According to a recent report, the majority of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York area — nearly two thirds of them — have been carried out by young people. Within the dark cloud of the distressing increase in such attacks, there are those who see a ray of hope — the possibility of sensitizing a young generation to the evils of hate, thereby possibly influencing views for decades.
Many see Holocaust education as an important part of the answer. On the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, a pilot program in New York is bringing public school students from three areas of Brooklyn where haredi Orthodox Jews and people of color live side by side — Williamsburg, Borough Park and Crown Heights — to the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in downtown Manhattan. Organizers hope that students from marginalized communities will empathize with prejudice against Jews once they see it, since they already know what it is to be “the other,” and understand the impact of being targeted simply because of your identity.
But not all agree. According to Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, “Such efforts are worthwhile, although one wonders whether the sort of young people committing violent crimes are terribly attentive students.” While we understand the point, we think the program can help sensitize students to the evils of anti-Semitism much like an entire generation of young people have developed deep acceptance of and commitment to the protection of the rights of the LGBTQ community, and sensitivity to the discrimination, degradation and mistreatment of immigrants and minorities.
Holocaust education is a good first step in explaining how Jews have been mistreated, and how quickly such systematized hatred can lead to calamitous results. And there are collateral programs that emanate from such an approach, like the ADL’s longstanding No Place for Hate campaign, which focuses on bias and bullying as a way to fight the escalation of hate in schools.
Government also has a role to play. The bipartisan Never Again Education Act, which would establish the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund, was introduced in both the House and Senate last year, but has gone nowhere. The Act should be passed. In Arizona, a bill being co-sponsored by Rep. Alma Hernandez would make Holocaust education a mandatory requirement in public schools. The bipartisan bill has over 80 co-sponsors and is on the way to a vote.
But Holocaust education will not end anti-Semitism. Shafran believes it doesn’t even aim for the right target. “The greater threat to Jews — and not just Orthodox ones — is less visible and thus even more dangerous than street brutes. It is organized, ideology-driven Jew-hatred.” We agree. And although we believe Holocaust education is helpful, we need much more, as we recognize that simply understanding the history, brutality and perversion of the Holocaust does not inoculate against anti-Semitism.
In the continuing battle against hatred we need to do whatever we can to make a difference. Small steps matter, and they are worthwhile, since they get us that much closer to a world free of prejudice and discrimination. JN