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Dr. Jeremy Schiller’s story

The COVID-19 pandemic was heavy enough.

As a practicing physician and the Chair of the Salem Board of Health, Dr. Jeremy Schiller was doing his utmost to protect community members from a virus scientists were racing to understand and navigate in real time.

“I had a good relationship with [then Mayor of Salem] Kim Driscoll, and we promoted COVID mitigation strategies that were rooted in science and were progressive and dynamic,” Dr. Schiller says. “Despite overwhelming support from the community, we received a lot of the typical negative responses — and I was ok with that. Science is hard and is always evolving and that is not easy for some to digest and understand.”

However, those responses became personal in December 2021. The Omicron variant was sweeping through Massachusetts and hospitals were dangerously nearing full capacity. The Salem Board of Health, at the urgence of local hospital leaders, instituted a vaccine mandate for local restaurants to help keep area hospitals from a possible catastrophic crisis.

“At that point, there was a real increase in number of those comparing what we were doing to the Holocaust,” Dr. Schiller remembers. “Multiple emails on a daily basis from various people in the community.” Dr. Schiller went out of his way to respond thoughtfully to the emails and educate community members on the actions the Board was taking. However, the correspondences were becoming increasingly antisemitic in nature. Salem’s Health Agent, whose surname sounds Jewish, shared that both he and Dr. Schiller had been the subject of voicemails citing them as “Jews controlling public health.” He also forwarded Dr. Schiller postcards the Board of Health had received that were addressed to “Un ‘Doctor’ Schiller” with a Star of David drawn on it and statements like “FREI” (German for “free”), “GENOCIDE,” and “Justice will come for you” scrawled across them. The Health Department even received a yellow Star of David — badges Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Around this time, a rally was held outside Dr. Schiller’s house (he wasn’t there), organized by Diana Ploss, an independent gubernatorial candidate who, later that week, livestreamed a simulcast of the Board of Health meeting, with hateful comments like, “Look at this Jew, always after money” and “Look at the smug Jew talking” posted on her website. Dr. Schiller, who volunteers in his position as Board Chair, was aghast and disgusted that his efforts to help guide the community safely through the pandemic evolved into an opportunity for antisemites to viciously attack him for the simple fact that he is Jewish.

“It was scary,” Dr. Schiller says. “I contacted Mayor Driscoll and there was no political calculus whatsoever on her part. She immediately released a letter along with the ADL condemning what was going on.” Dr. Schiller also applauds the swift response of Chief Lucas Miller of Salem Police Department in coming to his defense, as well as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Beth Israel Lahey Health, Dr. Kevin Tabb, for reaching out and supporting him.

“To me, there’s a role for condemnation and outrage, but it can’t end there. Education and understanding are critical components to combating antisemitism and hate,” Dr. Schiller says. “That’s why the idea of allyship is so important to me. We can only imagine how many other groups of people feel marginalized. I have a very close family and amazing friends. I can’t imagine how deeply undercutting and painful this would be to someone who doesn’t have that kind of support — because even with that support I can still feel the pain of it today.”

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Rabbi Shlomo Noginski’s story

On July 1, 2021, while standing near the entrance to Shaloh House Jewish Day School in Brighton, Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was approached by a man with a gun who demanded that he give him the keys to his vehicle and then instructed him to get inside the car. Rabbi Noginski, fearing for the lives of the school-aged children attending summer camp within the building, ran from the assailant and, in the ensuing struggle that followed on Brighton Commons, was stabbed a total of eight times in broad daylight.

But for every stab wound, for every ache, pain, and hardship that followed in his slow recovery, Rabbi Noginski is only keeping a tally of all the miracles, including — defying comprehension — being in the right place at the right time.

“I have seen G-d’s hand throughout my life,” Rabbi Noginski says.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Rabbi Noginski’s family was targeted for being Jewish. His mother, a celebrated composer and pianist who had won a national competition and performed in the Kremlin, attracted the attention of antisemites disgusted that a Jew — and a woman — received the award.

The family received multiple death threats and Rabbi Noginski was often physically and verbally attacked. They made aliyah (immigration to Israel) to escape antisemitism in the early 90s and Rabbi Noginski’s mother encouraged him to take up martial arts to defend himself.

Rabbi Noginski believes his black belt in judo played a small role in defending himself from the dozens of relentless stabbing attempts made by his attacker over the course of their struggle that lasted more than 10 minutes. However, he is quick to point to a series of divine interventions for his ability to stave off more serious or even fatal injuries, rather than his “physical prowess.”

