As a middle school student in a New York City public school, I couldn’t help but notice that while we’ve learned about many important events throughout history and relevant current events, we never once stopped to talk about the Holocaust or the rise of anti-Semitism. The Holocaust was arguably the largest genocide in human history, with 6 million innocent Jewish lives taken. Anti-Semitism is perhaps the most ancient and persistent form of discrimination for the past 2,000 years. In the largest public school system in the country, why has our education never included discussions of both the Holocaust and the very relevant rise of anti-Semitism occurring today?
Today it has become socially acceptable for anti-Semitism to get a “free pass.”
Nearly every day Jews are targeted in the form of various hate crimes and violence: synagogues are vandalized, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, while mass shootings and stabbings have increased significantly over the past few years. Have the Jewish people ever been truly safe? Why are they targeted and singled out over and over again throughout history? And more importantly: where is their movement? Jews have always been a major player in all social justice movements and at the forefront of defending the civil rights of all minorities. But in the fight against anti-Semitism, it often seems they are alone. Today it has become socially acceptable for anti-Semitism to get a “free pass.”
As the daughter and granddaughter of Iranian Jews who were exiled from Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I have heard the stories firsthand of how my family was forced to leave their homeland because of their religion. Having to start over in a new land with a new language was not easy for them, and they did not always feel welcomed or accepted. However, they persevered. It is a common story of the Jewish people, being exiled from their homes and having to start new lives away from the fear of persecution. As an American, a New Yorker, and a Jew, I feel I have a responsibility to use my voice to raise awareness and educate the misinformed so they too can understand the horrifying events that the Jewish people have experienced throughout history. For this reason, I chose to make a podcast on the rise of anti-Semitism.
For my podcast, I was privileged to interview three well-respected experts on the current rise of anti-Semitism: Steven Khadavi, the President of IAJF (Iranian American Jewish Federation), an organization dedicated to helping Jews and raising money for those in need in Israel; Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, one of the largest Jewish congregations in Manhattan; and White Rose’s Editor in Chief, Karen Lehrman Bloch, a journalist who has written many articles about Judaism and politics. One common theme they all agreed upon was that there is indeed a prevalent rise in anti-Semitism. They also all agreed that the root of the issue occurs throughout the education system: many schools are missing the moment to raise awareness.
“Education is the first way anti-Semitism can be countered,” said Steven Khadavi of IAJF. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it: anti-Semitism comes from a place of ignorance. I think it’s a result of people having stereotypes about Jews and perpetuating these stereotypes. As time goes on, one of the things that IAJF has done has been to support programs in colleges and universities specifically to combat anti-Semitism and BDS, the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, because I think college campuses have also gotten very dangerous for a number of reasons. I think that they are one area where we can really focus our effort. However, it starts even before then, so high schools, junior high schools, even elementary schools are all places where we can combat anti-Semitism and BDS. If we really start to educate the young, when kids get to college, they will have the tools ready to combat anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Cosgrove agrees that schools hold a key in educating our youth against bias and bigotry. “To always remember and to never forget is crucial to the prevention of further violence directed toward Jews occurring in the future. These past events should be talked about in schools as the education system holds a huge role in the rise of hate toward Jews. Although many people have suffered, Jews have been singled out by the Nazis and were exterminated by a genocidal number of 6 million. Six million lives were destroyed in the most violent, horrific ways. The lesson of the Holocaust was made to inform us on the action we should take when seeing genocide occurring anywhere else in the world, to any group of people regardless of religion. To say ‘never forget’ means that if we see another person or a group of people being discriminated against due to their race, religion, or creed, we have a special responsibility as Jews and as human beings to remember the lesson of the Holocaust and make sure it never happens again.”
Karen Lehrman Bloch holds an interesting opinion on the issues being presented throughout the education system. “Teachers need to understand the difference between education and indoctrination, and they shouldn’t be teaching students their personal opinions. It was and should be considered unethical for teachers to be expressing their personal opinions in the classroom. Like all forms of racism, anti-Semitism is taught. Nobody is born anti-Semitic; nobody is born a racist. Sadly, many of our universities today are teaching students to be anti-Semitic. At the very least, many are teaching students to think that Israel is an illegitimate state, but anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.”
Another theme presented through all three interviews was that anti-Semitism is as dangerous today as it has been throughout history because it has become normalized for people not to speak out against it. It is our moral obligation to speak out against any form of hatred or discrimination that we hear or see. No matter our religion or political views.
It is with our silence that the problem grows. Staying silent is, in a way, like forgetting.
My hope is that all schools across the country include the Holocaust as part of their lesson plan when discussing history. My wish is for all people, including my generation, to speak up when they witness or hear anything that skews anti-Semitic—whether it be on social media or in their own education system. It is with our silence that the problem grows. “Never Forget” means we have to remember. It means we must talk about it. It means we must learn. It means we must speak up and call out any form of anti-Semitism we witness. Because staying silent is, in a way, like forgetting. And if we really mean to Never Forget, then we need to use our voices and take action in any way we can.
My personal plan is to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak with the students at my public school so they too can learn. While this won’t change the world, maybe it will help create important conversations that seem to have been ignored, and maybe it’s a step in making sure incidents of anti-Semitism are prevented in the future.