- Candle for opening ritual
- Index card and sheet of small stickers for each participant.
- Definitions of Antisemitism texts
- Emotions Wheel
- Emotions & Antisemitism texts
- Printer sized papers prepared with prompts from “What do I do” section.
For Rosh Hodesh Groups: As you light the Rosh Hodesh candle and sing the prayer for the new month, consider sharing the following.
For Shevet and Tzelem groups that do not have a regular candle-lighting ritual, consider lighting a candle at the beginning of this session and sharing the following:
Today, we will be talking about antisemitism. Before we begin, we will light this candle to hold in our hearts those who have perished in recent antisemitic attacks in Jersey City, Brooklyn, and Monsey. We also acknowledge all those who are healing from attacks – attacks documented in the news, and also personal incidents that do not make the headlines.
What exactly is antisemitism?
In this section, participants will reflect on their own understanding and experience with antisemitism. Then they will examine different texts attempting to define antisemitism. This is to help them think critically about the term and concept of antisemitism.
Personal experiences with antisemitism:
Give each participant an index card and a page of stickers (either small dots or small stars). Read the following list of statements and ask participants to put a sticker on their index card each time a statement is true for them.
- Seen antisemitic content online
- Heard someone who is not Jewish talking negatively about Jews
- Had a time when you didn’t want people to know that you are Jewish
- Actively hid your Jewish identity to protect yourself
- Been called a Jewish American Princess or known someone who has been called a Jewish American Princess
- Had an experience that was antisemitic and sexist
- Had an experience that was antisemitic and targeted other identities (race, ability, LGBTQIA, etc.)
- Had an experience you thought “that might be antisemitic” but you are not sure
- Seen a Swastika drawn on a wall or building
- Seen a meme that blames Jews for something that happened
- Seen a meme about politics that is negative about Jews or a Jewish politician
- Been attacked, physically or verbally for being a Jew
- Have a friend who told you that they experienced antisemitism
- Experienced antisemitism around a holiday (Passover, Christmas, etc.)
After you read all the statements, invite participants to turn the card over and write a sentence or two about a couple of the experiences this activity made them think about.
Then, invite everyone to reveal the sticker side of their index cards to the group and provide a moment for everyone to notice the quantity of stickers on each person’s card.
Ask 3-5 people if they would like to speak about what the exercise brought up for them.
Facilitator’s Tip: If you are short on time and/or would prefer a simpler discussion-based activity, consider asking participants to respond to one of the following prompts: What are 1-3 words that come to mind when you think of antisemitism? Share one instance of antisemitism that you’ve experienced, that someone you know has experienced, or that you have read about.
How antisemitism has been defined:
The following texts offer a range of explanations and examples of antisemitism. We recommend that you read Text 1 together and discuss. Then, choose 2 or more of the rest of the texts to share with your group. The texts are also available in a downloadable word version here.
Invite a volunteer to read this text:
“Antisemitism, as is the case with prejudice, exists independently of any action by Jews. Sometimes an accusation against a particular Jew, or even a group of Jews, may be correct. There are some Jews who are obsessed with money or who mistreat their employees. But the same can be said about certain non-Jews. Saying that ‘of course X is obsessed with money; he’s a Jew, isn’t he?’ is antisemitic. Antisemitism is not the hatred of people who happen to be Jews. It is hatred of them because they are Jews.”
“[Here’s another way to think about antisemitism:] Imagine that someone has done something you find objectionable. You may legitimately resent the person because of his or her actions or attitudes. But if you resent him even an iota more because this person is Jewish, that is antisemitism.”
– Deborah Lipstadt
- What’s your reaction to these two passages?
- What questions do you have?
- How does it compare to other ways you’ve heard people talk about antisemitism?
Now, choose 2 or more of the following texts to share with your group. Ask participants to sit in groups of 2-3 and assign each small group one of the texts to focus on.
