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How to Respond to Questions About Israel

Our community has grown increasingly anxious about rising antisemitism. We are urging schools and universities to respond and enforce zero tolerance for acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia or other forms of hate, while also reminding them that they have a responsibility to create safe environments.

We have heard from our community that many of these institutions are failing us in this moment. In this JCRC Speaker Series, Dr. Rachel Fish speaks about how to respond to questions about Israel: How do we discuss the situation with others? How do we handle these conversations effectively both in person and on social media with a goal of engaging others in conversations?

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Helping Students in Difficult Times

By Rich Tenorio

For educators in the Massachusetts public school system, there are resources available for helping students understand the current situation between Israel and the Gaza Strip following the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks and Israeli response. These resources range from a toolkit on antisemitism to tips on how to talk to teens about a challenging subject. 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org

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Implementing the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism

ADL’s guide for education professionals, state education departments, and school administrators.

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Welcoming Allyship

By Melissa Garlick, Senior Director of Combating Antisemitism and Building Civic Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Like many of you, I am gutted, devastated, and heartbroken—for my Israeli friends and family, for our Jewish community, and for the future we work toward every day: our vision for freedom and safety. To me, this is a moment of reckoning—there is heightened urgency for the work we do here to deepen allyship across communities.   

In the days immediately after the terror attack by Hamas, I recalled the emotional response of when I experienced significant and traumatic loss before—that feeling of loneliness, not understanding why everyone around me was continuing with daily life and I was standing still, and feeling confused and pained by friends and acquaintances who didn’t reach out to see how I was doing. When this has happened to me before, for weeks and months after, I closed my circle, in some cases held grudges, and pushed others away. In those moments, it felt like that was what I needed to protect myself and my own grief. But the feeling of loneliness and anxiety compounded and kept growing.  

After the horrific attacks by Hamas, we face lives taken too soon and families ripped apart, the massacre of Jews, the panic over our existence as a people, and the future we are leaving for our children. This time, I have been so heartened by the many statements of solidarity for Israel and the Jewish community by elected leaders and community leaders. What’s been especially meaningful for me has been the small gestures of love and support, like my neighbor checking to see if I could use some help, knowing my personal and professional proximity to the impacts of the terrorist attacks.    

At the same time, it has been incredibly distressing that many of the people I’ve worked with in progressive spaces have either justified terrorism and antisemitism or failed to call it what it is: the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust. 

As Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), said immediately after the attacks: “The epigenetic trauma of seeing Jews pulled from their homes, kidnapped, and killed—it’s real. This does not take away from the real suffering of the Palestinian people, and the many other layers to the conflict and the region. But when we see people celebrating the massacre of Jews as ‘resistance,’ that is not OK—and it does nothing to advance peace and safety.” 

Allyship can be defined, in this moment, as the action and commitment by individuals and organizations to listen and learn about the impact of the attacks, to commit to take action themselves and in their communities to root out antisemitism and to stand with the Jewish community, even when it’s hard for them. Allyship requires learning from a community how best to show up for them. We are so appreciative of the statements and expressions of solidarity from our state and city lawmakers, interfaith leaders, partners in the Black and Latinx communities, schools, and other civic organizations.  

As this war to eliminate Hamas grinds on, we need to sustain and build meaningful allyship beyond these initial statements. Allyship requires learning from a community how best to show up for them. While many allies are proactive, we can and should reach out to them too, to invite and call them in. Solidarity is necessary and critical in the short-term during this crisis, but building allyship is long-term work that entails learning (and mistakes) and requires grace and compassion. Allyship is born from trust and accountability to one another. 

The trauma of the last two weeks has affected so many of us. Even conversations with like-minded people can be difficult. But if you’re ready to start engaging with potential allies, here are some suggestions: 

  • Remember that it’s OK not to be OK, and please make sure you’re reaching out for the support you need.
  • Distinguish between the detractors and those who are likely willing to engage with you, and don’t take the bait from those just looking to argue.
  • For those who have potential to be allies, call them into conversation, invite them to learn, and raise their awareness about the communal pain and impacts.
  • With those friends or colleagues who have been silent in this moment or have tried to show empathy but perhaps have missed the mark, tell them you are hurting and that you want to talk. Reach out for both the support and the opportunity for them to be in allyship with you. Help them understand what you and the Jewish community are going through.   

