Cherie Brown, center, founder and CEO of the National Coalition Building Institute, trains seniors Gaby Roth and Sarah Parkes on how to engage in dialogue after hearing an anti-Semitic comment.

U-M Hillel facilitates training for administrators, student leaders, Jewish students.

Anti-Semitism takes on a new appearance in the modern day. It looks like divestment resolutions, isolation of the Jewish community from other social movements, and singling out Jewish people as the oppressor as an overgeneralization of power struggles that exist in Israel. These expressions are different than earlier expressions of anti-Semitism, such as drawing swastikas and imposing restrictions on Jewish people, but they still exist today, too.  

This past semester at the University of Michigan, a divestment resolution narrowly passed our Central Student Government (CSG). During the meeting, the language and actions in the CSG chambers kept pushing beyond respectful boundaries into an area of anti-Semitism that hurt many Jewish students. When this anti-Semitism was called out by Jewish students, those making the statements dismissed the claims. After the resolution passed, students expressed the need for education and conversation about anti-Semitism.

In the days following the vote, several university administrators began to reach out to the Hillel community to see how students were feeling and what could be done to support students on campus. During conversations, it quickly became apparent that the anti-Semitism that existed resulted from a lack of understanding and education about what anti-Semitism is today.

To address this lack of awareness, the U-M Hillel (of which I am chair of the Governing Board) worked on bringing an educator to campus who could train students to identify anti-Semitism and develop the skills to respond.

“We wanted to give Jewish students the tools to identify moments of anti-Semitism and to approach their peers from a place of compassion,” said Tilly Shames, U-M Hillel executive director. “We also wanted to respond to the request for training from university administration and the non-Jewish student leaders who find modern forms of anti-Semitism confusing. We developed this three-part series, led by Cherie Brown, founder and CEO of the National Coalition Building Institute [in Silver Spring, Md.], to reach all of our target audiences.”

All three groups were very supportive and grateful for the opportunity to learn more about anti-Semitism in its modern forms. CSG even unanimously passed a resolution written by Rep. Isabelle Baer to financially support its own training session.   

Breaking The Cycle

In her trainings, Brown spoke about the three defining characteristics of anti-Semitism: 1) targeting, blaming or singling out the Jewish people, 2) dividing social and progressive movements, which leads to, 3) isolation of the Jewish people. In addition, Brown spoke about the cyclical nature of anti-Semitism. There are times, such as hard economic periods, when anti-Semitism may appear often, and other times when it is less common. There are times when it is internalized, manifesting in comments, and times when it is outright, such as drawing a swastika.

Brown also taught about the circle of anti-Semitism. After a flare up of anti-Semitism, individuals respond with “scared active” reactions and actively fight back via demonstrations, articles, etc. These actions are then seen as aggressive and construed as racism. When labeled as racist, the advocate feels that response was another expression of anti-Semitism, which leads to perpetuation of the cycle.

In the training for the Jewish community, which I attended, Brown had us speak several times with peers about our experiences with anti-Semitism both on campus and in life in general. After acknowledging that we experienced anti-Semitism in our lives, we had the opportunity to role play through scenarios and learned how to best respond to anti-Semitic situations.

Brown encouraged us to think of the other person as a cup of water. She trained us to listen to the other person and ask them questions to “empty” their cup. This is best done by asking them questions such as, “Why do you think that?” and, after diffusing the situation by listening, then asking if they are interested in listening to why the statement felt hurtful. This process does not lead to the “scared active” continuation of the cycle and creates a learning environment for the person who made the initial statement.

I personally found the training to be very enlightening about what anti-Semitism looks like. Often questions and actions are triggering, but it can be difficult to identify why and then to address them. I learned what anti-Semitism is, why it’s confusing and the best way to confront a situation without aggravating it further.

This sentiment was echoed by Sarah Daniels, associate dean of students, who attended the training for administrators.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to engage in this conversation, to understand better how anti-Semitism shows up in the current day and to practice tools for addressing it directly,” she said.

When asked about the overall impact of the event, Shames said, “We are already seeing the impact of Cherie’s visit. After hearing of a new anti-Israel event about Richard Spencer’s praise for Israel as a ‘white nationalist’ state, several students who attended the training wrote an article for the Michigan Daily, reached out to peers running the event to discuss its hurtful nature and planned an alternative event. They felt empowered and equipped with new skills after Cherie Brown’s training.” @

Kendall Coden jewish@edu writer of West Bloomfield is a junior at the University of Michigan. She also serves as chair of
the U-M Hillel Governing Board.

Read more jewish@edu writers. Check out Jewish@edu – Learning From Failure.

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