“Today, sometimes antisemitism is religious in form, focused on Jews as heretical non-believers [because Jews don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah], sometimes it is driven by specific myths and stereotypes about Jews, and sometimes it’s racial, rooted in the idea that there is something fixed and inherently, biologically wrong with Jews. Usually it’s a little bit of each.” – Understanding Antisemitism, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
The term “anti-Semitism” was introduced by a Jew-hater, Wilhelm Marr, when he founded the “League of Anti-Semites” in Germany in 1879. He believed that Jewishness posed a lethal threat to German-ness, to Germany, and to the entire western-world. Marr believed that Jews had inexplicably survived in the modern world because of “semitism:” a biological characteristic that not even conversion could erase. Marr’s paranoid idea, common to all Jew-hatred, including contemporary Jew-hatred, was that Jews are demonically strong and threatening. – Shulamit S. Magnus (paraphrased from https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-plea-against-anti-semitism/)
“What’s curious about anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism is how it can be put to work by many societies that really have nothing to do with living Jews or Judaism. Let me give you an example…in 2001, in mid-September, I was heading to New York City to give a talk at N.Y.U. It was the day George W. Bush was speaking at Ground Zero. There were only two other people on the subway car, and they were trying to explain to each other why this new kind of terror had struck New York. They had two answers for each other. One said that it was the Jews’ greed, and that the Jews had turned New York into a symbol of capitalism, and that’s why everybody hates us, and the other said, yes, and because they killed Christ.” – David Nirenberg
“It is dangerous if on the right [of the political spectrum] we think that only the left is antisemitic because of the critique of Israel and if, on the left, you think that only the right is antisemitic because of white nationalism. The real danger is imagining that it is only the other where antijudaism is doing its work and thereby not being able to see it in your own [community].” – David Nirenberg
“Antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White Nationalism…Contemporary antisemitism does not just enable racism, it also is racism, for in the White Nationalist imaginary Jews are a race – the race – that presents an existential threat to Whiteness.” – Eric Ward (from Skin in the Game)
- What’s your reaction to these texts about antisemitism? What’s surprising or troubling? What questions do you have?
- What, if anything, is missing from the definitions you just heard?
- How, if at all, do you think your understanding of antisemitism has changed in recent years?
- What questions do you have about antisemitism?
Antisemitism is complicated – in the ways that it manifests and in the ways that people define it. Antisemitism takes many forms which are often contradictory. For instance, there is an antisemitic idea that Jews are cheap AND there is also the Jewish American Princess stereotype that suggests Jewish women love to spend money. Additionally, there are complexities in the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Some people say that any anti-Zionism is without a doubt antisemitism, and others believe the two aren’t the same. Antisemitism can be understood differently based on who it is coming from or being interpreted by. Some questions that people have asked about antisemitism are: How should we understand the relationship between antisemitism and racism? Is unintentional antisemitism still antisemitism? What role does the Holocaust have in modern conversations about antisemitism? These are all complicated questions. It’s normal to have a lot of complicated, perhaps contradictory feelings and questions about antisemitism.
- Write on your index cards a question that is still sitting with you.
Antisemitism & emotions
In this section, participants will have the chance to share and process their emotions related to antisemitism and recent antisemitic attacks.
Invite participants to turn to a partner and share:
- How do you feel, in reaction to what’s been happening in the world – and in the US, particularly, in terms of antisemitism?
- When, if ever, have you or someone you know encountered antisemitism? What was that experience like? How, if at all, does it affect how you view antisemitism today?
Hand out the emotions wheel and invite participants to plot how they feel on the wheel.
Notice the other emotions that are connected to the emotion you are feeling. Which of these do you connect with? Which of them don’t you connect with?
Share the following texts with the group (available here in a downloadable word document). Each of these texts have to do with the different ways people react emotionally to the recent uptick in antisemitic violence. You can either share all these texts or choose one or two to share. We recommend handing out each text and inviting people to read and discuss them in havruta.
No, We Aren’t Seeing the Return of Nazi Germany by Deborah E. Lipstadt
- Many people say when faced with contemporary antisemitism, “This is just like Germany in the 1930s”
- The people who say this are coming from a place of fear and confusion.
- Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University, has written a new book on antisemitism and has traveled throughout North America and other parts of the world. She is also afraid of antisemitism.
- She says the contrast between the situation of German Jews of the Third Reich and today is that during the Third Reich the government was the source of antisemitism. Today, the situation is precisely the opposite in the vast majority of countries. When tragedy strikes, political leaders are quick to condemn these acts.
- In the wake of more recent events, leaders of France, Germany, England, the United States among others have continued to make these two points: these attacks are not just unacceptable, but they are attacks on the essence of the nation. This is a striking contrast, not just to the Third Reich, but to all previous eras in western history. Jews in the Third Reich were abandoned by their government. Today increasing numbers of government officials are beginning to recognize that these attacks are a threat to the democracy they have been empowered to defend.
- What is the main message of this article?
- How does Deborah Liptstadt’s message make you feel?
- What questions do you have in response to this article?