These are difficult and exhausting conversations—but this work is needed now more than ever. We cannot fight the antisemitism that has been unleashed and rebuild by ourselves. And we must know that we are not alone in this moment of crisis. 

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The Jewish Community Rejects Bigotry and Hate

By Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

(Photo: Halfpoint/iStock)

We are grateful to Jewish Council for Public Affairs for leading our community in unequivocally saying that the Jewish community rejects Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, antisemitism, and all forms of bigotry.

We are proud to have been part of the drafting of this statement on behalf of our community.

The Jewish Community Rejects Bigotry and Hate
By Jewish Council for Public Affairs

In the wake of the attack in which a six-year-old Muslim boy was murdered and his mother critically injured by a man who targeted them because of their faith and the Israel/Hamas war, over 100 Jewish groups released a statement today condemning the attack and rejecting any effort to exploit the situation in Israel and Gaza to spread hate and bigotry.

The statement, which was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and signed by 130 national and local groups, explicitly rejects “Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, antisemitism, and all forms of bigotry”:

“We stand in solidarity with all our neighbors under threat, and urge our elected and civic leaders, law enforcement, schools and universities, and employers to make clear there will be zero tolerance for any act of hate.”

“As Jewish leaders, we want to be very clear: we unequivocally reject those targeting our Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian American neighbors with bigotry, threats, and violence,” said Amy Spitalnick, CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This is a moment of profound pain for our community—and we refuse to allow some to exploit that pain as an excuse to spread bigotry or extremism of any kind. Our communities’ safety is inextricably linked, and only by coming together and calling it out can we defeat the forces of hate and violence.”

You can read the full text of the statement here and below:

Since Hamas’ terror attacks in Israel on October 7th, we’ve seen bigots and extremists exploit the crisis to spread hate, disinformation, and extremism.

This is a moment of deep Jewish pain, mourning the lives taken and praying for the safe release of the hostages in Gaza—and this pain and fear is compounded by a horrific rise in antisemitism here in the United States and around the globe.

We also know that we are not the only ones being targeted in this moment. Our Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian American neighbors are facing bigotry, threats, and violence—including the despicable murder of a six-year-old child this weekend outside Chicago, by a man who reportedly espoused anti-Muslim hate.

Let us be unequivocally clear: The Jewish community rejects Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, antisemitism, and all forms of bigotry. Particularly as extremists continue to exploit this moment, we are reminded that all of our communities’ safety and futures are inextricably linked—and recommit ourselves to fighting hate in all its forms.

We stand in solidarity with all our neighbors under threat, and urge our elected and civic leaders, law enforcement, schools and universities, and employers to make clear there will be zero tolerance for any act of hate.

View the complete list of groups and organizations that signed the statement.

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Allies Join “The Good Fight”

By Rich Tenorio

When former President Barack Obama administration member Carol Fulp was asked about allyship during a panel at “The Good Fight Forum,” she knew exactly how to respond. 

“First and foremost,” she said, “allyship is showing up. Allyship is speaking up. Allyship is looking up. It’s teaming up.” 

All four actions were well-represented at what has become an annual conference in the Boston area by the Anti-Defamation League, with this year’s edition taking place at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront hotel on Oct. 10, 2023. The conference occurred three days after the deadly surprise terror attacks by Hamas against Israel. Launched from the Gaza Strip, the attacks left over 1,300 Israeli service members and civilians dead, including men, women and children. The number of wounded has surpassed 3,300, while an estimated 100 to 200 hostages have been taken by Hamas. 

Fulp spoke at a panel alongside Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden and Idit Klein, the head of the Jewish LGBTQIA+ group Keshet and the lone Israeli among the trio. Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, New England regional director of the ADL, moderated the discussion. 

Allyship to Boston’s Jewish community has been on display ever since the Oct. 7 terror attacks. Two days later, numerous city and state political leaders joined in a solidarity gathering for Israel on Boston Common. Among them were Gov. Maura Healey, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. 

At “The Good Fight,” Hayden shared insights into how to disrupt hate directed against the local Jewish community. 

“We have to be committed to conversations in the hard way,” he said, “fighting against the out and front, blatant ‘isms’ we’re fighting against, rather than the silence of it.” He added, “I don’t know if one is better than the other.” 

Regardless, he said, “There are more for us than against us. You have to believe that, hope that, trust that. For me, personally, you have to pray that.” 

Fulp shared lessons in allyship she learned from a good friend, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. 

