With the rise of anti-Semitic incidents parents should embrace having conversations with their children about these issues.
Recently, anti-Semitic incidents have not only been plaguing our country, but our Michigan communities as well. From neo-Nazi flyers hanging in the Clover Hill Park Cemetery to Michigan State University’s Hillel Sukkah being destroyed, there is a noticeable rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
From Sept. 11 to Oct. 6, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) surveyed American Jews’ attitudes toward anti-Semitism. 88% of participants view anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States and 84% believe anti-Semitism has increased over the past five years.
Lauren Herrin, the associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)/AJC here in Michigan, was not surprised with the results of this survey.
“In my position here at JCRC/AJC, I’m quite hyper-focused on the topic of anti-Semitism.” Herrin said. “These numbers confirm everything I’ve been reading — the increase of incidents, the increase of how terrifying these incidents have been and even the fact that a majority of people aren’t reporting incidents.”
While the numbers don’t lie, what do the results mean for younger generations who are growing up surrounded by these incidents? How can parents engage in conversations with their children to make sure they understand the principle of these acts?
Herrin has two young children: a 3-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.
“I believe when talking to your children about anti-Semitism, it is important to keep the discussion age appropriate and as basic as possible,” Herrin said. “My daughter has been very matter-of-fact about everything, but I think it’s important to do as much as you can to make it a learning moment.”
David Holden, President of Temple Jacob in Hancock that was vandalized at the end of September, has four kids: two in college, a senior in high school and a fifth-grader.
Holden makes it a point during dinner to talk about the day’s events and news. More often than not, anti-Semitism naturally comes up in conversation.
“Discussion of anti-Semitism is a basis for discussion of other social ills affecting minority populations,” Holden said. “Anti-Semitism is one facet of hate — one that is focused on us — but hardly unique in our culture. Thus, we cannot afford to witness the variety of social injustices and think it does not involve us.”
Holden believes that when talking to your children about anti-Semitism, you can’t allow it to become overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. He has two strategies that has worked for him with his children:
“First, a thorough grounding in the specific history of anti-Semitism and Jewish oppression over the past several thousand years and an equal grounding in the struggle that other populations have faced here and abroad,” Holden said. “Second, instill the knowledge that we have fought it and have overcome it repeatedly in our history.”
Along with Herrin, Holden stresses the power that education can have in these moments, especially with younger children. In addition, he believes that these hateful incidents can provide opportunities to instill the power of Torah.
“Speak proudly of being a Jew and the magnificent tradition of Torah in all its forms as a far reaching and relevant guide to living with meaning and intention,” Holden said.
Carolyn Normandin, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Michigan, encourages schools to bring the ADL into the classroom to have open discussions either proactively or after an incident happens.
“At ADL, we work in classrooms all the time, discussing bias with young people — not just bias against Jews — but bias that includes anti-Semitism, which is often overlooked when Jews and non-Jewish people are talking about the “list” of discrimination traits,” Normandin said.
When parents take the first step and encourage these conversations, children can begin to understand that there are ways to empower others and stand up to these hateful incidents.
If parents are struggling to find the right way to have these conversations with their children, the ADL website has an ‘Education” tab. There, you can find material on “Table Talks” which are family conversations about current events and books for children of all ages.