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Amendment to Oregon law adds teaching Jewish history in public schools

Although the state requires instruction about the Holocaust, “being Jewish should not be a World War II lesson,” a sixth-grader testified before the state legislature.

Oregon House of Representatives. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Oregon House of Representatives. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In a unanimous vote of the Oregon legislature, H.B. 2905 now adds Jews to the list of marginalized peoples, whose histories and contributions public schools must teach under state law.

The law, which state representatives passed in 2019, required that the public-school curricula address Native American, African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Chicano and Latino people, as well as those of Middle Eastern descent. The law also referenced women, those with disabilities, immigrants, refugees and LGBTQ people.

State Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis), who is Jewish, pushed to amend the bill to include Jewish people. He did so amid reported rises in antisemitism, he stated.

Also in 2019, the state passed a bill requiring teaching about genocides and the Holocaust. But supporters of the 2023 amendment sought to include instruction about Jewish achievements broadly, rather than just about the evils that have befallen Jews.

“Being Jewish should not be a World War II lesson,” Elkan Beinin, a sixth-grade student, testified before the legislature.

Antisemitism is a local concern in the state.

In 2022, a historic Portland synagogue was the target of fire and antisemitic graffiti. Last February, antisemitic fliers were distributed in Eugene, Ore. In 2021, vandals tagged a Holocaust memorial with antisemitic graffiti and wrote “Free Palestine” on three Israeli restaurants. And a professor at Linfield University in Oregon was awarded $1 million last month for wrongful termination, after he reported antisemitism at the university, including by the school president, among other offenses.

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