As acts of antisemitic violence have become more visible in the news in recent years in the United States, many non-Jewish people have begun to apprehend the extent of violence that continues to befall members of this community. Amid this awareness, we often hear less about the way that non-physical forms of violence—including words, symbols, and narratives that advance antisemitic hate—are equally insidious and have a particularly corrosive impact on young Jewish people’s experiences, self-concepts, and sense of possibility.
As the nation reacts to the wave of antisemitic attacks that have been occurring in cities across the country in recent weeks, educators have an opportunity to help students gain a deeper understanding of contemporary antisemitism. In these times, teachers can play a vital role in helping students and communities respond to acts of hate.
At Facing History, we stand with educators who are working to disrupt rising white nationalism.
Since the Unite the Right Rally of 2017 in Charlottesville, white nationalist groups have become increasingly visible on the national stage, deepening threats of racial and antisemitic violence across the country. Indeed, these threats are so severe that the Department of Homeland Security prepared draft reports (recently released to the press) indicating that “white supremacist extremists” currently pose the greatest terror threat to the nation.
As the coronavirus pandemic ravages communities across the country, particular communities are being attacked by an equally pernicious force. Its manifestations include the protesters in Michigan who recently stormed the state capital donning swastikas, nooses, and Confederate flags as they demanded an end to lockdowns. Or the parallel protest in Illinois where a woman held a sign displaying a German phrase famously emblazoned on Nazi concentration camps. And for many months, Asian Americans continue to be the victims of increased harassment and hate crimes in cities around the country. As medical leaders race to halt the spread of the pandemic, it is clear that we are not only battling a viral assailant. We are witnessing the lethal effects of a political establishment that permits and even perpetuates violence, as well as small but mighty groups of upstanders calling for change. For this dimension of the crisis, cultivating a culture of upstanding is the antidote we most dearly need, and it starts in the classroom.
On March 2, 2019, a group of high school students in Southern California decided during a party to arrange red Solo cups in the shape of a swastika and took pictures of themselves next to the symbol, raising their hands in Nazi salutes. When Leslie White—Holocaust Studies teacher at Tarbut V’Torah and Director of Education at JFCS Holocaust Center—heard what happened, she stepped up to teach the students about the Holocaust and help them understand the significance of what they had done and they symbols they had invoked. White’s account of these events offers educators rich insights into the continuing importance of Holocaust education, as well as the pedagogical approaches that are most effective—and vital—in this time of rising hatred.
This past fortnight has seen an alarming number of antisemitic and racist incidents in the news: in Germany, two people were killed and many more terrorised in a mass shooting attempt that targetted a synagogue; in Bulgaria, football fans taunted players with racist chants and Nazi salutes; in Hertfordshire, a teacher allegedly “joked” about sending primary school pupils who failed to complete their work “to the gas chamber” (and then told them not to tell anyone); and in politics, another Labour politician resigned from the party citing the rise of antisemitism as the reason for her departure.
Facing History and Ourselves President and CEO, Roger Brooks, responded to the recent Christchurch mosque shootings on Cognoscenti today—the ideas and opinion page for WBUR, the Boston-based wing of NPR. In his piece, he reflects upon his exposure to antisemitism over the course of his upbringing and how this shapes his thinking about contemporary antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate. He also invites the reader to consider how education can be used to mitigate hatred and temper the threat of violence.
Marshall Curry’s short film, A Night at the Garden, forces an American public to reckon with the horrific reality of its own antisemitism. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Short Subject category, the seven-minute, black and white film is comprised entirely of archival footage. Without any of the narration or explanation common to historical documentaries, the film demands one’s full attention, transporting its viewer to a world at once distantly dystopian and hauntingly familiar. It is February 20th, 1939. The Madison Square Garden marquee reads: “Tonight Pro American Rally.” There will be hockey on Tuesday, basketball on Wednesday. It could be a New York night like any other.
During Shabbat morning services last Saturday, eleven people were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue by a gunman who shouted “All Jews must die” as he opened fire. The gunman is in custody and the FBI is investigating the killings as a hate crime. As we wrote immediately upon hearing the news yesterday, we are heartsick at these antisemitic murders.
On April 12, German rap duo Kollegah and Farid Bang won the prestigious Echo Award for best German hip-hop album, an award akin to the American Grammys. The pair was widely popular within German youth and hip-hop culture. However, there was an immediate backlash to this decision, as the pair’s album included a lyric comparing their bodies to Auschwitz prisoners and other lines disrespecting victims of the Holocaust.