“It is G-d’s protection that is the real assistance,” he says. “But the real miracle is that I was outside of the school accidentally. If I came out earlier or later, this young man would have had unhindered access to the school and the camp, and it could’ve been much worse.”

Rabbi Noginski sustained six stab wounds to his left arm and hand and two to his abdomen. The attacker, who was discovered to have a history of using antisemitic slurs, was charged with hate crimes, as well as assault with intent to murder and attempted armed robbery, and the investigation is ongoing.

“In the short term, I simply could not perform any manual physical labor with my left hand or bear any weight, and one of the deeper wounds in my left shoulder affects my ability to do heavy lifting with my left arm,” Rabbi Noginski says. “In terms of emotional rehabilitation, that’s another story.”

Rabbi Noginski sees this attack as “a second birthday,” a blessing, and proof of G-d’s presence in his life. He’s using this incident to infuse the community with “more light and positivity” and has already opened a new Rabbinic Studies program at the school.

“Going forward, I feel I’ve been charged with a mission of doing more than I was before,” he says. “Anything that happens is directed by G-d, and this only strengthens my Jewish pride and identity.”

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Chanie Krinsky’s story

On a May evening four years ago, Chanie Krinsky had just put her three youngest children to bed when she heard rustling outside of her home, the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.

Thinking it was an expected visitor, she asked her son to greet them at the door, but he reported seeing no one there. Right afterward, her husband, Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, returned home with groceries and Chanie smelled smoke.

“I’m very sensitive to it because I had been in a serious house fire when I was younger,” Chanie explains. Mendy searched inside for the source of the smell and couldn’t find anything when Chanie remembered that the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont, the home of Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, had been set on fire just days earlier. She urged Mendy to look outside.

When Mendy opened the door, their son peeked his head out and immediately noticed small flames licking at the side of the house, near the entrance to the synagogue. Because of the rain, because of their access to a fire extinguisher, or, as Mendy and Chanie believe, because of divine intervention, they were able to contain the damage to the exterior and put out the fire before the fire department arrived on the scene.

“As soon as I heard that there was a fire, I woke up the kids who were already in bed, carrying them, half-awake, out of the house and into the car,” Chanie says. From there, Chanie sent out a message to other Chabad residents in their network, explaining what had happened. “I said, we’re safe, be careful out there, you know, in case this person was going around doing this to other places,” she recalls.

Through her chat group, she learned that the Bukiets, once again, had their Chabad set on fire that very evening, just 40 minutes earlier.

“It was hard for us to sleep that night, knowing this person was still out there, knowing that someone was trying to burn our house down,” Chanie says.

The next day — Shabbat — brought hope.

“The number of flowers and gifts and messages of support that we received from the community was so touching,” Chanie says. “Two women from the community suggested holding the Havdalah ceremony outside our house after the sabbath ended, and they told the local temples and churches. We came out of the house on Saturday night and there were more than 400 people there — the police blocked the street. We prayed, we sang songs, it was so moving.”

At the time, people were saying, “Maybe take down the menorah in front of your house, maybe you should hide it, or remove your address online,” Chanie says. “We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to hide.’ On the contrary, we believe this event and similar ones should be an impetus for growth. The best way to combat antisemitism is to be stronger and prouder Jews.”

“Until the indictment, there was no way to know for sure that it was antisemitism, but we knew even then,” Chanie says. “We’ll never know why he chose ours and the Bukiet’s — but they were both the homes of the Chabad rabbis and their families.”

The man accused of the Chabad arson died before justice could be served, but the mark from the fire remains on the house and, since then, one of her sons was targeted for being Jewish and physically assaulted in Manhattan.

“Sometimes the world can feel scary, but you need to move on, you can’t live with that heaviness,” Chanie says. “We have to be aware, but we trust in G-d and move on. We can’t let this stop us.”

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Sam’s* story

Imagine you’re a sophomore in high school, living in a small, picturesque New England town. You come home from school one day before break, ready to relax, and open your Snapchat to see what your friends are up to. And just like that, you’re confronted with a picture of a swastika made of pennies taken in one of the classrooms of your high school. Sam* doesn’t have to imagine. She and her friend lived it.

