Teen Perspectives: Antisemitism & Teen Wellbeing

In preparation for our Antisemitism & Teen Wellbeing webinar, we asked five Kol Koleinu fellows who are part of a new Teen Board to share their advice for adults about how to support teens in responding to antisemitism. The Kol Koleinu Teen Board is led by Noa Glezer and includes Emily Levine, Halleli Abrams Gerber Nadine Katz, and Rachel Penzner.

How can I help teens stand up for themselves when they experience antisemitism and how can I help them stand up for others?

It is extremely important to let your teen know that you hear them and want to help. When adults absentmindedly nod their head and don’t pay attention, your teen feels unheard and like their problems are unimportant.

Share strategies with your teen on how to deal with antisemitism and stand up for themselves. Teens value your advice and your experience. We want to learn as much as we can from you. When you share your experience with us, we gain new insight on how to deal with antisemitism and how to stand up for ourselves. 

First, make sure to listen. Jumping to problem-solving can feel invalidating or demeaning. Listening both encourages your teen to speak and helps them to organize their thoughts so they can take action for themselves. Thank them for sharing with you – it’s not simple.

Second, encourage them to reach out in whatever capacity is possible. Help them find resources – but only if they are willing to have your involvement. Remember that they are the ones experiencing antisemitism, and they can choose how to react. Obviously do not allow them to endanger themselves, but if there is a way to engage in discussion, take it.

If your child can respond in a safe way, remind them the importance of what they are doing (not from a victimization standpoint but the importance of being proud of their identity).

Antisemitism can be isolating, especially if they are not in a predominantly Jewish place, so helping them feel connected to a community that understands (beyond parents), especially of similar age, can be really meaningful.

Help them engage their empathy. One of the best parts of growing up in the twenty-first century is the myriad of platforms for self-expression. Embrace it.

It is extremely valuable to teach your teen to advocate for themselves. While it is useful to have help from a trusted adult or a parent, the most empowering way to help your teen is to give them the skills and resources they need to stand up for themself. An important step is to make sure that you and your teen can have open and honest conversations. Ask your teen what they are witnessing and experiencing in their daily life, then talk about potential next steps together.

It can be so difficult to stand up for yourself, especially as a teen, but I’ve found that by having adults who care and want to help, and can listen to what you are going through, and are willing to help solve the problem, that makes all the difference. As the parent it is your responsibility to stand up and care for your child when they are getting hurt, especially in this way. 

How does antisemitism affect teens’ Jewish identity?

Unfortunately, antisemitism plays a big part in your teens’ expression of their Jewish identity. Many teens feel uncomfortable or unsafe sharing their Judaism with others because they are scared of antisemitic acts. I for one feel scared to wear a star of David necklace, because I do not want to be singled out and bullied for my Judaism. Judaism should be something that you share with others and bond with others over. But, because of antisemitism everywhere, Jewish teens are afraid to do so. 

Antisemitism can make your teen feel ashamed of their Jewish identity, afraid for their safety, and very alone. Internalizing antisemitism can also lead to narratives of being undeserving or feeling annoying or deserving of self-hatred.

Antisemitism is harmful to a teen’s confidence, identity, and connection to Judaism. It puts teens in a situation in which they may feel guilty about being Jewish. Antisemitism can cause your teen to fear associating with Judaism. It is important that as parents and guardians, you show your teen that it is okay to embrace Judaism. This can mean having Shabbat dinner’s once a week (or once a month), attending high holiday services together, celebrating Jewish holidays together, and talking about the history of Judaism in your family.

It makes us feel small and of less importance. People picking fun and hurting Jews can be so harmful to our identity. By being there and listening to the problem and being open to the discussion makes a huge difference. As well as being a responsible adult and taking care of the problem, when sometimes we cannot do the same, we sometimes are not taken as seriously.

When I hear about antisemitism happening at my child’s school, what is my responsibility as a parent?
  1. As a parent, the first thing you should do is to make sure that your child is okay. Before taking any action, you must talk to your child about their experience. It is your job as a parent to ensure that your child is mentally and physically safe. The next thing you need to do is to assess the situation. Is my child in danger? Are other Jewish children in danger? Does anyone in power know about this? Who is being antisemitic- kids or teachers? Upon learning these facts, you are more equipped to take action. Next, you should probably talk to the school. This can be uncomfortable, but it is important to let the authorities know what is going on so it does not turn into something violent. 
  2. That depends on the perpetrator (if an adult/teacher, reach out to the administration. This is discrimination from an adult to child. If a student, help your teen broach the subject. Typically that is easier than launching an entire interrogation)
    • Once again, encourage open conversation. Antisemitism usually comes from ignorance. Help your child (and if necessary the school) with finding accurate and comprehensive resources.
    • Your responsibility is first to your child. To be present with them and listen to their comfort level. If this is part of larger bias and/or bigotry, then it may be useful to connect to people in power.
  3. Your first step should be talking with your child. How are they feeling about it? Have they ever been attacked for being Jewish? Are any teachers aware of the situation? If no teachers are aware of this situation, encourage them to reach out to a trusted teacher or someone on administration. As a parent, if your child is scared to talk to a teacher, you should report the inappropriate behavior to the school. It is not okay to allow this type of harmful behavior to continue.
  4. Reach out to both the teachers, for allowing this behavior to happen, and reach out to the district or school because hating against a certain group is not justifiable, it is unjust and should be treated as such.
What is it important that adults know about how teens are experiencing antisemitism today?
  1. Antisemitism comes in many different forms, many of them subtle. Your child may be experiencing antisemitism on social media, in person, etc. Additionally, your child may be scared to speak up/may think that it is not that big of a deal. You need to make sure that your child feels safe and comfortable in order to share their experiences with you. Overall, antisemitism is everywhere and it is important to make sure your child is safe at all times.
  2. Adults should know most of the antisemitism teen may experience is online. It may be through infographics insinuating the “greedy Jews want to take over Israel to expand oil empires” or anonymous comments perpetuating stereotypes. 
    We are so polarized today, and, because of social media, everyone is expected to comment on every issue. It can be difficult to hold complexities, and misinformation is everywhere.
    We shouldn’t have to justify our Judaism and/or our range of opinions on Israel, but it’s expected regardless of what we say.
  1. Unfortunately, antisemitism is everywhere. Social media has allowed antisemitism and other harmful ideologies to spread into our daily life. Show your teen the positive benefits of a Jewish community. Allow your teen to form their own connections to Judaism, and encourage them to participate in your local Jewish community.
  2. Due to the use of social media, antisemitism is growing crazily among us. By allowing your teens to connect with Judaism, as well as to socialize with those who come from the same ideals as them can make a huge positive impact.

See more takeaways from Moving Traditions’ webinar: Antisemitism, Teen Wellbeing & the Pedagogy of Difficult Conversations