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Diane Gensler
Life Member, Hadassah Baltimore

Armchair Activism to Battle Antisemitism

Image courtesy of Hadassah.
Image courtesy of Hadassah.

At the beginning of this year, the email from Hadassah sat in my Inbox. I read their many emails thoroughly on a daily basis because of the important work they do advocating for so many (Jewish) causes. The subject of this particular email was “Hadassah at Home: Actions to Combat Antisemitism,” a subject near and dear to my heart. Eradicating antisemitism has always been an important  issue of which I take an interest and whole-heartedly support, starting with the stories my parents would tell me as a kid of their experiences as children and young adults growing up and facing antisemitism in Baltimore. As a young adult, I too would face blatant antisemitism in the same town, so much so, that I wrote an entire memoir about this experience. (Forgive Us Our Trespasses: A Memoir of a Jewish Teacher in A Catholic School, Apprentice House Press, 2020.) I try to keep abreast of all antisemitic relevant news so that I can include current events in the book talks I give.

I opened the Hadassah email and read the introductory message for this newsletter. Each opener is addressed to me personally which seems to make it even more pertinent. This message started by reminding me about the No Hate, No Fear Solidarity March that took place in New York City in 2020 to stand up against recent antisemitic attacks.

After reading the paragraphs that cover what is being done today, I clicked on a link to read an article titled, “Teen Essay Winner: Speaking Up Against Antisemitism and More.” I was so impressed by this young girl’s actions at her Episcopal boarding school. The incident in the school’s church service where the chaplain recites an antisemitic New Testament verse  “…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders….” reminded me of what I detailed in my book about attending Catholic church services as a teacher.  In the past I’ve written Hadassah Magazine to comment on an article, but today I skipped that, as there were so many more links to follow!

The next link I clicked on in the original newsletter email connected me to the article “Hadassah Mobilizes to Counter Antisemitism,” of which a huge photograph immediately appeared of Hadassah leadership from the march in 2020 holding signs and shouting in Washington, D.C. I read this entire article as well. (Can you see why I end up spending so many hours in front of my computer?!)

At the end of this article is — wouldn’t you know it — another link. And you are correct to think that I clicked on it as well! It took me to “Battling Antisemitism on Campus.” I read this entire lengthy article also.  (I will have a child going to college in the not-so-distant future.)  There was a button to sign up for a virtual event, but I skipped this one. I have attended others though, as Hadassah’s resources and educational opportunities are abundant.

Returning to the article about the march, the bottom of the article reads, “Engaging your elected officials is easier than you might think thanks to Hadassah’s Day in the District and Date with the State programs. Of course, this is a link that I clicked on. (Is this compulsive? I wonder.) This took me to Hadassah’s “Advocate and Take Action” web page. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people who takes action. I like to help out, but if it involves something political, I tend to shy away. I exited this page and returned to the original email that started it all. Do I sound terrible?

I scrolled through the remainder of the newsletter and found another blurb about supporting Holocaust education in public schools that interested me, especially as a teacher.

Holocaust education is so important to teach, and it is one that unfortunately is often overlooked, especially within the public school system. The students I taught at my Catholic school may have been a lot more tolerant and reacted differently to me if they had a good dose of this. My own children benefited incredibly from this, albeit in our little Jewish local synagogue-based religious school.

No surprise here that I clicked on the Never Again Holocaust Education Act link.  I ended up back at the Hadassah Action Center! And this time I took action! This was an issue I felt compelled to weigh in on, and Hadassah made it very simple to do so. When I clicked on the link provided, a form appeared to input my information. After I clicked “Submit,” I found my legislators through their easy search feature. A letter appeared already written to express my exact feelings on the issue, since I apparently am well-aligned with Hadassah’s goals and ideals. It was simple to click on the Submit button and send a fervent plea.

I even received a thank you email!

Then remorse set in. Uh oh…Should I have done that?  Am I going to be on some watch list now? Will I be solicited repeatedly or even become a target for haters? I submitted my name and address. Was that a good idea? I wiped those thoughts aside and decided to just be proud that in some small way I contributed, if only from the comfort of my own home and computer. Sometimes small actions can make a difference, I know.

In my book, I relate a story about one student who left a terrible anonymous antisemitic note on my desk the very first day of school. After working with him for a year without knowing he was the culprit, discovering the truth and speaking to him privately, I know that I made a difference. I saved someone. Maybe I can save someone else by simply clicking from my armchair and submitting a form to show support. One never knows how much they can make a difference.

About the Author
Diane Gensler is a Life Member of Hadassah Baltimore and a lay leader in her synagogue. She is the author of Forgive Us Our Trespasses: A Memoir of a Jewish Teacher in a Catholic School (Apprentice House Press, 2020) and occasionally writes articles for organizations of which she is a member, such as the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland. She is a certified English and special education teacher. In addition to teaching in public and private schools, she developed educational software, tutored online and wrote and managed online curriculum. She is a Maryland Writing Project Teacher Consultant and a mentor. A native Baltimorean and mother of three, she leads the Baltimore Jewish Writers Guild and holds volunteer positions in her children’s schools and activities.
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