Back when Sam and her friend experienced this incident in high school, they had already endured years of cutting comments about their Jewish heritage from their classmates and friends, saying things like “Do you live in little Israel?“ or “I didn’t know Jews were allowed to go trick or treating.” And they shrugged them off because they didn’t want to make waves with people who clearly didn’t understand how offensive they were being.

But when that swastika was posted, it was a step too far to ignore anymore. Enough was enough. “This was posted on social media, so a broad amount of people were seeing it compared to when someone just says a comment to you. You don’t have proof per se, but this was posted, and however many friends he had on Snapchat were however many people were seeing the post,” Sam says.

Sam and her friend decided it was time to make a change. At first, they kept it a secret because they didn’t know if people would understand. When their friends approached them, Sam said, “I’m a minority here. None of you are Jewish and I didn’t know how you were going to react because I was doing something against one of our friends.” They needed help. After talking with their parents, they boldly reached out to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The ADL answered the girls’ call and introduced them to a program called A World of Difference Institute that educates and trains faculty and students on how to deal with issues of discrimination of all types. But there was a slight problem. They needed funding to get the program off the ground in their school. To their relief and delight, the community stepped up. Parents, local businesses, and their high school PCO worked together to raise over $7,000 in just a few short weeks.

To this day, Sam and her friend’s courage to ask for help continues to better their hometown. “My youngest brother who’s seven years younger than me is at my high school now, and he’s being taught these things [by A World of Difference Institute] […] It’s really important to me to know that they are still doing it and they are still educating the teachers and the kids.”

Sam knows that the work isn’t done. “It’s so weird to me because I just graduated college and I feel like I’m still actively doing things for this, and I was 16 years old when I first started. I did not think that six or seven years later this would be staying with me.” Even though antisemitic incidents are up all over America and “it’s a really scary time to be a Jewish woman,” Sam keeps moving forward. “I like to help out as much as I can. People still reach out to me asking if I can help and I try and do that in the best way possible.”

By sharing her and her friend’s story again, Sam has given hope to the next generation one more time.

* Name changed upon request due to safety concerns. 

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Andie’s story

It all started with a “harmless” joke.

Andie, just beginning their conversion to Judaism, was simply trying to connect with their family at the movies. On any given day, Andie is generally guarded around their family, and with good cause. “A lot of members of my family of origin are pretty homophobic and say a lot of really insensitive or offensive things — before and after I came out.” Ready to endure and respond to this kind of behavior, they set off to hopefully make the best of an evening together.

But their cousin had other ideas. Andie was extremely close with this cousin and his sister, “they were basically two extra members of my family.” But “as we grew up, he really started saying and doing things that were not ok — being really sexist, being really homophobic.” And Andie tried to avoid him and stay in a space that made them feel safe, but he caught them off guard.

While waiting in line for popcorn, their cousin decided now was his moment. He said, “Why are the rabbis running down the street? They were chasing a penny.” Andie was stunned. They were ready to hear offensive comments, but not about their newly found religion. Andie’s safe space was torn apart.

No one thought there was anything wrong with Andie’s cousin’s casual antisemitism, not even their mother, who as a devout Christian that believes Christians are persecuted in American society, might be the one person to truly get it. But she simply dismissed Andie’s concern with, “Don’t pay attention to it.”

Andie’s family has a history of not understanding where they’re coming from. “I’m neurodivergent, I do and say weird things and I have a very funky sense of humor, and I kind of feel like that puts a target on me a little bit with my family.” And on top of that, they grew up in a far-right-leaning, religious household where they were told their whole lives that being gay was bad — “It’s sinful.”

They were taught that religion was not a welcoming place for all, until they discovered there was more out there than what their family believed. “When I explored more about other religions I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s not all bad, it can even be a really positive thing in somebody’s life.’”

They’ve since become more devoutly Jewish and find it healing, Shabbat in particular. “It’s an anticapitalistic practice that’s very important to me in my life, and also, as somebody with a lot of chronic illnesses, I need time where I am basically just doing nothing to heal my body and rest my neshama (soul) after a long week of working.”

Still, when they go to visit their family, they aren’t being respected or accepted, so they try and find ways to work around their family’s expectations, like dressing in ways that will be approved of — shorts and a t-shirt instead of long sleeves and a long skirt — or trying to keep kosher in their own quiet way even though their grandmother insists on offering them shrimp in a manner that feels to Andie like it’s a “power play.”