Text 2 & 3
NPR- Jewish Perspectives on Recent Anti-Semitic Violence:
Sarah Hurwitz (Filmmaker and writer in Northern California who identifies as African American and Jewish):
“I’m feeling just a sense of heartbreak and frustration because I think that so often, the narrative about Judaism in the media is something to the effect of Israel plus anti-Semitism equals Judaism. And, of course, those are two very important issues. But, like, we also have 4,000 years of extraordinary theological insight, ethical wisdom, holidays, lifecycle rituals.
And when the only storylines about Jews and Judaism in the media are these really controversial, upsetting stories about people hurting us – it’s discouraging, and it’s tough. And I think it’s what a lot of Jews are focusing on now. And I sometimes feel like the rest of Judaism, all of the great things that we bring to the world, don’t get as much attention.”
“I think for these two recent attacks, a lot of the conversation has been around black perpetrators of these, like, hate crimes. And I think for black folks in the Jewish community, we’re just as impacted by this violence. But at the same time, there’s another set of concerns that we’re also dealing with, which is, like, the way that these conversations are racialized and that black folks are not considered part of the Jewish community in a lot of people’s assumptions. So that’s always something that’s important to push back against.
And there’s also some preexisting issues. Just like the violence against Orthodox Jews was a preexisting issue, there’s also a preexisting issue of anti-black racism that is everywhere in the United States and, of course, part of Jewish communities. And these kinds of things can get really inflamed when the tensions are being – you know, occurring across racial lines.”
Eli Steinberg (a member of an Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey and an ordained rabbi who is not currently affiliated with a congregation)
“What frustrated me the most was that this has been going on – this other-ization of visibly Orthodox Jews and basically practicing Jews who are identifiable. And people really didn’t seem to care. And it’s a shame that it took such extreme stories like the shooting in Jersey City and the stabbing rampage in the rabbi’s house over Hanukkah, which brought it to the public’s consciousness that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
The morning after the stabbing in Monsey, I had a conversation with my wife about allowing my children to walk to synagogue unaccompanied – you know, just around the corner – because it sort of exposes the reality that anywhere you go as a visibly Orthodox Jew, there might be people out there who would see that as an opportunity to do us harm.
The other sort of conversations that we had – I’m very fearful of people who try to turn this into sort of a racial thing because this anti-Semitism that’s kind of a wave in the country – it’s not about black people. It’s not about white people. Those are all different streams that have been doing stuff to us under the umbrella of anti-Semitism.”
- What stands out to you about what Eli and Sarah said? How do their perspectives relate or compare to your own perspective?
- How, if at all, do you think your identity (e.g. your race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.) and the Jewish community you belong to affect your reaction to recent antisemitic attacks?
Antisemitism is the Reason for my Millennial Burnout:
“I had a crying breakdown several days after the Poway synagogue shooting. I was trying to push down my anger, sadness, and fear …in order to focus on figuring out grad school financial aid, apartment hunting, and last-minute logistics around a protest where police were threatening to arrest activists. My best efforts to ‘keep it together’ failed.
Several days later, I found myself comforting a friend of mine as they sobbed on my bathroom floor because they were terrified that they’d be run over by a car on their walk to synagogue.
I have three months of mail I’ve never opened and a host of voicemails I’ve never listened to. I hit the snooze button at least five times every morning, am exhausted all day, and use both good coping mechanisms (medication, therapy, a strong support network of family and friends) and bad ones (eating my feelings, drinking, impulse shopping) to deal with the unending onslaught of, well, everything….
Anti-Semitism is the background hum of my daily life. It presents itself as nagging questions and gruesome hypotheticals, and the nonstop exhausting work of trying to convince gentiles to care about it. I am constantly frustrated by the fact that no one seems to care about Jewish people or anti-Semitism unless Jewish people remind them repeatedly that we exist.”
- How does this author feel in response to antisemitism? Can you relate? Why/who not?
- This author writes that antisemitism is the “background hum” of her daily life. What is your reaction? Is this something you experience with antisemitism? What, if anything is the “background hum” of your life?
What do I do?
In this section, participants will have a chance to reflect on what they can do in response to antisemitism, and what they would like their community to do.
Prepare paper signs with the following ways of responding to antisemitism written on them. Hang those signs around the room.
- Talk to Jewish adults or friends about what I am experiencing.
- Talk to non-Jewish adults or friends about what I am experiencing.
- Learn more about antisemitism or Judaism.
- Coalition building with non-Jewish groups: Join interfaith or social justice groups that work to combat prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.
- Coalition building with Jewish groups: become more involved in Jewish youth organizations in your community
- Attend a march like the recent Solidarity March against antisemitism.
