How Do We Want To Educate Our Children?

By Ziva Hassenfeld

When my best friend from college came to visit me for a weekend, she began to cry as we walked up to my synagogue with our kids. I asked her why and she said, “Don’t you see how sad it is that there have to be all the police around just so you can go to synagogue and not be shot?” Of course, I had noticed the uptick in police presence since the 2016 election, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. My colleague, professor Jonathan Sarna, has done detailed work on the antisemitism that pulsed quite explicitly through the Jan. 6 riot at the capital. But through it all, it didn’t ever strike me as tragic.  

Seeing my friend’s tears made me question the lack of my own, especially given the relative differences in our lives. My friend loves her Jewish identity but doesn’t live an active Jewish life, whereas I’m immersed in Judaism both personally and professionally. Seeing her tear up at the entrance of my synagogue raised a fundamental question for me: Why was I uncomfortable with her tears?  

After giving it a lot of thought, I realized that I came at the question both personally and professionally—as a parent and as a professor of education. On the one hand, there’s no question that antisemitism is terrifying and its uptick in America alarming. We should do all we can to quell its upsurge; we all support the fight against it—politically, financially and socially. But the question I always return to is how do we want to educate our children? In no uncertain terms, I am sure that the right approach to Judaism presents it as a wealth of resources, a textual tradition that delights and a toolbox for a life of intentionality. There’s no room for centering a reaction to antisemitism in such an approach. I am convinced we must avoid inducting our children into a stance of defensiveness and instead show them a Judaism that we offer as a gift. The gift, as I see it, is particularly compelling ways of reading, organizing the rhythm of our lives and finding meaning. 

A colleague of mine is currently working on a study of Jewish children reading and interpreting the story of the Hebrew midwives from Exodus 1. It is remarkable the difference in meaning the students take from this story. Some understood it as a tale of moral conviction—about being an upstander and not a bystander and the moral compass in each of us as individuals. Others understood it as the first historical account in the endless history of persecution of the Jewish people. In these students’ reading, the story of the Hebrew midwives and the infanticide they were tasked with stresses the need for Jewish sovereignty. Of course, as researchers we withhold judgment, but I must admit how striking I found the data in the context of thinking about antisemitism and education. I not only want a generation of kids who are taught a story of being moral upstanders instead of a story of the lachrymose narrative of Jewish history, but also I believe it will be kids raised in this first educational milieu who will emerge most resilient in the face of antisemitism. 

My children will grow up at least aware that they are living through a particularly vivid era of antisemitism in this country. Nothing I can do can change that; the only question that is left to answer is how we should educate and orientate our children in such a world. For me, the answer is clear: The strength of Jewish life is found first and foremost in a constructive outlook. 

When approached in this way, being Jewish becomes reading the text of the world a certain way. Through these ways of reading, our children develop the capacity to find meaning and to stay resilient in the face of the inevitable challenges. 

Ziva R. Hassenfeld is the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Assistant Professor in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, Jonah Hassenfeld, director of learning and teaching at Schechter Boston, and their three children. 


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.”


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.”


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.”


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. 


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.


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.”


Opening Remarks From Rabbi Marc Baker at ADL New England’s The Good Fight Forum 2023

Rabbi Marc Baker, president & CEO of CJP, shared his opening remarks at ADL New England’s The Good Fight Forum on Oct. 10, 2023, a community event dedicated to combating antisemitism and hate.

Dear Friends,

As we’ve already heard, we are here this morning at an unprecedented time in this history of the State of Israel and the history of the Jewish People.  

Several years ago, this gathering, this Good Fight, was created as a response to the most horrific and deadly antisemitic attack we had ever experienced here in America – the Tree of Life shooting. It devastated the Pittsburgh community, touched many people here in our own community, and in many ways changed Jewish life in America as we now know it. Let us keep the Tree of Life victims in our hearts and minds today and always.  

We are here because the hatred that has plagued the Jewish community and the world for thousands of years is not only alive and well, but still growing here in America and right here in our own community – in schools, on college campuses, from the egregious displays of white supremacists blaming 9/11 on the Jews to casual workplace conversations and the social media of pop stars and professional athletes.  