Fortunately, Andie has found their chosen family — people who make them feel seen — throughout their conversion to Judaism while at college and beyond into their new life. “I live 3,000 miles away now and I’ve cultivated a really good group of people who understand my quirks, and I feel very loved.”

And so, it didn’t all start with a joke, but maybe that’s where it all ends.

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Addie’s story

“Don’t mind him, he’s just being cheap like a Jew.”

When Addie, working as a cashier in Foxborough in 2021, heard those words from a customer watching her companion fumble through his wallet, she felt an immediate physical reaction.

But this wasn’t Addie’s first time experiencing antisemitism.

Growing up in a small town southwest of Boston, Addie remembers being one of a handful of Jewish kids in her graduating class of 360 students. From the cliques that formed around church groups to being singled out during her history class unit on Judaism, pervasive feelings and messages of otherness were omnipresent throughout her formative years.

During a lecture on dictators in her freshman year, a classmate turned to her and said, “Addie, you need to go hide because the Nazis are going to come for you.”

“I didn’t think too much of it when it happened,” Addie recalls. “I was a shy kid. I went through the day, didn’t say anything to my teachers, didn’t say anything to anyone else, but I came home and was telling my mom about school, and I said, ‘Oh, this kid said this to me,’ and she sort of just stopped in her tracks and was like, ‘What? Can you repeat that?’ She said, ‘You know that’s not ok, right?’ I told her that I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Her father called the school, and Addie remembers feeling embarrassed, fearing reprisal and not wanting to draw additional attention to herself. After she met with the principal and told him what happened, the boy was moved across the room away from her, but he never apologized. “I think I kind of knew that nothing was going to be done,” Addie says.

Her mom and dad, however, insisted that calling it out was necessary. “Even if I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m glad they did it, it was a learning and growing moment for me to realize that things like this happen and they happen often.”

During her senior year, a teacher told Addie that her congestion from a cold made her sound like “an old Jewish woman from New York.”

“I had to hold myself back — she was an adult and an authority figure,” Addie says. “Now, looking back, I know I should’ve done or said something. That was another moment.”

Addie believes that these “moments” helped shape her into the person she is today and gave her the courage and confidence to speak up that day in Foxborough.  

Noticing that the man was looking at her and toward Addie with embarrassment, the woman continued, “Oh don’t worry, she’s not Jewish.”

Heart racing, Addie says that she “put the customer service part of [herself] aside” and said, “Actually, yes I am, and you shouldn’t say things like that.” She says that the woman seemed ashamed of what she said but didn’t offer an apology, and Addie’s manager gave her the time to step away and calm down after she explained what occurred.

While she knows antisemitism is never going to completely go away, Addie isn’t hiding, and these experiences have only strengthened her Jewish identity. “I hate that it happened, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it,” Addie says, noting that she shares these incidents as often as she can to encourage others to fight back. “I define it as a source of pride. It’s a badge of honor.”

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Clergy, Staff and Lay Leaders Kick Off SEA Change Program

By Molly Kazan, Fighting Antisemitism Manager at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

On Sunday, May 5, clergy, staff and lay leaders across three local congregations came together to kick off the JOIN for Justice SEA Change (Study, Engage, Act) program to organize and tackle racial injustice within and beyond their communities. In partnership with CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA), the program is the first of its kind in the Boston area.

Forty people from among Temple Isaiah of Lexington, Temple Aliyah of Needham and Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley came together to begin a seven-month-long learning process that includes specialized training, coaching and campaigns targeted specifically at issues of racial justice and leadership development. Woven throughout SEA Change is a clear analysis about antisemitism, the importance of addressing it particularly through building cross-community relationships of solidarity, and space to explore how issues of antisemitism and racism intersect, complicate each other and should be addressed together and separately.

Rabbi Jordi Battis, associate rabbi of Temple Isaiah of Lexington, shared her gratitude in saying that “this program is so exciting to us as a way to engage within our community, and as a way to get to meet folks across other communities who are engaged in the work of pursuing justice.”

CJP’s CCA is proud to support this cross-communal effort toward increased allyship and inclusivity within and beyond the participating congregations.

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Open Letter to Newton Mayor Fuller

Below is an open letter from CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) CEO Jeremy Burton to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller regarding a May exhibit at the Newton Free Library, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba.   