As Fulp explained, “Allyship is to be willing to accept criticism, because we don’t know it all. We need to be open to things we might be doing wrong, things we might be doing that are hurtful. Being sensitive enough, trusting enough with your ally, they can share, ‘This is hurtful, inappropriate or a microaggression.’ These are all things that allies learn, because there is trust with their ally.” 

In addition to this panel discussion, there were other panels over the course of the day, with speakers including Steinberg and CJP president and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker, plus two voices from Israel—Shalem College administrator and scholar Daniel Gordis, and Carole Nuriel, ADL senior regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“In the face of this ugliness of the situation, there was so much heroism,” Nuriel said. “So many people wanted to rescue others … I believe there was manifest solidarity and empathy all around. There was so much unity, togetherness, love and empathy. That will help us win.” 

“What we know at this point is first and foremost what this was and was not,” Gordis said. “This was a pogrom. It was not about freedom fighters seeking freedom or Palestinians seeking a Palestinian state.” 

Several speakers referenced statements directed against Israel following the Hamas attacks—namely a letter from over 30 Harvard University student groups that blamed them on Israel. Some of the groups have since withdrew their support of the letter amid outcry. 

Peggy Shukur, the ADL’s deputy regional director, said, “Although Hamas is known for organized terror,” people are “witnessing a shocking counter-narrative of the attacks that is getting traction on and off campus—‘Israel is to blame for the attacks.’” And, she said that the previous afternoon, “in Cambridge, people chanted, ‘We don’t want no Jewish state, we want ‘48!’” 

Rabbi David Wolpe, currently at Harvard Divinity School as a visiting scholar, had a suggestion. 

“Look at the enemies Israel is fighting,” he said. “Remember 9/11. These are the people Hamas just let over their border. Appeal to people not already totally captivated by an evil ideology. Those are the people we should be talking to.”

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org

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Staying Safe Against Cyberhate 

By Rich Tenorio 

When the Israeli organization CyberWell published a report on the state of online antisemitism for 2022, the survey quoted multiple Jews on the subject. They included Tyler Samuels, a Jamaican Jew who recounted the backlash he faced after discussing history—both Jewish and Jamaican Jewish—on social media. 

“I was inundated with hate, from death threats to the usage of slurs against me,” Samuels said. “This abuse only got worse if I dared mention my love of Israel.” 

Netflix host Dr. Sheila Nazarian, a Jewish Iranian American with a significant social media presence, noted that “the sad reality is that I am often the target of harassment and hate—just for being Jewish.” 

“This abuse only got worse if I dared mention my love of Israel.”

Dr. Sheila Nazarian

Cyberhate is defined as “[online] hate speech” by the Anti-Defamation League, and the ADL and other organizations are marshaling their resources to combat it. 

“Unfortunately,” the ADL explained in its “Best Practices for Responding to Cyberhate,” “while the internet’s capacity to improve the world is boundless, it also is used by some to transmit antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and other forms of hate, prejudice and bigotry.” 

In a resulting initiative from the ADL, a Working Group on Cyberhate emerged following a request for action from the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism back in 2012. The best practices were published in 2019, and the platforms expressing support included Twitter. Ironically, the platform—now owned by Elon Musk and renamed X—has gotten into a public dispute with the ADL over the issue of antisemitic and racist content on the site. This is why reporting antisemitism matters both in-person and online.

CyberWell has made it a priority to address online antisemitism. Of the many types of Jew hate, online antisemitism is among today’s fastest-spreading, according to CyberWell. The organization’s 2022 survey found that the highest amount of online antisemitism overwhelmingly consisted of stereotypes, tropes and conspiracies (63.7%). The second- and third-highest percentages were collective blame of Jews (15.6%) and antisemitism directed against Israel or Israelis (8.8%). The findings did not represent the whole of last year, as the organization did not begin tracking data online until May. 

Samuels described his own proactive steps—as well as his frustration at having to make them: “Rather than focusing on educating people about Jewish history, I now have to police my notifications to hide and block antisemitic comments on my posts.” He called this “an exhausting existence.” 

“Rather than focusing on educating people about Jewish history, I now have to police my notifications to hide and block antisemitic comments on my posts.”

Tyler Samuels

Both CyberWell and the ADL recommend actions that can be taken. 