This morning, we are here one day after thousands of us gathered on Boston Common to stand in solidarity with Israel and to raise our voices – together with friends, allies, elected officials and other local leaders. We gathered to express our love, solidarity, grief, anger, and moral outrage at the horrific and heinous acts of terror that have taken over 900 innocent Israeli lives. The Good Fight taking place right now in Israel is a war to protect the innocent lives of our Jewish family thousands of miles away and to protect the future of the Jewish homeland.  

And this is not just far away – it is already touching nearly every one of us in some way or another, whether one of the tens of thousands of Israelis living here in Greater Boston or American Jews who have friends and family living in Israel and defending the Jewish State. My personal friends and family had to go directly from yesterday’s rally to the home of dear friends to escort them the airport after they learned that their son-in-law – a young man with a tremendous spirit, love of Israel, and bright future ahead of him – was killed in battle.  

My friends, in the past few days we have witnessed the largest, most gruesome massacre of Jews that I have seen in my lifetime and that we have seen since the Holocaust. We are here today to fight for our own safety and well-being and for the future of our community and this country; Israelis are in a fight for their lives; and we are living through the darkest moment of hatred and violence against Jews that many of us have ever known.  

Add to this the vile and incomprehensible response that we have seen in the streets of Cambridge and on college campuses – a defense of terror and violence rooted in ignorance and extremist, antisemitic ideologies that demonize Israel and dehumanize Israelis, and that, in fact, threaten the safety, security and well-being of Jews, especially, but not exclusively, our young people.  

We are here today to better understand these challenges and what we can do about them, again with gratitude to the partners and leaders from across our community who are doing this work everyday in so many different ways.  

Put simply, we have work to do. We have work to do to educate, advocate, and mobilize our communities, along with friends and allies, to fight against all forms of antisemitism, especially right now against Israel-hatred, along with all other forms of bigotry and hate; to fight against forces of extremism, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation and demonization; and to ensure that every person can walk down the street and through the world with head held high with a sense of safety, security, confidence in their personal identity and belonging in the larger society of which we are a part.  

We have work to do to create communities and a world where everyone – of every religion, race, gender, sexual orientation – feels free, safe, accepted, and valued.  

We have work to do, which is why I’m so proud that over the past year CJP has partnered with ADL and so many other organizations to launch our 5-Point Plan to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism. We will not likely eliminate a 3,000-year-old hatred in our lifetimes, but we will certainly be stronger and fight against it more effectively when we fight it together.  

Together, we are educating and mobilizing our community. Together, we are putting faces and stories to the personal experiences of Jew-hatred through our Face Jewish Hate media campaign, and we are partnering with the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism’s national blue square campaign so more people who share our values will #StandUpToJewishHate.

Together, we are expanding community security to ensure that we and our children will be safe and secure as we choose to live engaged, vibrant, joyous Jewish lives in our schools and synagogues and community centers.  

Together, we are deepening relationships with allies and leaders from across civic Boston because this is not a Good Fight that we will win alone, and as my friend, JCRC CEO Jeremy Burton, always reminds us, antisemitism, like other forms of hate, is not a problem for the Jewish community to solve on our own.  

It was heartening, comforting, even inspiring to launch our Face Jewish Hate campaign at TD Garden side by side with important and influential political and faith leaders; just as it was heartening yesterday to hear the unequivocal support for Israel and condemnation of terror from so many of our friends, allies and elected officials. That only happens because of the work ADL, JCRC, so many of the partners here today, do to deepen these relationships, to stand with and show up for other vulnerable communities, to fight for democracy, human dignity, and for the character of our commonwealth and our country. I feel grateful and hopeful that we are in this fight, this Good Fight, with friends and allies who will stand with us, and that we are in this with one another, together.  

Thank you.


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.” 


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.” 


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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Allyship and the Work Ahead: Reflections From Washington, D.C.

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

On Saturday, August 26, 2023, CJP partnered with ADL New England to travel to D.C. to stand in solidarity with communities across the country for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the same time as we were marching, singing, and chanting, Black people were being gunned down and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, in a racially motivated attack. 

