At ADL Conference, a Focus on Schools, Reactions by Students and Teachers to Antisemitism
JNS.org – For many of the attendees at last week’s “Never Is Now” conference in New York sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the global and geopolitical impacts of the uptick in antisemitism were front and center of the discussions.
And for a significant number, the concern was also about antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses, as well as its creep into the middle- and high school spheres—a fact that was acknowledged by the presence of 300 high school students who attended the conference.
As Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO and national director, noted in his opening remarks, troubling reports have included high-schoolers who think it’s amusing to “sling ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes at one another.”
In 2018, the ADL recorded 344 incidents of antisemitism at kindergarten through 12th grade non-Jewish schools. Among this year’s reported incidents were swastikas at schools in Connecticut, California and a number of other states; a “Kill the Jews” page on social media created by middle-school students in Massachusetts; and a threatening note left on the desk of the daughter of Las Vegas rabbi.
High school students were a significant part of the audience in two morning panels: “Anti-Israel vs. Anti-Semitism: An Interactive Workshop Examining Their Distinctions and Where They Overlap,” which highlighted various scenarios and asked participants to vote via an app on their feelings of whether the act was antisemitic, anti-Zionist, both or neither; and “Voices From Campus: Exploring Anti-Semitism and Its Impact on College University Communities.”
For high school senior Thomas Bocian, 17, attending the ADL program was important as a Jew, a student leader and as someone who is currently applying to colleges.
“The level of awareness about antisemitism is a lot lower than it should be, and to be able to come here and learn how to handle these situations is very important for me as a student leader,” said Bocian, who attended the conference on behalf of his high school, Princeton Day School, a private school in New Jersey. He added that he is proud of his heritage and religion, and has already ruled out attending at least one top-tier college because he was disappointed by the way the administration handled an incident regarding the BDS movement.
Bocian, who spoke to JNS as he was getting ready to enter the “Voices From Campus” panel, was accompanied by teacher David Freedholm and guidance counselor Alex Portale, who were there to gain tips for an upcoming school workshop on antisemitism.
Judaic-studies teacher Yael Weil brought a group of 10 seniors from the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ, to offer them a sense of what to expect when they go on to college and beyond.
“I think it’s an important issue that kids are aware of,” she said. “Our group of seniors will be graduating and going outside of their bubble, and need to see what’s out there and how to deal with it. They are seeing how the larger Jewish community outside of the Orthodox community is addressing the issue.”
Attendees at the conference included people of different races and faith. Several speakers noted that if the Jewish community is to succeed in battling antisemitism and anti-Zionism, it will need support from other groups and people who willing to denounce hate in all its forms.
‘Antisemitism is often sidelined’
Perhaps in an odd bit of irony, however, some public discussions centered on diversity in books and media tend to exclude Jewish groups from “minority” concerns.
That may be why several people interviewed at the conference suggested that antisemitism and anti-Zionism aren’t acknowledged in the discussions on hate and racism going on at high school and middle-school campuses. One educator even suggested that she was glad that she came with students so they could understand what antisemitism is and why it’s so dangerous.
That doesn’t surprise Miriam F. Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, who has researched antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus, though was not at the conference.
In an interview with JNS several days later, she said, “I have found that antisemitism is often sidelined in discussions of diversity, equity, tolerance and inclusion. In such discussions, the emphasis is typically on racism.”
She continued, saying “when antisemitism is included in these conversations, the tendency tends to be on hatred coming from far-right white supremacy. As you know, left[-leaning] antisemitism typically gets a pass because the people engaging in it are often minority groups and individuals who are themselves championing social justice and anti-racism platforms. The connection between anti-Israel expression, anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not addressed in these venues.”