- Notice antisemitism when you encounter it and speak up about it. For example, post about it, write about it, or speak to a teacher or other adult about it.
- Show Jewish pride by wearing Jewish stars, seeking out art and entertainment written/produced by Jewish people, or purposefully joining communities with other Jews.
- Be more aware of security concerns in Jewish spaces.
- Go to services more often, become more involved in religious and spiritual life, attend Shabbat dinners, strengthen your relationship with Jewish prayer and practice.
- Learn more about Israel (by visiting Israel or becoming involved in Israel related politics or culture), giving money to Israeli organizations, or moving to Israel.
- Choose to be less visibly Jewish or distance yourself from your Jewish identity or from Jewish community out of fear or confusion or discomfort
There are different ways Jews respond to antisemitism including, but not limited to what is written on the signs around the room.
Round 1: Invite participants to walk around the room and read all of the signs. Then, ask them to stand next to the sign that represents the activity they see themselves doing the most in response to antisemitism. They also have the option to stand next to “Other.” Ask them to share why they stood where they stood.
Round 2: Then, invite them to stand next to the sign representing what they want to do more of (it’s possible this will be the same sign).
- What on the papers around the room would help you feel most strong, hopeful, and/or happy?
- What could we do in this group that would help us support each other?
Facilitator’s Tip: As you ask these questions, point out that sometimes Jews might distance themselves from Judaism or choose to be less visibly Jewish out of fear. It is totally okay some people in the room have responded to antisemitism in this way, as it’s a very human reaction. Invite these participants to consider how they might also respond to antisemitism in ways that make them feel strong, hopeful, and connected to their Jewish identities.
Invite participants to each share an emotion they are currently feeling or to share something that they wrote on their index card during the session.
Share the following closing prayer before blowing out the candle:
As we end today’s meeting, we may be feeling heavy emotions in response to antisemitic attacks: anger, sadness, fear, despair, confusion. Within all of that, may we find strength and hope both inside the Jewish community and from our allies outside of the Jewish community.
Additional resources for “What exactly is antisemitism” discussion:
Antizionism and antisemitism:
How Antisemitism rises on the right and left
- This article features an interview with David Nirenberg, the dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, who has written extensively on the history of antisemitism.
- One of the questions the interviewer asks is “to what extent can anti-Jewish violence be tied to other hate crimes and to what extent should it be understood as having a distinct history and motivations?”
- Nirneberg says that he hates to distinguish between different forms of prejudice or hate, but he says he does think antisemitism is distinct in certain ways.
- what’s curious about antisemitism or antijudaism is how it can be put to work by many societies that really have nothing to do with living Jews or Judaism.
- Deborah Lipstadt said it is not worth distinguishing between right-wing and left-wing antisemitism because they rely on the same stereotypical elements.
- Nirneberg says he thinks it is dangerous if those on the right think that only the left is antisemitic because of the critique of Israel and if those on the left think that only the right is antisemitic because of white nationalism. The real danger is imagining that it is only the other where antijudaism is doing its work and thereby not being able to see it in your own affinity group.
Additional resources for the “what do I do?” section:
How to Protect New York’s Jews – concrete steps that combat antisemitic violence by Mitchell D. Silber
- 1/3 of recent antisemitic attacks in New York have been committed by people with histories of psychiatric problems. These arrests should be formally evaluated to determine whether other intervention is necessary.
- New York City and state must work together to treat mental health issues as the serious threat they are.
- Almost 2/3 of attacks in NYC are committed by juveniles who are local residents.
- The Jewish community must be proactive in protecting itself.
Why no one can talk about the attacks against Orthodox Jews by Batya Ungar-Sargon
- There have been an increasing amount of horrific antisemitic attacks affecting the Ultra-Orthodox communities in New York City.
- After the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue and the shul in Poway, California, people have talked about how the great threat to Jews is white supremacy – the political right, and the “right’s avatar in the White House” that was to blame for rising levels of hate against Jews.
- But the majority of perpetrators of the Brooklyn attacks and suspects in Jersey City were not white, leaving people at a loss about how to explain it or talk about it. In these cases, the conventional enemies are not to blame.
- This has resulted in shameful silence when it comes to speaking out on behalf of what Ungar Sargon calls the “wave of pogroms” against the Orthodox. She says this is not acceptable. The Jewish community’s most visible, vulnerable members need Americans to stand up and say “no more.” They need us to climb out of our trenches and find common ground to fight this ugly resurgence of anti-Jewish hatred.