Several news items caught our eyes—and made our hearts sink—this week: Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools all over the United States (and one in Canada) received bomb threats via anonymous phone calls. On February 27 alone, more than 31 such institutions were threatened. A day earlier, on February 26, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated by vandals who toppled over 100 tombstones, a week after a similar act of desecration took place in University City, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis). And earlier this month, a Chicago synagogue was plastered with swastikas.
Since the beginning of 2017, 100 incidents of anti-Semitism in 81 locations have been recorded.
Although the recent—and ongoing—national conversation surrounding hate and bias incidents has focused largely on the targeting of Muslim, Latino and African-American individuals and communities, it is clear that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States and that its proponents feel emboldened. In community centers, religious schools and places of worship—places intended to offer safe spaces and support positive identity formation—such threats and attacks are particularly unsettling. And while anti-Semitic threats recorded so far in 2017 have not resulted in injury or loss of life, deadly attacks on Jewish spaces happened as recently as 2014 in the United States, and the FBI just weeks ago arrested a suspect for plotting an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof” on a synagogue in South Carolina. The danger is real.
While the news is at once disheartening and terrifying, Teaching Tolerance is firm in our belief that inclusive, anti-bias education is the antidote to the fear and hatred that leads to violence. TT was founded as a preventative program; we fight hate alongside our legal and intelligence-gathering colleagues at the Southern Poverty Law Center by equipping educators with the tools they need to reach students when they are young. By giving children opportunities to experience and embrace diversity via the curriculum, and teaching social emotional competencies like empathy, individual educators literally have the power to change thousands of lives—and to intervene when they see a child drifting toward the hollow messages pedaled by hatemongers.
Clearly, this work is more necessary than ever—and clearly we must include Jewish voices, perspectives and experiences in our teaching if we are to be responsive to the current climate of intimidation in our country.
Here are a few resources to help you teach about Jewish identities and anti-Semitism in your classroom or at your school:
- TT’s free film One Survivor Remembers and teacher’s guide
- Student texts “Out of Auschwitz,” “About Feeling Jewish,” “Danger on My Doorstep,” “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport” and “What Is Talmud?”
- Facing History and Ourselves’ antisemitism and religious intolerance resources
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)'s tools and resources for anti-bias education, Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism
- A new classroom activity from the ADL titled Anti-Semitic Incidents: Being an Ally, Advocate and Activist
- The United States Holocaust Museum’s tools and resources
We agree 100 percent with Gesher Jewish Day School, one of the schools targeted this week, that “the work of educating joyful young minds [must continue] unabated.” In a Facebook post yesterday, the school acknowledged the threat but encouraged its followers to “learn something new every day, practice justice, kindness, and respect.” It is only by committing to these principles that our work can move forward and help our young people grow up confident that those who look, love or worship differently than they do pose no threat to them personally or to the American way of life.
The value of pluralism is an idea many of us take for granted, but—as the events of the last weeks and months have shown—we cannot afford to assume that others do.
van der Valk is the deputy director of Teaching Tolerance.