My suggestion to you would be, Rabbi, that you tend to your flock and I’ll tend to mine.”
“The communique just was, in my judgement, an attempt to bully me, and I don’t care whether it’s racial or political or religious,” O’Donnell said.
“I am his flock. I am a resident of Monroeville. I have had three children who are Gateway School students, one of whom is still there, two who graduated. I am a voter,” Symons said.
O’Donnell is proud of his record and claims he is the one who is owed an apology, but he is resigning from the Gateway School Board, saying he had made previous plans to move to Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Symons is hoping that the district will move on with a better understanding of diversity and acceptance.