The juxtaposition of themes of survival, resilience, and determination alongside the very painful reminder of the work ahead resonate deeply with me as a Jew and are exactly why I am so committed to deepening allyship as central to CJP’s work to fight antisemitism. As Reverend Jamal Harrison Bryant put it in his speech: “We are not the generation that is going to sit down and be quiet. If you don’t believe me, take a one-way trip to Montgomery, Alabama, and there you will find out that no weapon born against us will be able to prosper … 60 years later, we’re still not free, but we know how to last.” 

In the Jewish community, we understand all too well that racist, antisemitic, and extremist violence are intended to push us into the realm of despair and silence. We stand on the shoulders of prior generations who bravely gave their hearts, souls, and lives to democracy and freedom for us to continue that fight. And we intimately understand that fighting antisemitism cannot be done in isolation from the struggle for racial justice. That the only way we are going to achieve our shared vision is to do it arm in arm. 

CJP’s work to fight antisemitism is dedicated to the vision that our work now can inspire and empower future generations to ensure freedom and equality for all. And the vision that future generations can live and pray without the threat to physical safety and security. 

In the meantime, we march on and we push forward: loudly, proudly, and together.  

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Staying Safe During the High Holidays

By Jeremy Yamin, CJP’s Vice President, Security and Operations; Daniel E. Levenson, CJP’s Director, Communal Security Initiative; and Ken Berkowitz, CJP’s Senior Security Advisor

Safety and security is everyone’s responsibility

Use these three tips to be more prepared to handle a potential threat as congregants during High Holiday celebrations:

  1. Maintain situational awareness: Keep an eye out for suspicious activity to recognize patterns of concerning behavior. 
  1. Ask your institution about existing security policies to gain an understanding of how you can help. 
  1. Learn about high-level crisis response: Know what to do in case of an active assailant attack. 

Proven practices to enhance safety and security  for  Jewish professionals

            •           Review safety and security at your institution to include security and medical equipment.

            •           Review procedures for events and ensure that communication and contact information is up to date.  

            •           Review the 2023 High Holidays Security Planning Checklist.

            •           Access additional safety and security resources through Communal Security Initiative and Secure Community Network.

Threat update 

At this time, we do not possess any specific, credible information about an imminent threat to the Jewish community (or interfaith religious community) in New England. We are in regular contact with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as national Jewish organizations focused on threats and security-related issues.  
However, politics and social media have increased antisemitic tensions, which could fuel an incident where there is little or no advance warning. Your proactive preparation is key. 

From left: Daniel Levenson, Ken Berkowitz and Jeremy Yamin (Photo: CJP)
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What Teens Really Think About Antisemitism

By Kara Baskin

In March 2023, I asked teen Jewish leaders to discuss antisemitism: how it affects them, how they address it and their hopes for the future. They were passionate, articulate—and hopeful.

Teddy Friedman attends Gann Academy in Waltham. He has been a Peer Engagement Fellow with the Jewish Teen Initiative, and now he’s a co-chair of the Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force and a junior intern at the USC Shoah Foundation.

Gabriella Lipsitch is a Diller Teen Fellow and attends the Cambridge School of Weston.

Talia Ofek goes to Lexington High School and is a StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern.

Arielle Mogolesko goes to Marblehead High School. She’s a co-chair of the Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force, a Jewish Teen Initiative Peer Leadership Fellow and a StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern.

Emma Shub and Ileana Tsatskis co-lead the Jewish Cultural Club at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill and are part of the JCRC Student to Student Program.

How have you seen antisemitism manifest in your teenage life? Do you have any personal experiences?

Arielle Mogolesko: Antisemitism is, unfortunately, very prevalent in our lives. Whether it be on TV, social media or even in front of our own eyes, it’s everywhere. Almost every time a video is posted online of people celebrating their Judaism, it’s commonly met with a barrage of antisemitic and anti-Zionist comments. An issue with social media is that it gives an open and anonymous platform for people to spread hateful rhetoric. I’ve had encounters with antisemitic rhetoric being posted online as well as friends making jokes about either the Jewish people, Israel or the Holocaust. It’s sickening to hear our heritage and story being made fun of and/or blatantly skewed.

