After reporting on incidents of anti-Semitism in non-Jewish public and private schools in the Atlanta area, the AJT wanted to learn about the resources available to help teachers, administrators, parents and students respond to those issues.
The AJT spoke to the Center for Israel Education, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, Jewish Student Union Executive Director Rabbi Chaim Neiditch and interim Anti-Defamation League Southeast Director Shelley Rose.
The Center for Israel Education is not an advocacy organization but seeks to educate people on topics related to Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and anti-Israel rhetoric.
In addition to educational materials, CIE hosts occasional dialogues related to anti-Israel bias on many college campuses. Those discussions are facilitated by CIE President Ken Stein, an Emory University professor of contemporary Middle Eastern history, political science and Israel studies.
“There has been a steady demand for resources provided by the CIE,” said Rich Walter, the center’s associate director for Israel education. “We are constantly being asked to help enhance professional development with teachers and various communities.”
Walter cited the example of a local synagogue inviting the center to speak with seventh-graders and their parents about the teaching of Israel in a public middle school. “I don’t know if there is a cause and effect related to a recent rise; however, there have definitely been opportunities to provide context and education around the issue.”
CIE partnered with the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative for a day of professional development involving workshops focused on Israel engagement among youths, Walter said.
The center offers articles and resources related to Israel through its website, www.israeled.org.
“We want people to be aware that whatever is happening, it’s not happening in a vacuum in terms of anti-Semitism, the delegitimization of Israel or using the country as an entry point to anti-Semitism,” Walter said. “Our goal is to help broaden people’s knowledge so they are able to recognize anti-Semitism and not just legitimate criticism of Israel.”
Walter said the center has seen an increase in requests to provide context regarding problems on college campuses.
He said CIE hopes to increase partnerships with synagogues, schools and other educational institutions to serve as a resource. “Although fighting anti-Semitism is not a direct part of our mission, we feel it’s an important byproduct, to make sure raising the level of Israeli education both globally and locally is an important first step to combatting this reiteration.”
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust serves as a conduit for community members to learn about the Holocaust. In a statement, commission Executive Director Sally Levine said: “Learning how and why the Holocaust happened is an important part of the education of Georgia citizens. It encourages reflection upon the moral questions raised by this unprecedented event and the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.”
The commission has trained more than 200 educators in two-day workshops the past two years in partnership with the University of North Georgia, the Bibb County Professional Learning Center in Macon, Augusta University, Columbus State University and Fulton County, Levine said. The workshops are free, thanks to funding provided by the Marcus Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
The commission also has provided training at the Georgia Council for the Social Studies conferences the past three years. It makes films such as “European Anti-Semitism From Its Origins to the Holocaust” available to educators through holocaust.georgia.gov, co-sponsors programs addressing hate speech, racism and anti-Semitism, sends staffers to Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism meetings, organizes Holocaust survivors to speak about the Shoah and anti-Semitism, and works closely with the ADL.
Holocaust education can be transformative and inspire informed decisions to recognize and confront threats to human rights, including intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism and ignorance, Levine said.
The ADL’s No Place for Hate program and step-up assemblies are among the many resources the organization offers to counter anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. The ADL also provides workshops for Jewish youths in middle and high schools to confront anti-Semitism if they encounter it.
Words to Action is one of two versions, Rose said. It provides interactive scenarios on how to respond to anti-Semitism, examine the consequences and practice constructive dialogues against hate speech and anti-Israel bias.
“It’s important to practice scenarios as we sometimes find ourselves in situations or hear an anti-Semitic term and get caught up in the moment where we don’t know what to say,” Rose said. “However, if you practice ahead of time, you are more likely to respond within the minute.”
The workshop also is offered to parents, she said. “We often find that adults are just as interested in participating in the workshops, which are not always directed to the broader community.”
A separate version of the workshop is offered to high school seniors and college students to help examine and address new anti-Semitism, which Rose said includes anti-Israel bias that crosses into anti-Semitism. “Some people think if it’s anti-Israel, it’s automatically anti-Semitism, but there are various nuances, which is why we give students a chance to discuss their own experiences, practice and work through scenarios.”
The ADL’s Holocaust curriculum, Echoes and Reflections, in partnership with Yad Vashem and the Shoah Foundation, helps students through comprehensive lessons offered to schools and teachers to help people absorb the Holocaust’s impact.
The course uses videotape testimony from survivors and other eyewitnesses to connect students with those who went through the Holocaust. The course is taught in high schools and is available at www.adl.org.
“How you teach the Holocaust is very important because middle school students may not always be at an emotional level to handle their feelings or respond in a way an older adult would,” Rose said.
She said community requests have increased for the ADL’s World of Difference workshops and No Place for Hate programs. “Over 204 schools received their No Place for Hate designation, which is up from 160 schools, in the 2016-2017 school year,” Rose said. “Many of the schools use the World of Difference to address specific issues. However, while we are receiving a lot of calls about the Words to Action workshops, we don’t have a lot of requests for it. When we do set up a workshop, however, it is often geared toward broader issues responding to hate as opposed to anti-Semitism alone.”
While the ADL offers numerous programs, Rose noted a need to promote the Words to Action workshops and a plan to initiate a push within Fulton County synagogues to encourage inquiries about the ADL’s programs.
“Often a school system’s first response is to state they don’t have an issue, but it is better to get in front of the problem at hand and address the issues of cultural diversity in a positive way in order to prevent further problems,” Rose said.
With over 4,000 teen participants, Atlanta’s Jewish Student Union is reaching public schools through Jewish programing, regardless of students’ religious affiliation, Rabbi Neiditch said.
“We’ve discovered we are able to reframe how Jewish and non-Jewish students look at Judaism, what it is and its values through interaction,” he said. “Kids who may have not wanted to join the club initially find a new home as well as positive feelings toward Jewish people and Israel.”
JSU has a waiting list of 53 schools that want to add the club, said Rabbi Neiditch, who recently hired a full-time rabbi to help meet the growing demand.
“It’s still not enough. Not only do people want more out of school programing, but more trips with JSU,” Rabbi Neiditch said. “Everyone should have an opportunity to participate in Jewish programing, despite financial or transportation barriers they may have.”
JSU hopes to expand and plans a new program next summer to invite 40 teens on a Jewish leadership initiative to Israel after receiving a significant grant. JSU also wants to increase its programing inside and outside schools to bring kids together around social and educational opportunities.
“Over time we have constantly adapted our programing to meet teens’ needs and created a curriculum in Atlanta which is now being used within 250 public schools throughout North America,” Rabbi Neiditch said.
He noted his recent efforts to implement changes to the Fulton County 2017-2018 Student Code of Conduct with the help of a former teacher, a parent and Fulton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Christopher Matthews.
Rabbi Neiditch said significant training will begin for teachers on how to handle each situation. “There needs to be rules and language that specifically addresses situations regarding hate crimes vs. typical bullying to ensure they are quickly escalated and scrutinized.”
However, the big issue in schools is not anti-Semitism, Rabbi Neiditch said. “We can fight back at individuals who wish to hurt the Jewish people; however, if we are not producing programming that gets kids to want to stay and remain Jewish, that’s a much bigger problem.”