Understanding Antisemitism and Combating It

The Kent State University community attended a virtual event on March 19 in which Rabbi Michael Ross, senior Jewish educator at Hillel at Kent State, gave an overview on the role of antisemitism, how to combat it and its impact on the Jewish community on campus and worldwide.

The “Understanding and Combating Antisemitismdiscussion was a continuation of the yearlong initiative “Dialogue and Difference: A New Understanding, designed to engage the Kent State community and advance our core values of freedom of expression, respect and kindness in all we do.

The Division of People, Culture and Belonging is partnering with the School of Peace and Conflict Studies and the Division of Student Life to deliver the series of educational programs that features diverse perspectives and aims to help us better understand each other.

Yvonna Washington-Greer, Ph.D., assistant vice president of equity, identity and success in the Division of Student Life, introduced Ross and Sandra Morgan, director of strategic partnerships and outreach for the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State, who was the moderator.

Ross is an adjunct instructor in the Jewish Studies department at Kent State and Siegel College, and the pulpit rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson for the past six years. He will be teaching "Hebrew Bible as Literature" this fall at Kent State. 

Before the discussion began, Morgan cited statistics from the Anti-Defamation League that reflect the rise in Jewish tropes and stereotypes:

  • More than 42 percent of Americans have friends or family who dislike Jewish people. 
  • Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. have increased by 388 percent. 
  • In the same time frame, Islamophobic incidents have increased by 216 percent.

During the event, Morgan read excerpts from the booklet “A Very Brief Guide to Antisemitism, and Ross discussed those excerpts. 

The booklet examined various antisemitic tropes including claims that Jews are all-powerful behind world events; claims that Jews love money; claims that Jews are untrustworthy and more loyal to Israel and that Jews are evil.

Ross said when you are trying to reality check if this is factual or overblown you can see where the primary stereotypes originate.

Rabbi Ross of Hillel Kent State discussed understanding and combatting antisemitism.

The booklet gave a historical overview of antisemitism and how it began as religious antisemitism about 1,000 years after the birth and death of Jesus. It then moved to a more nationalistic or racialized view of antisemitism.

“The shift from religious persecution to racial persecution becomes the new idea that gives Adolph Hitler a new perspective,” Ross said of the Holocaust, which was the most destructive episode of antisemitism in history. The Nazi party exterminated 6 million Jews.

This background helped set the stage for expressions of antisemitism that we see here today, Ross said.

According to the booklet, from America’s earliest days, white-appearing Jews were allowed to own property and slaves and Jewish men could enjoy full citizenship, but at the same time they faced public discrimination including legal restrictions in some state constitutions and quotas in higher education. 

The booklet also suggested five guidelines for responding to antisemitic tropes:

  • Exercise emotional intelligence – Leaders should tend to the emotional needs of affected Jews and non-Jewish communal partners. 

  • Educate – Mistakes happen. Non-Jewish allies may not understand that a casual comment is rooted in antisemitism.

  • Build trusting relationships – It takes time to build trusting relationships. Connections should be formed before a crisis.

  • Consider legal recourse – In some instances, there may be legal recourse in response to discrimination or hate speech.

  • Don’t ignore antisemitism – Do not shy away from calling out antisemitism.  

POSTED: Tuesday, March 19, 2024 04:24 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2024 09:53 AM
April McClellan-Copeland