Talia Ofek: The Chabad in the next town over from me was targeted by arson. Fortunately, they were able to stop the fire in time, so no one was hurt. There was minor damage. I’d been to that Chabad several times.

Ileana Tsatskis: I’ve seen hate symbols drawn in school bathrooms. That’s the only way that I’ve publicly seen it. But I’ve heard of many stories from friends and fellow Jewish teenagers in my community.

How do you urge your friends and peers to address antisemitism when they see or witness it?

Mogolesko: The first step in combating antisemitism is education. We’ll repeat that message time and time again, as it’s truly the basis for making any improvement in this time of increasing hate. When one is educated, one will not only be equipped with facts and possible statements to counter the rhetoric but also will be informed of the many resources out there to help. It doesn’t have to fall on one person to combat antisemitism, but rather the whole Jewish community and allies who are willing and able to support each other. Personally, Teddy [Friedman] and I urge our friends to call it out; to say the joke was not funny, to explain why it was not funny and to report it to a trusted adult who can then report it to organizations such as Lappin Foundation, StandWithUs and the Anti-Defamation League.

Ofek: Reporting it. If it’s online, taking pictures and notifying someone. But definitely I think education is the best way to change someone’s attitude or behavior.

Gabriella Lipsitch: I’ll repost something on my Instagram story if it says something that hasn’t been said before or made me think in a different way or if it could make someone else think in a different way. For example, when Kanye [West] said all of that stuff, everyone was posting: “This is bad. Kanye said this.” And it’s like, yes, that is very important for people to know. I don’t feel like I personally need to say the exact same thing. But if I see a different perspective, then I would repost it on my Instagram story or talk about it to my friends.

Tsatskis: Speak up as soon as you can. Talk to a trusted adult or anyone in your life who you feel comfortable talking about it with and address the situation right away. Also, I think it’s really important to speak to your friends and the people you surround yourself with on a day-to-day basis, not only to inform them about antisemitism. Speak to them on what to do if they hear it or how to stand up for a friend if it happens to them. I think it’s really important for everybody to know how to combat it and how to deal with it because it’s a very real thing.

What gives you hope in the face of growing antisemitism?

Teddy Friedman: I have hope that, through our and many others’ work, we will make a change in generations to come. I hope that living proudly and sharing our stories with others will encourage more people to become educated about the hatred faced by the Jewish people. I believe that getting involved and taking one step further toward personal growth will have lasting impact on the generations to come.

Ofek: Jewish communities are very strong, and there are many organizations out there like StandWithUs that are fighting against it and trying to educate. There’s a new law in Massachusetts making it a requirement to teach about genocide in schools, which is just crazy that it wasn’t even a law beforehand. But little things like that give me hope. I’m also bringing in a Holocaust survivor at the end of this month to speak to my entire school. My principal, the social studies department head and my teachers have been so supportive. Even though they don’t personally identify with the event, they still see the value in educating about it.

Lipsitch: I’m queer. There are so many attacks on Jews, and there are so many attacks on queer youth right now. In the legal and political sense, I’m more worried that I won’t be able to get married or that my friends won’t be able to get the health care they need. I’m looking for hope in policy and in public opinion around queer issues, and around feminism and things like that. I think there are a lot of people who hold unconsciously antisemitic views. What gives me hope is that a lot of the antisemitism we see is unconscious and is about something you were taught. I feel like there are a lot of people who would reconsider their beliefs or think harder about something they said or did if a Jew or a non-Jew also called them out and said, “Have you ever thought about why you think this?”

Tsatskis: Young kids like Emma [Shub] and me are starting clubs to raise awareness, and kids who are not even part of the Jewish community are joining. We’re finding allies. As more people start to be aware of the ongoing problems, and as teenagers are starting to take action, it gives me hope for the future.

How do you express your Jewish pride in your everyday life? Has that behavior changed because of rising antisemitism in your communities?

Friedman: I see the rising antisemitism as a call to action. It is more than ever important to embrace our Judaism and live as proud Jewish people. It’s of utmost importance that we show how proud we are to be Jewish at a time when people are trying to suppress our identity. I show Jewish pride by outwardly supporting Israel and other Jewish organizations. I use social media as a platform to post about exciting Jewish events happening as well as highlight Jewish athletes and their accomplishments.

