When asked to attend Brandeis University’s Schusterman Centre for Israel Studies’ conference,From Anti-Zionism to Anti-Semitism: Preparing High School Students for the New Reality, I found myself full of trepidation. As a longstanding educator and parent of soon to be university- bound teenagers, I realized that I had no true concept of what evils students could potentially face once they leave the insulated worlds of TanenbaumCHAT and home. Like many, I engage in current events, social media, and see the increasing frequency of posts of anti-Semitic acts in the world. I feel outrage and disgust that history’s lessons don’t seem to last long, but inevitably, I scroll on. Profound disappointment accompanies me as I go through my feeds, and I choose desensitization over fear, for these abhorrent acts, slurs, and sentiments scare me terribly. I contemplated the option of not attending, choosing to deliberately remain comfortable in my stoicism; but in the end, responsibility outweighed fear, and off I went, for better or for worse.
Students from Brown University, Brandeis University, Stanford University and TanenbaumCHAT Kimel Campus alumnus, Esther Oziel ’14, from Queen’s University, opened my eyes to the scope of the problem when they shared their personal experiences with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on their respective campuses. They chronicled the overt and subtle obstacles Jewish students face in lecture halls with opinionated faculty members; on the quads of campuses at political rallies and student government initiatives; and in various social and media contexts. Needless to say, they confirmed my initial trepidation. There is no easy way to say this: there is legitimate reason for concern.
Professor Emerita at Harvard University, Ruth Wisse, framed the discussion, identifying the functions of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, postulating that each has the ability to unite enemy factions; deflect attention from domestic crises and refocus the blame on Israel; forge international coalitions using a common enemy; and use Jews as a surrogate to oppose Western values. The political stage was set. With this paradigm, I was able to assuage my emotional responses, and confront the issues students face, with reason, academia, and logic.
The conversation progressed into theoretical considerations, historical commentaries, media perspectives, the Israeli cultural dimension, and the legalities of anti-Semitism. There is clearly much to discuss. And discuss we did. Colleagues from across North America shared strategies, experiences, perspectives and ideas. This was collaboration at its best, with remarkable minds set to the task of bringing home the message that there is much work to be done. I am no longer afraid. Rather, I am motivated, dare I say inspired, to share my new-found knowledge with my students, colleagues and TanenbaumCHAT parents, so we can face the task of preparing our students for their post-secondary journey without fear.
Staff from TCK and TCW with Esther Oziel (Class of 2014) at conference on anti-Semitism on college and university campuses.