The ADL Cyber Safety Action Guide offers tips to report antisemitic content on numerous platforms, although it notes that there are often limits to these platforms’ policies. CyberWell details its efforts to get platforms to remove antisemitic content, noting their varying levels of responsiveness. The organization even trains students in how to recognize and report online antisemitism from its Tel Aviv location. And it explains rights explicitly or implicitly guaranteed to social media users. 

Jewish social media users, according to CyberWell, are guaranteed “protection from online hate hosted on these platforms—whether it is targeted harassment against you specifically, or generally spreading fear and harmful misinformation about the Jewish people as a group.” 

As for Samuels, he expressed a wish that social media companies would be as proactive in removing antisemitic content as he is in self-monitoring it. 

“I do it,” he said, “because I have no faith anymore that social media platforms are acting with a solid will to remove those who perpetrate this old virus of hatred.” 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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A Deep Dive Into Cyberbullying 

By Rich Tenorio 

Bullying is bad enough, but with kids on social media all the time, cyberbullying can be just as bad, if not worse. And it’s sometimes antisemitic in character, depending on the target. 

“A lot of bullying and cyberbullying go hand-in-hand,” said Jinnie Spiegler, director of curriculum and training for the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s rare when bullying in-person does not make its way to the digital world. Usually, it’s both.” However, she noted, cyberbullying “is unique from other bullying and can be particularly harmful.” 

WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?

Occurring in digital spaces such as a computer or smartphone, cyberbullying includes hurtful comments, posting private information, posing as someone else to harm their reputation and forcible exclusion from groups online, she said. 

Cyberbullying has increased dramatically in recent years and poses added dangers for tweens and teens. Unlike traditional schoolyard bullying, in which there is some relief when the school day ends, cyberbullying can occur at all hours, limiting the ability of trusted adults, such as parents and teachers, to notice and/or help. Instead of private locations such as the back of a classroom or school bus, cyberbullying can manifest itself through public posts online, potentially harming someone’s reputation for years—including, ironically, the individual committing the bullying. It can persist on digital devices indefinitely, unless a social media platform removes it. 

The Cyberbullying Research Center tracks the phenomenon among 12- to 17-year-olds. The overall cyberbullying victimization rate among that demographic stood at 18.8% in 2007, the year Apple rolled out the iPhone. By 2019, the rate had risen to 36.5%; in 2021, it increased yet again, to 45.5%, nearly half of young people in that age bracket. 

Spiegler said the ADL’s view of bullying draws upon common characteristics—it is repeated, threatening behavior, committed by one or more individuals with a perceived power differential over their target. That power differential can include hostile stances toward marginalized groups, such as Jewish, Black or LGBTQIA+ communities. For example, read what happens when antisemitism and anti-LGBTQIA+ hate converge. It is this identity-based bullying and cyberbullying that the ADL is marshaling its resources against. 

“We tend to use examples like antisemitic cyberbullying, racist cyberbullying or bullying,” Spiegler said. “You’ll see this a lot, especially in the teenage years, bullying targeted toward a particular group or person. A lot of times, what they say is racist or antisemitic or homophobic, things like that.” 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT CYBERBULLYING 

Although cyberbullying can be dismaying, like bullying in general, its targets do have options, from managing their settings online to asking that social media platforms remove hateful content. 

Spiegler’s suggestions: 
  • Be an ally, supporting the target even if you don’t know them. 
  • Don’t participate in cyberbullying if it comes up. Other people will notice your nonparticipation, which may lead them to do the same. 
  • Tell the oppressor or oppressors to stop, either publicly or privately. 

Remember that you don’t have to confront the person doing the cyberbullying and that this is often the safest approach. When it comes to directly communicating with a cyberbully, she recalls a lesson from her anti-bias work: “If there’s antisemitic or racist remarks, why are you going to feed into that?” Instead, she counseled, “Understand where the person is as an individual [and don’t] feed into that kind of groupthink.”

In general, she said, “There are strategies for staying safe online. Don’t respond, save screenshots if you need them later, reporting them to trusted adults.” And, she said, “you can report abuse to the companies,” whether it’s Facebook, X or even a Nintendo or Sony Playstation game. (Read more about why reporting antisemitism matters.)

“As kids get older,” she said, “they’re less and less likely influenced by a parent or trusted adult. Young people have to help each other move from bystanders to allies.” 

Rich Tenorio covers antisemitism news for JewishBoston.com. His work has appeared in international, national, regional and local media outlets. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a cartoonist. Email him at richt@cjp.org.