Emma Shub: I’m a very vocal advocate for the Jewish community at my school. I don’t shy away from the opportunity to run Jewish initiatives. Within my own community, I take all opportunities before me to engage with others. When the Mapping Project came out last spring, and it directly affected my family, I made sure to educate my other Jewish and non-Jewish peers on the issue so everyone could remain alert and aware of what was going on. In my opinion, it’s crucial that all students continue to have conversations about antisemitism and understand that it’s not an issue of race. Rather, it’s an issue of preventing history from repeating itself.

Ofek: I wear Jewish jewelry. I don’t really shy away from talking about my Jewish faith at school around my friends. I go to a Reform synagogue in my town each week. I attend overnight camp. But it’s definitely something that I find myself being cautious about if I’m around new people.

Lipsitch: The fellowship I’m part of is a big part of it. If Jewish issues come up in conversation, or if it makes sense to say, “Oh, yes, this Jewish thing,” or, “I’m Jewish,” then I’ll say it and I’m not ashamed. I never was ashamed, but I never much paid attention until now.

Tsatskis: I express my Jewish pride by having a club at my school with Emma. It’s a huge leap of faith to start a club at a school and to share your voice as a group of people. Expressing that and providing a safe community to people has been a huge success of the club. It’s turned into a place where a lot of Jewish students from our community have been able to come and speak to each other and know that they’re accepted and that everything they’re going to say is valid.

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.


What Should Kids Understand About Antisemitism?

By Kara Baskin

Antisemitism is on the rise nationwide: The ADL has reported Americans’ highest level of antisemitic attitudes in decades. According to its 2023 report, “Antisemitic Attitudes in America,” 20% of Americans believe six or more antisemitic tropes, significantly more than the 11% found in 2019.

How can we help kids understand antisemitism and racism when the horror is so unthinkable? Dr. Rachel Fish, an academic with deep expertise in Israeli history, calls herself a “scholar-warrior” in the fight against antisemitism. Previously, she was the founding executive director of the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism. She talked with CJP about the roots of hatred and ways for kids to combat harassment.

Could you explain the root of antisemitism? How would you define this for a younger child in terms they might be able to understand?

Antisemitism is like a virus. It mutates and changes over time. It started off as a way to focus on a hatred specifically toward those who believe in Judaism and who practice the Jewish tradition. That then transformed over time to focus on hating Jews because of their identity as a people and the way they are understood to be different from other groups, particularly in Europe at the time. Then we saw it mutate again, where those other two forms continue to exist, but we also see that there’s a hatred toward the Jewish state, Israel, and people feel uncomfortable with Jews holding real power and having the ability to have decision-making influence in the world.

We also know that it can be a form of hatred that is used by different political movements across political positions, from a hard-right position, which says that Jews are never going to be white, Jews are always “the other.” Jews are always different and no matter what, there’s a fear of Jews having influence within a community or within a society. Then we also see on the hard left of politics this idea that Jews are part of a society that is white and have privilege because they have been influential, particularly in America—and so therefore they cannot be a vulnerable minority and they are part of the white majority, which is part of the problem because it continues to promote discrimination toward other marginalized communities, and Jews are not considered to be a marginalized community.

In both of these forms, politically, Jews are constantly having to pay attention to how certain language is used by different individuals to understand if there are feelings or sentiments that are trying to target Jews for a political purpose.

What are ways that kids can empower themselves, and what should they do if they feel scared?

If someone feels uncomfortable, and as if they’re in a situation that’s unsafe because of their identity as a Jew, they need to tell a grownup. They can tell their parents, they can tell teachers, they can tell a coach or another family member—but they need to tell a grownup who can help them feel safe and make sure no one is hurt or harmed. Their parents then also need to be able to have a conversation, depending upon the context of what has happened, with other responsible individuals and potentially organizations like the Anti-Defamation League or other organizations that report incidents of antisemitism to law enforcement. It’s very important. If anyone feels unsafe, see something and say something.