We encourage Newton residents to elevate the following asks in their own communications and advocacy as well: 

  • We ask that Mayor Fuller and the Newton Free Library director take responsibility for the hurtful decision of choosing this exhibit especially now and make clear to the community that they will make every effort to improve the process in the future 
  • We also ask that Mayor Fuller and the library director honor the requests they have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history 
  • We further ask Mayor Fuller and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit  
  • Finally, we ask Mayor Fuller and the city to reaffirm their commitment to combating antisemitism as defined by the IHRA working definition and make clear that the hosting of the exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the IHRA working definition  

May 7, 2024 

Dear Mayor Fuller, 

Thank you for reaching out to each of us, along with several rabbis and Jewish community leaders, last week. We understand that you have met with other concerned Newton residents and members of the Jewish and Israeli communities.  

We appreciate that, when informed of the plans for the Newton Free Library to host a photography display this month entitled, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba, you “immediately had deep concerns” for the impact on the community and for your stated belief that this exhibit will be “quite hurtful and divisive.” We share your commitment to protecting free expression, even as we may disagree about the obligation of a public institution to give voice to every expression. We also appreciate the steps that you have taken, along with library director Jill Mercurio, based on the feedback from these conversations, to mitigate the hurtful programming by providing a series of other arts and educational programs during the period in which this display would be exhibited. 

Still, we are compelled to share our thoughts regarding the unproductive nature of this exhibit, and how this could have been handled with greater care for the mission of the library, the safety and well-being of the Jewish community, and the social fabric of Newton.  

  • We believe that this exhibit fails to advance the interests of the city of Newton.  These interests include fostering productive community conversations and providing quality resources to engage in learning about Israelis, Palestinians, and the ongoing conflict.  
  • We value the importance of teaching and promoting the shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians, illuminating multiple narratives, and encouraging critical thinking and dialogue – all of which could be advanced through civic and educational organizations like the Newton Free Library. 

Unfortunately, the exhibit does not accomplish any of these. 

Instead, this is a political act by an activist who – through the title of the exhibit, the exhibit description on the Library site, and through his own site – makes clear that he has an agenda, and this agenda is the delegitimization of the state of the Jewish people. The title employs pejorative terminology designed to create tension and push people into ideological opposition of one another. The exhibit description presents numbers and narratives about the events of 1948 that are designed to place Jews and the nascent state of Israel in the worst possible light and delegitimize the Jewish State while failing to illuminate the complexities and nuances of that time of war. The artist’s website goes even further, and even seems to anticipate the controversy that he will ignite by displaying his work in a city with “a sizeable number of supporters of the Israeli government” (itself a flattening of Jewish American attachment to the State of Israel which is, for many – if not most of us – distinct from support for any particular government). 

In short, this exhibit, by intent, seeks to discourage discourse, polarize people, and diminish rather than illuminate – understanding for one of the most intractable and painful conflicts on earth.   

This would be objectionable at any time, and the fact that the selection committee chose the exhibit a year ago does not allay our concerns. However, the fact that the library chose this month of May, which contains Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), and the fact that we are still in the midst of a devastating and complicated war, makes this decision offensive to us and to many Jewish residents of Newton.  

It is hard to see how the library sees this as a fulfillment of its mission to serve its community and bring people together.  

What all our communities – in Newton and across the region – need and deserve at this time are strong leadership voices that will articulate these values and truths without hesitation.  We need leaders who will defend free expression while also calling out divisive and polarizing efforts with equal clarity and strength.   

We are asking you, Madame Mayor, to be this leader, for your Jewish residents and for all your residents.  We ask that you and the library director take responsibility for this hurtful decision and make clear to the community that, while you will not at this point censor the art and cancel the exhibit, you will make every effort to improve the process in the future. We also ask that you honor the requests you have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history. We further encourage you and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit. 

We also want to note that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – already formally embraced by the City of Newton – offers examples of its manifestations including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”  Given that many of us are interpreting this incident as an example of the ways in which an eliminationist agenda targeting the State of Israel is being normalized in our civic spaces, we ask that you and the city reaffirm your commitment to and make clear that the hosting of this exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the use of the IHRA working definition.  

We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that the Jewish community of Newton is safe and can continue to thrive in your city.  

Sincerely,  

Jeremy Burton and Marc Baker  

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Meeting the Moment: CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism

By Melissa Garlick, Senior Director of Combating Antisemitism and Building Civic Engagement

Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) is a growing hub for Boston’s work in responding to antisemitism and bringing local and national partners’ work together strategically and in coordination with each other toward a vision where antisemitism becomes socially and politically unacceptable in Greater Boston. 