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How To Teach Kids About the Painful History of Swastikas

By Kara Baskin

Swastikas have become sadly ubiquitous—as graffiti in schools, cemeteries, on bridges and flags. In response, Lappin Foundation just launched a moving short film, “Swastika – Symbol of Hate,” to teach middle- and high-schoolers about the true, brutal meaning behind the symbol.  

Most importantly, they hear from Holocaust survivors Magda Bader and Dr. Hans Fisher, whose lived experiences crystallize the terror and pain that the swastika provokes.  

“We were given orders to get out of the cattle cars fast, and we were told that we would see each other in a voice that you try to believe …. I was holding onto one of my sister’s and my mother’s hand. Even though I just turned 14, I looked 10 or 12. I was attached to my mother. Because of the orders, and you were told you’d see each other, I let my mother’s hand go. … That’s the last time I saw my mother,” Bader recalls. 

It’s important to know the history and what to do when you see a swastika. Lappin Foundation executive director Deborah Coltin shared more about the new film, which comes with a guide for educators.

What inspired the video? 

What inspired the video is, sadly, the number of incidents involving swastika graffiti in our communities. Over the past few years, I’ve been increasingly invited to schools where swastikas appear to do a lesson about its meaning. In the beginning, it was high schools. And then it was middle schools. And then, last year, I was invited to a school with younger children in grades four to six. And that’s really troubling.  

I thought, “How do you begin the conversation?” I was searching for a video, because sometimes that’s a good opener. There was absolutely nothing that I felt was age-appropriate. I felt there was a real need for it, especially geared to middle school ages. Where did the symbol come from? What does it mean today, and why is it so upsetting? I also thought, if I could have Holocaust survivors talk about that piece of it, what a wonderful way to preserve their memory and have them impart a lesson to the students. And I believe that the film accomplishes that in 7-plus short minutes. 

How did you pull these components together? The film is short, but it’s impressive, and it’s powerful.  

I knew I wanted a simple, straightforward history. I’d been working with survivors Magda Bader and Dr. Hans Fisher. Both of them come from a very different experience. Magda survived Auschwitz. Hans was a passenger on the MS St. Louis [a ship that left Germany in 1939 to escape rising antisemitism]. So, he was the students’ age, and he escaped. He calls himself an escapee of the Holocaust.  

Their messages are so important. Sometimes, a swastika appears in a school, and then there’s a reaction from parents and the community, with all good intentions, but I don’t know how much education actually goes into teaching them about the symbol. I think that’s the missing piece. Our kids’ worlds are full of symbols. They communicate with emojis. Symbols evoke emotion. And the swastika represents the most evil time in humanity.  

This suggestion came from a student: Schools could use it as part of their orientation. They hear about bullying. They hear about all other kinds of name-calling. And so, because of the prevalent rise in antisemitism in our country, our students should be taught what this is and why it’s bad. They’re not going to get it by osmosis. And I believe this film is one way to do that. 

Any guidance on contextualizing the video for various age groups? 

It’s for middle school and older, for sure, and, with great care, older elementary students. Our teachers’ guide provides background, a synopsis and how teachers can introduce the film. And for teachers themselves who might not have background on the Holocaust, I provide resources for them as well, in addition to full-length interviews with Hans Fisher and Magda Bader. In addition, if educators want to learn more about the swastika and do a deeper dive, I provide resources for that. 

My older son is in middle school, and we often hear about swastika graffiti there. Why? What inspires this among kids? 

I don’t know what triggers it, but I don’t believe there’s been enough education proactively, preventatively, about what the swastika is. I believe students who do it know that, when it’s discovered, it’s something that gets a reaction out of adults. That’s just conjecture on my part. But I don’t believe there’s been enough education—straightforward, clear, simple, at their level—about what this is.  

If you were to summarize the film and its effect in a sentence, what would you say? 

I hope students will have felt something: the pain of the survivors, how devastating the Holocaust was and to have the awareness and the knowledge of what the symbol means. My hope is that they are able to articulate that this is a symbol of hatred and destruction. If they can walk away with that, I think the goal has been achieved. 

Learn more about what teens really think about antisemitism.

Kara Baskin is the parenting writer for JewishBoston.com. She is also a regular contributor to The Boston Globe and a contributing editor at Boston Magazine. She has worked for New York Magazine and The New Republic, and helped to launch the now-defunct Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Email her at kara@jewishboston.com. 

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