If you feel like something was said that was hurtful about Jews, again, it’s important to tell a grownup so that the child can appropriately, with the grownup, decide how to engage in an opportunity to address that particular situation. Obviously, this is very context-specific. But most individuals in the world are part of the “don’t know” audience. I put that in quotes. They really don’t know what antisemitism is. They don’t even understand the term, because it sounds very fancy and scientific. Even when we did research and learned about what 13- to 35-year-olds in America thought about antisemitism, the majority said, “I don’t know.” Those who did try to answer the question said, “Well, what’s a semite?” Because it doesn’t sound like a term we use today. Then other people said, “Well, I’m antiracist or I’m anti-homophobic on anti-Islamophobic, so I’m probably an antisemite.”

And you’re saying, “No, no, no. You’re an anti-antisemite!” So the word doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Part of it is helping people understand what the term means, and sometimes it’s easier to label hatred toward Jews specifically, like “Jew hatred,” or saying “hatred toward Jews or the Jewish religion, the Jewish people or the Jewish state.” Because then it becomes very clear to individuals what’s happening instead of using this term called “antisemitism” that can feel complicated or unclear.

If you have a relationship with the individual who may have said something that was hurtful about Jews or Judaism or Israel—and I don’t mean criticizing, I mean really hurtful and trying to suggest something very negative targeting Jews—then you could actually call them into a conversation. You can begin to help people understand and educate themselves, and you can help educate them about why Jews do have this as part of their history. Even a young child is capable of doing that.

How could that happen?

Here’s a story: I grew up in a small town in northeast Tennessee. There were very few Jews. When I was in middle school, a student etched a swastika onto my locker. I caught him etching the swastika with his little pocket knife. I shared what happened with the teachers, and the teachers brought it to the principal. The principal spoke with me and also called my parents that evening because they decided that they were going to have this student removed from the school for suspension. This was not a student who really knew what he was doing. He had not passed a couple of grades; he was not a good student.

So I suggested to the teacher and to the principal that I meet with the student in school every day in order to read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and that way he could become more sensitive to understanding why Jews had a history of being persecuted. That was a very important moment because, for me, I became the educator. I became the teacher, and I called someone into a relationship and into a conversation so that they could be more sensitive and learn more. Kids have that ability, young people have that ability, teens have that ability to help other individuals learn and grow, and that’s very powerful. It can feel very empowering.

That’s a helpful anecdote because it makes it feel real. It was real. So thank you for sharing that. What would you say is behind the recent rise in antisemitic attacks?

Jew hatred has been on the rise in America for the past five years. It doesn’t mean that Jew hatred didn’t exist five years ago. It did exist, but it wasn’t as obvious all the time. Now it’s becoming more obvious, partly because we see politicians using language, imagery, stereotypes and ideas about Jews that are not real but are perceived as being characteristics of Jews. We see this from politicians, again, who are Republican, and we see it from politicians who are Democrats. So we see that happening by decision-makers. Jews are usually the first people targeted in a society when there are tensions.

We also see that there is an idea that exists around, if you care about a lot of the movements that many of us care about, like fighting racism and being good allies to other marginalized communities, like LGBTQ+, that part of what is expected is that you are also labeled anti-Zionist and that you push away your relationship with Israel, because Israel is thought to be a country that is privileging or only cares about Jews. That’s not true, because Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Twenty percent of its population is not Jewish. It’s Palestinian. That’s over 1.2 million people. But what happens is, when you start to see all of these pressures emerge, then Jews can be targeted by different groups because of fear.

We’re living at a time in America in which a lot of different communities are trying to push their own ideas, and they need someone to blame and very often Jews are part of the blame. So this will result in real pressures that Jews face and can be targeted by all different types of communities, by people who hold ideas around white supremacy and also by more marginalized communities who are minorities themselves but who feel like Jews are part of the problem for the systems that are in place. This puts Jews in a challenging situation.

What would you like families to know that isn’t getting covered enough or conveyed enough?

It’s not unique for Jews to be targeted. We have a long history within Jewish life of being targeted, but Jews are very resilient as a people, and it’s important to have knowledge about your traditions and your history. It’s important as you engage in the world and do important work on behalf of other communities who aren’t Jewish as well. That pride will help young people navigate and understand who they are and from where they come.

