The Jewish world has been shaken by rising antisemitism. Many students may be grappling with feelings of anxiety, fear, grief, and more as they confront antisemitism in its various forms. Below are some tips, strategies, lesson plans, and resources to assist teachers in approaching this difficult topic in the classroom.
Talking to Students About Antisemitism
Below are some steps you may want to take with your students in addressing antisemitism:
1. Check-in with yourself first: make sure you are processing the events and are in a good place to speak with your students. Consider speaking with a peer/colleague or a school counselor before addressing your class.
2. Find out what they know: for students in middle school and up, it is fair to assume they have heard or read something about recent antisemitic events.
3. Start with a conversation: allow students to express what they already know.
4. Gently correct misconceptions.
5. Encourage: create a safe space for students to ask questions and answer their questions as directly as you are able.
6. Discuss safety plans with them:
a. Help them to feel empowered- identify adults in school and in the community they can go to if they are feeling insecure.
b. Talk to them about what is being done in your community to ensure safety- security guards, communal safety plans, etc.
7. Put it into context:
a. For younger children: Read age-appropriate books and stories with them to spark discussions, such as The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss, Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, and Kindness Snippet Jar by Diane Alber; or, role-play ways to speak sensitively to others. Keep it simple- “There have been some very sad events over the last few weeks for the Jewish people. Have you heard about anything that has happened?”
b. For middle/high school: Provide a historical context and help them see that throughout history both antisemitism and Jewish survival/renewal have been a constant. Through everything, good people took a stand and made a difference.
8. Be honest: consider sharing your own feelings/fears (at an age-appropriate level). It is also ok to say “I don’t know.”
9. Take action:
a. Students may want to write letters of comfort and support to victims and families of victims
b. Don’t ignore the spiritual (if it is appropriate)- prayer and reflection can help students to feel connected and not alone.
c. Older students can get involved politically by writing letters to representatives/senators or to local ADL chapters here.
d. Bring in speakers from ADL
10. Possible lesson plans for high school:
a. Writing prompts (can be used with graffiti boards or S-I-T technique)
b. What questions do you have about the events that have happened over the last few weeks?
c. How have these events affected you, your family, your community, and the larger Jewish world
11. What would you do? Talk about some of the less violent scenarios that have happened – antisemitic slurs in grocery stores, graffiti on synagogues, defamation of graves in Jewish Cemeteries – ask students what they would do if those things happened to them? What would they do if they happened to one of their friends? If they saw it happening?
LESSON PLANS AND ACTIVITIES
Educational Booklets – These booklets from StandWithUs provide meaningful content for teachers and students on subjects of antisemitism, Israeli history, contemporary issues facing the Jewish world, and more.
The Roots and Impact of Antisemitism – This lesson plan from Facing History and Ourselves addresses the history of antisemitism and its continued effect on the world today.
Educator Video Toolbox – Antisemitism – This collection of videos and lesson plans from Yad Vashem teaches students about antisemitism in Nazi Germany and its ongoing impact.
Contemporary Antisemitism – This study unit from Echoes and Reflections analyzes antisemitism and other forms of hatred in the contemporary era.
Antisemitism Today – This guide to family conversations from the ADL gives tips and guidelines for speaking to your children about antisemitism.
Hate Symbols – This comprehensive guide by the ADL helps students recognize some common hate symbols to become better educated and aware.
Lesson and Activities about Tolerance – This comprehensive list of lessons and activities for students of all ages from the Museum of Tolerance.
Teaching About Antisemitism – This lesson plan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum outlines how to teach about antisemitism.
Talking to Children about Antisemitism – This guide for teachers, created in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting in 2018, is still pertinent today.
Classroom Challenges for Teaching About and Addressing Antisemitism – This report from the University of Derby details some of the reported difficulties in challenges in approaching antisemitism in the classroom.
Resources for Schools and Communities in Response to Trauma, Tragedy, and Loss – These resources for community leaders and teachers from the Azrieli Graduate School provide helpful tips and information for talking to students about antisemitism.
articles and podcasts
Jewish Education Amidst Rising Antisemitism – This issue of The Lookstein Center’s journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, includes a thought-provoking interview on antisemitism with Yossi Klein Halevi, a powerful article by Avi Baran Munro, Head of School of Community Day School in Pittsburgh, on Jewish education in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, as well as articles from Yitzhak Santis from StandWithUs on preparing students for life on campus, Sara Liss from Zioness Movement on Zionism in the liberal space, Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath from The Jewish Education Project on teen choices/struggles to present Jewishly, and more.
Resilience in Holocaust Education: A Museum-Based Approach – This article from The Lookstein Center’s journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, demonstrates how students can use lessons from the Holocaust to help persevere through the struggles they face today. By Julie Golding.
Why I Teach the Shoah in Fifth Grade – This article from The Lookstein Center’s journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, explains the importance of addressing difficult subjects, even with younger students. By Nance Adler.
We Should Talk With Our Students About Hate – This article from The Jewish Link New Jersey encourages teachers to address the topic of hate and antisemitism with their students on a deeper level. By Rabbi Dr. Wallace Green.
Confronting Antisemitism – Part 1 – This podcast series explores the history of antisemitism and what can be done to combat it. Fro,m the All Inclusive Podcast with Jay Ruderman.
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