December 22, 2022

Shining a Light in the Darkness

Dorit Zimerman Security Grant Consultant

The last few months have seen antisemitism thrust into the public sphere, with comments by Kanye West and Kyrie Irving leading to an uptick in biased incidents; adding fuel to the fire of an already heightened global antisemitic narrative. We at Federation are working hard to combat this Jewish hatred through education, community engagement, and security initiatives.

This month, in an attempt to raise awareness of and provide resources to address this disturbing issue, we have signed on to be part of a larger effort to illuminate the threat of antisemitism in partnership with Shine a Light, a purpose-driven convening platform for organizations, companies, institutions, and individuals to unite in addressing antisemitism in all its modern forms. Shine a Light uses the story of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, to champion the message that one small light can dispel darkness and hatred, so that people across communities, on the ground and online, can better understand all the facets that make up antisemitism and how to respond to it.

Last week, Federation hosted a webinar to inform community members about the proactive and reactive steps we’re taking to combat antisemitism both locally and nationally. Representatives from Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Community Security Initiative (CSI), Holocaust Council, and GMW Hillel spoke about how they ensure our institutions and community members are prepared to respond to threatening situations, dispel hatred through education programs on college campuses and in schools, build relationships across all faith groups, and advocate for legislation to protects faith-based communities.

If you missed the program you can watch the Zoom recording or read the following summary.

Robert (Bob) Wilson, our Chief Security Officer described how the CSI continuously monitors information, threats, intelligence, and incidents impacting the Greater MetroWest Jewish community and coordinates responses with law enforcement and other partners. Bob also explained that the largest source of antisemitic incidents are reported by our community, and its this commitment to action that assists in our ability to formulate a response. (The link to file an incident report is available here.) The CSI also provides training to both respond to a violent threat and to empower the community, as a strong, prepared, and educated community is a safe community.

Ilyse Shainbrown from the Holocaust Council explained that in their efforts to combat antisemitism, they ensure that Holocaust education is taught broadly in and around the Greater MetroWest area. The council also works directly with administrators, teachers, and school counselors to help with education when antisemitic incidents occur and serve as a direct link between parents, school districts and law enforcement when students are involved.

Rebekah Adelson from Hillel, the organization that supports Jewish life at six college campuses in Greater MetroWest, expressed that at these schools antisemitism is often expressed in as anti-Israel rhetoric. Hillel helps Jewish students overcome these biases by working with Zachor, a legal institute, think tank and advocacy organization that assists college students with advice on what their legal options are if they encounter antisemitism on campus. Hillel also works with Birthright Israel, which provides young Jewish adults with educational trips to Israel, thereby helping them understand the importance of Israel and giving them the tools to feel empowered on campus.

Linda Scherzer from the JCRC explained how their role as the advocacy and public affairs arm of Federation is to build relationships with governmental representatives, school boards, and other political and faith-based groups to ensure our voices are heard, especially in the wake of rising antisemitism. They advocate on federal, state, and local levels for domestic agendas, like vital security grants, and internationally for Israel, as well as speaking out against celebrities and elected officials who tout antisemitic ideals and compare mask mandates to the holocaust.

As one in four American Jews have personally experienced antisemitism in the past five years, this alarming trend is affecting us all. But we are not helpless. This Hanukkah, there are ways that you can shine a light and dispel the darkness. Visit our Shining a Light on Antisemitism resource page to learn how.