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.
As the nation reacts to the wave of antisemitic attacks that have occurred in cities including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago in recent weeks, educators are faced with unique challenges. By creating safe spaces for reflection and questioning, by offering context and lessons from history, and by sharing examples of compassion and resistance, teachers can play a vital role in responding to acts of hate.
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.
Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is an ongoing series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. We will take a look at the recent increase of hate crimes, especially the antisemitic attacks in over a dozen states.
The stories are heartbreaking and chilling. In the first few weeks of 2017, identity-based hatred appears to be pervasive and on the rise. Two immigrants from India were shot in Kansas allegedly by a man who confronted them about their visa status; historical Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in St. Louis and Philadelphia; and, in Rockville, Maryland, a Jewish couple, who put up a Black Lives Matter banner outside their home, received a threatening note with the word “Jew” written in German and the ominous promise of “mayhem.” On January 29th, six people were killed and 19 were injured in a mass-shooting at a mosque in Quebec City. The victims included fathers, an academic, and local businessmen. They were in the midst of evening prayers.