OpinionSchools & Higher Education

How to help Jewish children around the world be safer at school

Six tips to help students of all ages be better prepared to face antisemitism.

A school classroom. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A school classroom. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Lynne Azarchi. Credit: Courtesy.
Lynne Azarchi
Lynne Azarchi is founder of the Kidsbridge Youth Center in New Jersey and author of Countering Antisemitism & Hate: A How-To Guide for Youth, Family & Educators.

While we all watched in horror the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish protests on campuses across America, communal leaders found themselves befuddled about viable solutions: Do we fight back? Encourage students to run away? Confront the aggressors, and risk harm and safety?

As educators who have researched the best strategies for combating antisemitism and hatred for more than 20 years, we are well aware of the debilitating fear that overtakes students, teachers and parents when faced with threats and outright violence.

At the same time, we acknowledge that waiting until incidents happen is far too late. We must prepare our children early on by having serious talks about ways to safely combat antisemitism. Shockingly, acts of antisemitism have skyrocketed since the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, and the statistics are foreboding: According to data by the New York City Police Department published in the New York Post, antisemitic hate crimes are up 45% in 2024 (as of April 2024) and been increasing ever since, often first documented on social media.

This means that students are likely to encounter some form of hatred based solely on their being Jewish. It is time that we—as concerned parents, grandparents, educators, camp directors and beyond—start working together to prepare our youth, even children as young as kindergarten age, for hate, bias and tropes so that they are equipped to handle it in safety.

Planting the seeds at such a young age may come as a shock. However, there is a pipeline of preparedness that begins as early as 4 or 5 years of age. Unless this pipeline is continuous, unpreparedness results. We have witnessed this today when Jewish college students are caught off-guard when encountering antisemitism and knowing how to respond without harm to themselves. Looking further, we have discovered that Jewish high school students are often unprepared, as are Jewish students in middle and elementary school. Addressing these issues of unpreparedness is quickly becoming increasingly prudent.

A recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that antisemitism is most prevalent among Millennials (born 1981-1996) in seven countries with significant Jewish populations, with Millennials and Generation Z (born 1997-2012) showing the least favorable views of Israel. In contrast, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) tend to hold more favorable views. If these findings are predictions of what’s to come, then what we’ve seen thus far is only the beginning.

Through our workshops teaching against hatred, antisemitism and bias towards minorities, children and teens have learned numerous techniques that they have used and validated as successful. Most of these techniques require the school and family to be partners in confronting these issues, but active participation at home is absolutely essential.

Here are your tips:

  1. Be a T.E.A.M. with your family. T.E.A.M = Together Eradicate Antisemitism Momentum. In short, this means dedicating time as a family/group to sit together and discuss strengths, motivations and emotions related to reducing antisemitism. Be an active listener; share stories about when you as a parent or grandparent encountered antisemitic taunts, comments or violence. Research shows that voicing these personal anecdotes takes away feelings of shame or embarrassment that youngsters may have about an incident. Remember: You are stronger together!
  • Practice calm and assertive behavior. Calming the body and mind is the first crucial step for success in any effective strategy used to push back against antisemitism. Deep breathing (belly breaths) forms the foundation of most calming techniques. The next step is to choose an assertive style of communication, not aggressive or passive.
  • Practice together on an ongoing basis. When learning strategies to counter antisemitism, one-and-done NEVER works well. Responding to antisemitism is a skill that improves with practice. The benefits of practice are higher quotients of preparedness, perseverance, mastery and confidence. Preparedness also builds Jewish identity. Make a set time to meet and discuss these issues on an ongoing basis.
  • Encourage Jewish pride and positive Jewish identity = empowerment. As a parent, consider accepting the responsibility of increasing Jewish knowledge and pride before your children graduate from high school. With your family, choose three ways to express your Jewish heritage journey. Whatever you decide, concentrate on having fun and embracing Judaism’s gifts.
  • Involve your child’s school. Has your child been scared to go to school this past year? Have they heard antisemitic threats? Comments? Time to meet with the principal and guidance counselor. These meetings will likely be more effective when other concerned parents participate. Start by asking your friends if they are passionate about this issue and, if so, invite them to join you for a premeeting to plan out the talking points and divide up responsibilities.

College is not the time to guide students in ways to confront antisemitism. Frankly, it’s too late. Students are caught off-guard and are not safe. They need not be bystanders; we must teach them how to be “upstanders,” or people who have the inner fortitude, courage and knowledge to confront these vicious haters and report them.

In the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel: “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes, we must interfere.”

Now that summer vacation is here, use this time to devise a plan with your family and children’s school about ways to address antisemitic rhetoric or acts if and when they occur. We may not be able to reverse the tides of today’s zeitgeist, but we can model and teach the next generation how to stand up to those who rage against Jews and Israel.

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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