As ADL’s recently released annual audit confirmed, our community has been experiencing a staggering 189% rise of antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts. And this has also been coupled with the lack of preparedness by many civic leaders to adequately understand or respond to Jewish trauma. 

Leaders of businesses, educational institutions, and civic spaces in Boston need the tools and the resources to respond so that ultimately, we can reverse this disturbing trend and strengthen our civic and communal institutions.

Expanding infrastructure

This is long-term work. CJP, with our partners, are already growing our relationships with civic leaders across the city, bringing antisemitism training and education to businesses and other non-Jewish civic spaces. We’re educating our Jewish teens and their educators about antisemitism. And through our Communal Security Initiative, we are responding to the increased needs of our Jewish communal institutions for security preparedness.

CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism is building out its capacity to: 

  • Mobilize civic and business leaders and engage them in our work to ensure that their institutions are safe and supportive places and spaces for all Jews.
  • Educate the next generation — and the academic institutions that serve them — about antisemitism, Jewish history, and Jewish life to ensure that they both can confidently respond to acts of hate.
  • Ensure that our Jewish community remains strong, safe, and vibrant by expanding CJP’s successful Communal Security Initiative.

We know that the latest report from the ADL comes amidst already rising incidents, grief, and trauma, and at a time where our community has been experiencing deep levels of anxiety and fear. We cannot let the fear throw us into despair. Instead, we must come together to use this information as power to educate our families, our networks, and our colleagues.

There’s more you can do

We’re quickly ramping up and expanding so we can effectively meet this moment, but we need your help — each of us plays a role in this work.

We’re all in this fight together and will continue to work every day to ensure that Jews can live loudly, proudly, and safely in our community.

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Boston teens visited the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism headquarters

By Molly Kazan, Fighting Antisemitism Manager at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

On Sunday, April 7, 18 teen leaders from CJP’s Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) Peer Leadership Fellowship visited the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (FCAS) headquartered at Gillette Stadium. Fellows explored how FCAS’ work connects to CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism, and how they themselves can become better change agents in local efforts to fight Jewish hate.   

The visit was planned in response to a February 2024 study the Fellows conducted amongst their peers citing growing concerns in antisemitism among Boston-area Jewish teens. The Peer Leadership Fellowship is a signature program of JTI at CJP that trains and empowers teens in grades 10 through 12 to become communal connectors through monthly gatherings.  

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Ally Challenge Grant

CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) is excited to invite applications for grant funding to support community allyship work, through our new Ally Challenge. To support community based allyship work to support combating antisemitism, grant funding may be provided to up to four projects of up to $50,000 each to aid in launching or catalyzing progression of a grassroots-led project that furthers community bridge building or allyship work.

Funding will be one-time for June 2024–June 2025.   

Project proposals for this period could include joint civic rights mission to the South, interfaith youth service projects, cross-community advocacy, or art projects. We invite creative proposals to support specific projects within this time period that would have shown impact on cross-community relationships and allyship.

Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday, May 3.  
For more details and to apply, please visit this form.  

To learn more about CJP’s work to combat antisemitism, please visit: https://ma.cjp.org/antisemitism-initiative  

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Inspiring Anti-Hate Commercial Premieres at Oscars

By Foundation to Combat Antisemitism

Did you know 895 Jewish temples received bomb threats in 2023? This video, “Neighbors,” which debuted during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 10, recounts the actual events that transpired in an American synagogue that received a bomb threat and was evacuated. In response, the neighboring evangelical church offered their space for the Jewish congregation to conduct their services.

Hate loses when we stand together.

#StandUpToJewishHate

At FCAS (Foundation to Combat Antisemitism), we are dedicated to combating antisemitism through positive messaging and partnerships. Our initiative, Stand Up to Jewish Hate, is designed to empower both non-Jews and Jews to become defenders and upstanders for the Jewish community. We are passionate about promoting understanding, empathy, and tolerance among different groups, and our ultimate goal is to create a more inclusive and accepting world for all.

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Addressing Antisemitism Head-On

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

Underpinning Dara Horn’s newest piece on antisemitism appearing in The Atlantic, “Why the Most Educated People in America Fall for Anti-Semitic Lies,” is the same premise that grounds CJP’s growing work to combat antisemitism: that “one confounding fact in this onslaught of the world’s oldest hatred is that American society should have been ready to handle it.” Almost six months after the attacks of 10/7, it becomes clearer each day that antisemitism is both pervasive in our society and that American civic society and many of our leaders were not and are still not prepared to handle it.  

