Deborah Lipstadt, the renowned Emory professor of Jewish history, says parents can do more to prepare their children to face the growing threat of anti-Semitism in schools and the general community. She told an online audience assembled by the New York-based Jewish Education Project that the family setting is a good place to emphasize the proud history of Jewish life.
“The first thing we should do is infuse young people with the joys of being Jewish,” she advised, “infuse them with the positive stuff, tell them what they’re about and not just what they’re against. Make them feel that being Jewish is this great thing. It’s a tradition. It’s a long family tradition.”
In its annual survey of “The State of Antisemitism in America” this year, the American Jewish Committee reported that 82% of American Jews said that anti-Semitism had risen over the past five years and that 25% said that they have been the target of religious prejudice over the past year. It described its finding as “grim.”
The release of the report on Oct. 25 coincided with the third anniversary of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 congregants as they assembled for worship. According to the AJC, the study is the largest ever done of American Jews and the general public on anti-Semitism in America.
In September, swastika graffiti was found in the bathrooms of Pope and Lassiter high schools in Cobb County. The vigorous community response and the publicity over the incidents resulted in the Cobb County Board of Education approving a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and racism in the public schools.
Despite the findings of recent reports, Lipstadt believes that parents and educators have a responsibility to emphasize not just the dangers inherent in everyday life but also to strengthen the self-image that young Jews have of themselves. Without that, Lipstadt believes that young people may begin to withdraw from an active role in the community.
“If all the student knows about their Jewish identity is that it’s a reason that people don’t like you, or to make snide remarks about you, then if I were that kid, I would say, ‘you know what? I’m not identifying. I’m going underground. I’m not wearing that Jewish star around my neck.’”
It is not just anti-Semitic attacks that target Jewish students. A new report released on Dec. 8 by the Anti-Defamation League described continuing efforts to condemn Israel and Zionism and to isolate pro-Israel and Zionist students. In 2021, according to the ADL, anti-Israel activity on college campuses was at the highest rate in recent memory.
“This action disproportionately impacts large percentages of Jewish students, for whom a connection with Israel is an integral component of their religious, social, or cultural lives and identities,” the report pointed out.
It went on to say, “one of the most common strategies of anti-Israel activists in 2020-2021 was to promote the view that any expression of a connection with or support for Israel is racist, thereby implicitly painting many Jewish students as being complicit in the alleged misdeeds of the Israeli government.”
Though Lipstadt pointed out that disagreement over the policies of the Jewish state should not always be interpreted as anti-Semitic, often that kind of criticism hides a darker message.
“Some anti-Semites know that it’s not so cool anymore to be an anti-Semite. After the Holocaust, people look at scans and say bad things about Jews, but you can say bad things about Israel. So they cloak their anti-Semitism in anti-Israel [rhetoric]. ‘I’m not against Jews. I’m just against Israel. I love Jews. Some of my best friends are Jews,’” she said.
In August, the ADL announced that it was partnering with Hillel International to develop a Campus Climate Initiative to help train students to stand up for themselves in classrooms and online. Hillel has produced a video series on the history of anti-Semitism and how the hate speech and tactics have changed in recent years. The videos are being used, according to Hillel, to teach 500 new professionals in the organization to confront new challenges.
David Hoffman, the assistant director of the ADL’s regional office in Atlanta, said that the effort is aimed at strengthening the resolve of Jewish students to assert themselves in response to the growth of anti-Semitism in education.
“What we know is that students need to be prepared to speak up and to share facts,” Hoffman pointed out, “They need to respond when they’re being approached with arguments that are not correct and to show strength when incidents do occur.”
Just as Lipstadt is enthusiastic about making the home a starting place for anti-Semitism awareness, Hoffman also believes that there is no better place to prepare students for what they may face in secondary education and on college campuses.
“Families really need to be having these conversations about anti-Semitism,” he said. “Parents need to be prepared to have the conversations and sometimes they need to be the ones to start the conversations.”
- Deborah Lipstadt
- Bob Bahr
- Emory University
- American Jewish Committee
- David Hoffman
- Cobb County School Board
- Lassiter High School
- Pope High School
- Public Schools
- College Campus
- Jewish Education Project
- jewish students
- jewish life
- The State of Antisemitism in America
- Tree of Life Synagogue
- American Jews
- Jewish Identity
- anti-Semitism awareness
- pro-Israel students
- Zionist students
- Campus Climate Initiative