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.


Books on Antisemitism for Teens and Young Adults

By Rich Tenorio 

As Chicago prepares to celebrate the 1893 World’s Fair, a young Jewish boy named Alter Rosen suffers the loss of his best friend, Yakov. It turns out that Yakov is the latest victim of a killer targeting Jewish boys. Alter becomes possessed by his friend’s dybbuk, which threatens to take over his body completely. He reconnects with a dangerous boy from his past and together they work to find the killer. This is the plot of “The City Beautiful,” a 2021 young adult novel by Aden Polydoros that earned multiple recommendations for placement on JewishBoston’s summer reading list of books that tackle antisemitism and/or racism. (Find the full list at the end of this post!) 

Robin Brenner, the young adult librarian at the Public Library of Brookline, calls “The City Beautiful” “one I really love,” a work of historical fiction that is “particularly well done,” including in its exploration of how “the World’s Fair was presented to the public and who it was presented for.” 

Among library patrons, she said: “‘The City Beautiful’ has been certainly noticed. [It’s] one of those that has gone out consistently. It tells a story that people are very interested in learning more [about].” 

Last year, Polydoros’s “The City Beautiful” was named a “Best Book for Teens” by the New York Public Library and got a favorable review in School Library Journal. “Featuring a queer protagonist, it is deeply layered with Jewish myth, immigration, racism and anti-Semitism,” Alicia Kalan wrote for School Library Journal, noting that “some readers may find the descriptions” of certain parts of the plot “too intense.” 

Sara Waltuck, the children’s bookseller at Brookline Booksmith, also gave the book a recommendation and praised a more recent novel—“From Dust, a Flame” by Rebecca Podos. The book, published in March, tells the story of a family of three: teenage Hannah, her brother and their mother. The siblings live a nomadic life marked by rental homes and their mother’s broken relationships before Hannah begins to experience a series of unusual mutations when she turns 17. Her mother vows to find someone who can help, then disappears. Ultimately, it’s up to Hannah to connect with her Jewish family history and learn about her grandmother growing up in the Nazi-occupied Czech capital of Prague. 

Multiple other recent books made local experts’ list of recommendations, from fiction to nonfiction. 

Brenner mentioned “The Assignment,” a 2020 novel by Liza Wiemer based on actual events. A popular high school teacher gives a controversial assignment, asking a group of students to make a case for the Holocaust. Classmates Logan and Cade view this assignment as wrong and speak out against it, yet not everyone agrees with them. 

David Sandberg, a co-owner of Porter Square Books, listed the 2019 historical graphic novel “White Bird: A Wonder Story” by R.J. Palacio among his recommendations. “White Bird” continues the narrative of Grand-mère, a character introduced in Palacio’s previous work, “Auggie & Me.” In “White Bird,” the reader meets Grand-mère—French for “grandmother”—as a Jewish youngster in occupied France during World War II. It’s a story of the French family who shelters her, and a boy she and her classmates ostracized who ends up playing a critical role in her rescue. “White Bird” will be released as a film this fall, featuring Helen Mirren as Grand-mère. 

Sandberg also recommended Jane Yolen’s 2019 Holocaust novel “Mapping the Bones,” about young Jewish twins Chaim and Gittel fleeing from the Nazis in Poland. Another one of his picks was “Color Me In” by Natasha Diaz. This 2020 novel tells the story of a girl whose father is white and Jewish and whose mother is Black. After her parents’ marriage ends, she navigates her diverse family background while living with her mother in Harlem and going to an exclusive private school. 

Brenner noted that there’s even a groundbreaking Jewish comic book character, ”Whistle,” the heroine of a new DC Comics series of the same name. “One thing that’s really nice,” Brenner said, “is that more and more books are featuring Jewish main characters, [including] Jewish main characters who express this part of their life…it’s not a passing reference. It’s really nice. There are a lot more titles that are beginning to be offered to teens. Teens need a real reflection of the world, books that inspire them, teach them. It’s nice to have a range.” 

Reading List for Teens and Young Adults

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 rich@jewishboston.com.