It is this exact space that CJP is building out our work to combat antisemitism.  

In this month’s newsletter, we highlight CJP’s increased investments in security for early childhood centers and day schools to ensure that our Jewish communal organizations are prepared on physical security as they are forced to contend with the rise of antisemitism. Our partners at JCRC also wrote this month about growing calls by city councils in Greater Boston to hold public hearings for ceasefire resolutions. While JCRC has worked with council leaders to better prepare them on the complexities of these issues, the public hearings themselves have also brought an onslaught of antisemitic rhetoric and comments. Finally, as CJP builds out and supports work to better train and resource campus administrators with tools on antisemitism, we are highlighting resources for students as anti-Zionism continues on campuses during spring semester.

Through communal security, working with civic leadership, and supporting Jewish students, CJP and its partners are working to address that “confounding fact” Dara Horn so aptly highlighted so that our society once and for all ensures that antisemitism becomes politically and socially unacceptable by addressing it head-on.

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“Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” Debuts on March 15

By Kara Baskin

On Friday, March 15, “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” premieres at The Castle at Park Plaza. It’s the New England debut of a harrowing exhibit that has captivated and devastated audiences around the world.

The exhibition spotlights more than 700 original artifacts gathered from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and others. The objects are devastatingly personal: child-sized shoes, dolls that would never be held again, suitcases packed by deportees—everyday items imbued with horror.

Then there are the artifacts from the chambers: barracks, gas masks, bunk beds, a Model 2 freight car used to transport Jews to the camps, striped prison uniforms: now set behind glass cases, out of context but haunting in their spareness.

“The difference between a good historical museum and an ordinary museum is that a historical museum uses artifacts to tell a story. Some museums tell the story of the artifacts. We believe that a museum tells a story, and the artifacts are the tools with which we tell the story,” says Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, one of the exhibit’s consultants. He has served as deputy director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

(Photo: Courtesy “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.”)

There are also the painfully ordinary stories of victims: The museum displays what’s known as the Lili Meier album, depicting the arrival of Hungarian Jews and the selection process imposed by the SS. Meier and her family were sent to Auschwitz from Bil’ki, Ukraine, then part of Hungary. They arrived on May 26, 1944, coinciding with professional SS photographers. Meier survived Auschwitz, forced labor in Morchenstern and later a transfer to the Dora-Mittelbau camp, where she was liberated. She brought the original album with her when she immigrated to the United States. 

But there’s also the Hoecker album, a stark juxtaposition showing laughing SS officers socializing and having fun, likely assembled by SS Obersturmführer Karl Hoecker, chief to the commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer.

“We see the perpetrators of Auschwitz at play in their leisurely camp, a retreat center outside of the camp—the way in which they sang, the way in which they sunned themselves, the way in which they flirted,” Berenbaum says.

The voices of survivors are also woven throughout the exhibit, including those who endured the Sonderkommando, forced to dispose of gas chamber corpses. They describe the horror of deportation and killings, but also their hope for the future.

“We’re in the twilight. We’re one minute to midnight in the life of the survivors, and we’re now about to move from lived memory to historical memory,” Berenbaum says. “Auschwitz should be far away and long ago. But we’re hearing echoes of hatred, echoes of venom, echoes of antisemitism throughout society.”

And in an era when antisemitic incidents are on the rise, particularly in Massachusetts, it’s a stark reminder that the past isn’t far away at all. As part of CJP’s initiative to combat antisemitism, CJP is providing funding for 7,000 public school students to visit the exhibition to deepen education about the Holocaust and contemporary antisemitism. 

“I’d like visitors to understand where hatred can lead and where venom can take us as a society and as individuals,” Berenbaum warns. “We have a section on the rise of Nazism. A photographer went through Germany, city by city, town by town, village by village, and photographed all the antisemitic signs that were found throughout the towns: ‘Jews not wanted,’ et cetera. They put it in a photo album to demonstrate the pervasiveness of this venom. When you see that in its entirety, you realize that these have the potential not to be isolated instances of hatred but can morph into something much more explosive.”

The exhibit is recommended for visitors 12 and up. 

