OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

Confronting the darkness of antisemitism

The fight against antisemitism requires us to engage with all four children, as noted in the Haggadah.

Passover table setting. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Passover table setting. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
William Daroff
William Daroff
​William Daroff is CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In that capacity, he is the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of the 50 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him at @Daroff

As Passover approaches, we prepare to retell the ancient story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah, at the center of the Passover seder, guides us through the tale. It recounts the miracles that enabled our ancestors to escape their enslavement and become a free people.

One of the most well-known parables of the Haggadah is of the Four Children, each of whom has a different way of engaging with the story of Passover. The Wise Child asks questions, the Wicked Child challenges, the Simple Child seeks to understand and the “child who does not know how to ask” needs guidance.

The tale of the Four Children is particularly pertinent today, as we confront the ongoing and multifaceted challenge of antisemitism. Each of the Four Children represents differing perspectives, from the wise and engaged to the wicked and apathetic. By examining their views and considering how they relate to the fight against antisemitism, we gain important insights into how best to combat this pernicious form of hatred.

As we know well, the Wise Child asks: “What is the meaning of the decrees, statutes and laws which the Lord our God commanded you?” This child is engaged and wants to make a difference, eager to understand the significance of Jewish tradition and practice. In the fight against antisemitism, the Wise Child represents those who are actively working to understand and combat the hatred and discrimination faced by Jewish people around the world.

The Wicked Child asks: “What is this worship to you?” By saying “to you,” we are taught that the child deliberately excludes themselves. This child represents those who are apathetic or even hostile towards the plight of the Jewish people, who fail to recognize the importance of combatting antisemitism.

It is essential to engage with these perspectives and work to counteract them through education and outreach efforts. By promoting greater understanding and tolerance, we can help to fight the hatred and prejudice that far too often metastasizes into wicked antisemitism.

The Simple Child asks: “What is this?” Eager to understand, this child may lack the knowledge or experience to fully grasp the significance of the story being told or the situation at hand. The Simple Child represents those who may be well-intentioned but need guidance, support, knowledge and education to better understand and combat hatred.

Finally, for the “child who does not know to ask,” the Haggadah teaches us to open the conversation to him or her. The fourth child represents those who may not even be aware of the dire threats facing the Jewish community. When addressing antisemitism, it is important to raise awareness and promote understanding of our shared challenges. By exchanging stories and experiences, we can help to engage more people in the fight against antisemitism and create a more inclusive and tolerant society.

One of the most important tools today in the fight against antisemitism is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is widely recognized as the most comprehensive and globally accepted definition of antisemitism to date.

The IHRA definition includes a range of examples of antisemitism, from Holocaust denial to the demonization of Israel, and provides a framework for understanding and combating this form of hatred.

Breaking down barriers in the workplace through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training is just as critical to the modern fight against antisemitism. In all of our efforts at the Conference of Presidents, we engage governments, organizations and individuals around the world in order to create a more unified and effective response to antisemitism.

The fight against antisemitism requires us to engage with all four children. We must appoint the Wise Child to lead the charge, to use their knowledge and passion to make a difference in the world. We must reach out to the Wicked Child, to educate and show them the dangers of ignorance and prejudice. We must provide the Simple Child with the necessary tools to recognize and confront antisemitism. And the “child who does not know to ask” must be given the opportunity to learn and grow.

We must also continue to educate ourselves and others, promote understanding and acceptance, and work towards a more inclusive and just society for all. By using tools such as the IHRA definition of antisemitism and doubling down on workforce training and K-12 education efforts, we will make progress in this necessary fight. The Haggadah teaches us a timeless lesson about the importance of telling our story and confronting the truth, and we must continue to do so in the fight against antisemitism.

William Daroff is the chief executive officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Follow him at @Daroff.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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