Anti-Semitism is running rampant in the United States. Synagogues are being attacked and Jews are being attacked in the streets. Earlier this week, a swastika was affixed to the dorm room door of a Jewish student at Tufts University, just a few short miles from my own Brandeis University campus. Experts are scrambling to publish their plans for combating this new wave of Jew hatred, but some are forgetting that Jewish history is a tool for ensuring a safer future.
Nowhere is anti-Semistim more visible than college campuses. The Tufts University incident was just the latest of a long string of similar events. In fact, the Amcha Initiative has almost 3,000 Anti-Semitic incidents recorded in their database from the last few years alone. So what is being done to bridge the gap between history and combating Anti-Semitism on campus and in this country as a whole?
In 2015,Through the auspices of Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ work on Boston-area campuses, I created an initiative to tackle this issue through the lens of the Holocaust. Among Generation Z, there is an appalling low level of Holocaust education. Together, Restoring their Names is our Holocaust memory service-learning program for undergraduate students that works to right this wrong.
On a flexible basis, students of any and all religious backgrounds from across Boston learn about combating Anti-Semitism by volunteering with Holocaust survivors, bringing speakers to campus, traveling on our service-learning missions to Europe, and in other ways. We treat the Holocaust both as an event in history to learn about, as well as a tool for combating Anti-Semitism in the world today. The goal is that our student fellows will become active bystanders when they inevitably are faced with Anti-Semitism in the world around them.
This semester, we are taking part in two major campus events. On October 6, we are hosting a slew of speakers that will tackle the issue of how Generation Z can approach memory work and the Holocaust. Ruth Ellen Gruber of Jewish Heritage Europe will be presenting, along with Rachael Cerrotti. Rachael is a third generation survivor who is completely changing the way young people can engage with the Holocaust through a podcast that examines her own grandmother’s story of survival. The podcast, produced with the Shoah Foundation, will be used in classrooms across America.
Later in the semester, Combined Jewish Philanthropies is hosting a conference for students at the ground-zero of recent Anti-Semitism. In Pittsburgh, students from across the country will learn to ACT on Anti-Semitism on Campus Today. Deborah Lipstadt will explain how Holocaust denial and modern anti-Semitism connect. Frank Meeink, a former white supremacist and skinhead gang member, will speak about how people can change into more tolerant individuals.
Select student fellows will participate in our Thanksgiving mission to the Netherlands. During this trip they will explore the Holocaust with a theme of “Anne Frank in Reverse.” On Thanksgiving day, student fellows will travel to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Frank perished. In the days following, they will work backwards through Anne Frank’s story in the streets of Amsterdam as a case study for the Holocaust as a whole. The goal is that these student fellows use their newfound Holocaust education to become a beacon of light in the dark state of their campuses. They will act as peer leaders, sharing their knowledge in each of their communities.
There are countless ways for students of all backgrounds to stand up for what is right. Together, Restoring their Names is giving a platform for students to empower themselves to do good. Learn more at http://togetherrestoring.com