Tickets are expected to sell out; buying in advance is recommended at theauschwitzexhibition.com.

“It’s not an easy exhibition, but it’s an important exhibition. And for a family to spend quality time with something that’s deep, that’s important, that’s relevant—I’m sorry that it’s relevant—and has to be seen through the prism of rising antisemitism and rising hatred in our society, it’s an important opportunity to go as a family,” he says.

Kara Baskin is a writer for FaceJewishHate.org. 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.

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Meet Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism

By Rich Tenorio

As Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, Michal Cotler-Wunsh has been seeking to forge alliances since the October 7, 2023, Hamas terror attacks on her country. In the U.S., she’s met with multiple officials, from legislators to mayors to university presidents.

She sees a number of possibilities for partnerships, including with fellow antisemitism envoys from other nations, as well as with administrators on college campuses. For her, the need has never been greater: Noting that antisemitism was surging even before the attacks, she cites an even greater rise since then, by hundreds of percentage points. 

“Antisemitism is like any other form of racism and bigotry,” she said. “It cannot be fought alone by Jews. It’s not just a threat to Israel, or Jews around the world. I do believe it is a threat to the foundations of democracies, to shared principles of life and liberty.” (Learn more about how CJP is responding in Greater Boston with its 5-Point Plan to combat Jewish hate.)

“Hopefully we can make a dent in it,” Cotler-Wunsh said, “whether by coalitions of special envoys, legislators around the world, and Jewish and other leadership.”

There are roughly 30 special envoys for combating antisemitism around the world, representing such countries or bodies as the U.S., Canada and the European Parliament.

“They’re not only allies, they’re critical allies,” Cotler-Wunsh said. “Many of them advise their own governments and heads of state. They’re entrusted to monitoring and combating antisemitism.”

Part of this, she said, is through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by over 10,000 entities. She calls it a working definition, meant to be used as an educational resource, not as a censor.

Based in Raanana, she took up her current position only about three weeks before the Oct. 7 attacks. Before that, she had a wide-ranging career that included serving as a member of the Knesset, where she founded an inter-parliamentary task force to combat antisemitism on social media. Raised in Canada, she is the stepdaughter of the former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, whose legal career has included defending both Natan Sharansky and Nelson Mandela at various points.

Building allyship since Oct. 7

Cotler-Wunsh’s collective experience allows her to battle antisemitism on three fronts—in international institutions, on college and university campuses and on social media.

“What I have done over the last several decades includes my own legal work as an activist, lecturer and academic,” said Cotler-Wunsh, who holds a master of laws degree from McGill University in Montreal. “It’s intersected by the research, professional and legislative [spheres]. It has been, over time, focused not just on antisemitism but on its modern, mainstream strain of anti-Zionism, as well as on the positives of Jewish indigeneity, identity and peoplehood.”

Fighting antisemitism on college campuses

On American college campuses, she would like to see more awareness of what she describes as a strong connection between many Jewish students and Zionism.

“I have a very simple demand,” Cotler-Wunsh said. “I expect an equal and consistent application of an infrastructure that protects everybody else…to those who self-identify as Zionist—Jews and non-Jews.” She noted, “Not all Jews have to self-identify as Zionist, but they cannot deny those that do have the right to do so.”

She’s pleased by the reception she’s gotten from high-level administrators. “All of the university leaders have been very civil, as I would expect from conversations with presidents, chancellors and provosts,” Cotler-Wunsh said.

Yet, she added, “It’s the complete opposite with students who may disagree but are unwilling to engage with ideas with which they may disagree in this critical moment of reckoning for academic spaces.”

When Cotler-Wunsh spoke at Stanford University in January, she recounted a particularly tense situation.

“I had to be snuck out the back door by the police,” she said. “I did not walk out the front door like any other human being.” She added that she was escorted out of the event “in the face of demonstrations and chants like, ‘We don’t want no Jew state, we want all of ‘48,’ ‘Zionist, Zionist you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide,’ and, ‘There is only one solution: intifada revolution.’”

Read about how CJP recently provided support to local Hillels to help create safer and more welcoming campuses.

Israel and global Jewry

Despite such experiences, Cotler-Wunsh sees reason for optimism for Israel and global Jewry.

“I do think this [is] a critical moment of reminder that we are a people,” she said. “When you see us as a people, what binds us together is far greater than what sets us apart, enabling [us] to overcome challenges we have faced as a people from time immemorial.”

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.