2017-01-04 / Voice at the Shore

Kulanu students discuss identifying and responding to anti-Semitism at ADL workshop

Voice shore editor

Jewish students often find it easier to speak up on behalf of others who are unfairly stereotyped than to respond to anti-Semitism, said ADL facilitator Jerry Clark, pictured here with Kulanu students from left) Lexie Rubin, Evan Goldberg and Ben Funk. Jewish students often find it easier to speak up on behalf of others who are unfairly stereotyped than to respond to anti-Semitism, said ADL facilitator Jerry Clark, pictured here with Kulanu students from left) Lexie Rubin, Evan Goldberg and Ben Funk. Jew jokes and Holocaust jokes. Being told, “You don’t look Jewish.” Anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel activism. Non-Jewish students gleefully waiting to see whether Jewish students will pick up pennies deliberately thrown at them—a “joke” based on the stereotype that Jews are cheap.

These are among the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of anti- Semitism experienced by Jewish middle school, high school and college students, according to Jerry Clark, senior facilitator for the ADL’s Philadelphia Office, who led a program called Words to Action on December 13 for students of Kulanu, the local Board of Jewish Education’s high school of Jewish studies, at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor.

The two-hour program allowed students to talk about what anti-Semitism looks like, using real examples collected by ADL as well as Kulanu students’ own experiences. Students also considered different approaches to responding to anti- Semitic remarks and incidents.

The goal of the ADL program, said Clark, was “to engage students in conversation about their experiences and the experiences of ( people they know, and to widen their understanding of what anti-Semitism looks like.” In order to encourage students to speak freely and candidly, all discussion by the students and their teachers, who also participated, were “off the record.”

“We’ve discovered this venue is often the first time kids have been able to talk about their experience [with anti- Semitism] and to hear the experiences of others,” said Clark.

Sometimes, he explained, kids are unsure what constitutes anti-Semitism, and don’t want to acknowledge when an incident occurs.

“It’s common for Jewish kids to have difficulty acknowledging and responding to anti- Semitism,” he noted. “Kids want to minimize its importance as a way to not deal with it directly; that’s just what kids do.”

Likewise, it’s often easier for kids to stand up for other groups that are being unfairly stereotyped than to speak out on behalf of themselves or their own group.

What’s the best way to respond to negative stereotyping? Clark offered Kulanu students a list of six different strategies and asked for students’ input on which ones they would use in various situations (such as a friend telling a Jew joke, or a teacher inappropriately comparing himself to Hitler). The six strategies included: 1) Assume the speaker has good intentions and explain the hurtfulness of their words; 2) Ask a question, such as “what do you mean by that?” to get the speaker to think about what they’ve said; 3) Interrupt and redirect the conversation; 4) Point out that the stereotype applies to people of all groups; 5) Get the speaker to stop talking about general stereotypes by asking if the speaker is referring to someone in particular; 6) Acknowledge that the comment is hurtful.

Towards the end of the workshop, students were divided into groups and asked to make up a skit about how to respond to a particular anti-Semitic remark they’d been given (such as “You can’t be good at football, you’re Jewish,” or “Jews control U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East”). The exercise encouraged students to think about how they would respond to anti-Semitic remarks; no response was deemed right or wrong.

The Philadelphia ADL office offers the Words to Action program to Jewish student groups in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware about 25 times a year, said Clark. ADL also offers other programs for schools and community groups that talk about harmful stereotyping of all kinds, (not just anti-Semitism), including antibias and bullying workshops offered through its “A World of Difference” Institute, and the “No Place for Hate” program (which was adopted last year by the Northfield Community School). Parents, educators or community residents interested in bringing these programs to their schools or communities can contact Randi Boyette, education director for the Philadelphia ADL at (215) 568- 2223.

Clark acknowledged that the increasing incidence of hate speech during the presidential election had driven up the demand for ADL’s workshops and programs. “There has been an uptick in the number of calls we’ve gotten, both during election season and after,” he noted. Usually, it’s someone from a school who calls ADL to ask for help in addressing a problem.

That was the case with Kulanu, where BJE executive director Susan Weis sought out ADL to help students deal with the increasing anti-Semitism and hate speech that became evident during the election. As she told parents in a communiqué announcing the ADL program that would be taught at Kulanu: “In light of the recent election campaign and outcome, we are hearing about new anti-Semitic incidents occurring in schools, perpetrated by empowered racists and xenophobes.” The ADL program was a way “to help our children understand, process and learn how to react to such incidents.”

The ADL also offers free online anti-bias resources that can help educators and others combat stereotypes and promote understanding. For more information, go to ADL.org. 

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