Preventing Antisemitism in our Michiana Community
Recent antisemitic events involving well-known celebrities have drawn widespread attention to a disturbing trend in American society. We have seen this develop over the past several years: the resurgence of antisemitism. According to the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), “Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021… This represents the highest number of incidents on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979…”
In order to raise awareness of the problem, On Tuesday evening, February 21st at 7:00 PM, we will be co-sponsoring an important presentation at the St. Joseph County Public Library featuring Trent Spoolstra, Associate Regional Director for the Midwest office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The title of his talk: The State of Antisemitism.
In regard to the broader strategy of preventing antisemitism in our community, there are several ongoing efforts, both from our Federation and our community partners. First and foremost is Holocaust education for our local schools.
Dr. Robert Rozett, senior historian at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, said, “We see education as the long-term and perhaps most profound tool in our battle against modern-day antisemitism.”
For more than 25 years, Temple Beth-El’s Kurt and Tessye Simon Fund for Holocaust Remembrance has been a pioneer in Holocaust education in our local schools. Through the widespread distribution of the powerful documentary, The People Next Door, students in our community have seen a human face of the victims of the Holocaust through the moving stories of local survivors. In addition, the fund’s Holocaust Art, Essay and Poetry contest helped engage students on a personal level. You can watch The People Next Door through this link.
In addition, the Federation’s Okon Family Endowment Fund for Holocaust Education has provided many engaging speakers on the Holocaust both for our community commemoration event on Yom Hashoah and for local schools.
Last year, our Jewish Federation initiated a Holocaust Education Speaker's Bureau to offer to local schools. The speakers include Shirlee Greenwald, Dan Ravitch, Sid Shroyer and Terry Tulchinsky. The more than one dozen presentations given by Shirlee and Dan in local schools had a major impact on students in sensitizing them to the dangers of racism and antisemitism.
You can visit the webpage of the Holocaust Education Speaker’s Bureau through this link.
To compliment the work of our Speaker’s Bureau, The Holocaust Remembrance Garden project, envisioned by Jewish Federation Executive Director Moshe Kruger, will greatly enhance our Federation’s ability to serve as a local center for Holocaust education and commemoration.
Another aspect of our strategy to prevent antisemitism is community engagement.
Under the leadership of chairperson Barbara Lerman, the Community Relations Committee (CRC) has made a significant investment of time and resources to engage with the wider community. These efforts send the message that our Jewish community is here to be a force for the good and welfare of the Michiana community.
CRC programs include our "Books for Kids" project for local mentoring programs for underserved communities and a new mentoring program at Monroe Elementary school.
Last year, through the combined efforts of Temple Beth-El, Sinai Synagogue and our Federation, our community fundraised over $17,000 for Afghan refugees who came to South Bend. By providing Catholic Charities and the United Religious Community with these funds, we enabled them to help the absorption of these new Americans.
Our Federation’s efforts at advocacy for Israel are crucial to preventing anti-Zionism in our community and on the Notre Dame campus. As we know from many college campuses across the country, anti-Zionism turns into antisemitism. Therefore, advocacy for Israel is an important part of our overall strategy.
Through the programs of the CRC and Partnership2Gether (P2G) committees, we host speakers and events that show a positive side of Israel not seen in the American media.
Over the past eight years, our Federation shlichim have given dozens of presentations in our community of “My Israeli Story.” Shirlee Greenwald’s own presentation shows our community a very human face and positive image of Israel.
Last year, CRC co-sponsored an event on the Notre Dame campus featuring representatives of the NGO Sharaka, that promotes peace between Israel and the Arab countries of the Abraham Accords. When an Arab citizen of the U.A.E. told the student audience that Arabs and Jews are “children of Abraham”, and that the Jewish people deserve a nation-state in the Middle East, we know we made a difference.
In November, our Federation’s P2G Committee, co-chaired by Cristyne Porile and Dave Ravitch, hosted "Women Leading a Dialogue" an interfaith delegation of Arab and Jewish women from Israel. “Coexistence Café”, the community event we hosted at the Federation, made a major contribution to this broader strategy.
And next March, Temple Beth-El’s Simon Foundation will be sponsoring an event, with the Federation as co-sponsor, featuring Dr. Khaled Attalla, Director of the Emergency Medicine Department at Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya. His presentation is titled, "Galilee Medical Center: a model for coexistence.” This program also comes to us through Partnership2Gether
With the support of our Jewish community, the combined impact of all of these programs can make a difference, but we need your support. If you would like to arrange for a speaker on Israel or the Holocaust for your child’s school, please contact us. If you hear or see an antisemitic incident, let us know.
Finally, maybe the best advice for confronting antisemitism came from CNN’s Dana Bash. In a powerful op-ed based on lessons from her son, she wrote, “It turns out that normalizing the practice of and pride in Judaism is one of the antidotes to prejudice – something that my young son understood innately”.