ADL master class teaches how to respond to anti-Semitism

The group at Moishe House Northern Virginia begins discussing anti-Semitism. Photo by Sam Koralnik.

You arrive at your desk at work and there’s a swastika drawn on your whiteboard. What do you do?

Maybe you erase it and say nothing. Or maybe you leave it up and report it to a superior.

When Jeremy Bloomstone of the ADL suggested those possible responses to a group at Moishe House Northern Virginia, some suggested taking a photo of the swastika to keep as evidence.

It was part of an effort to get people to start thinking about how to respond to everyday instances of anti-Semitism, which the ADL calls Words to Action training.

“I see this training as being a really important tool right now,” said Bloomstone, the assistant regional director of the ADL’s offices in Washington, noting the rise in anti-Semitism in recent years.

Moishe House resident Sam Koralnik attended a similar training program in October. He said it was helpful in framing conversations surrounding hate, and wanted to bring the program to Moishe House.

“I wanted to create space for us to have frank conversations on anti-Semitism and to help provide community members with resources on how to combat any type of anti-Semitism or bigotry they may encounter in their life,” Koralnik said.

To gauge participants’ opinions of anti-Semitism and equip them with strategies on how to fight it, Bloomstone read: “Anti-Semitism is a part of life in my community.” Then he asked everyone to stand along a line in the room with “Strongly Agree” at one end and “Strongly Disagree” at the other.

Many stood closer to the “Strongly Disagree” side, noting that the people they surround themselves with aren’t anti-Semitic. After the group redefined “community” to include local, national, and the internet, most moved closer to “Agree.”

Bloomstone introduced ADL’s Pyramid of Hate, with biased attitudes at the bottom and genocide at the top.

Some of the participants said that acts of bias are the easiest to stop. Others said bias-motivated violence, farther up the pyramid, is the most “obvious” place to stop hate. Most agreed that biased attitudes are hardest to combat because they’re hard to gauge.

Bloomstone also suggested ways to respond to anti-Semitic comments, such as asking, “What do you mean,” to make a person stop and think about what they just said.

Beverly Kamin of Arlington said she was surprised by that strategy, but realized that asking for clarification can make a difference in a conversation. She said she attended to learn how to take action against anti-Semitism.

“I wanted to sort of delve into, ‘What can I do as a person to combat the rise of anti-Semitism and educate people?’” she said.

During a mock cocktail party, Bloomstone distributed paper marked with comments like, “You’re not that pushy for a Jew” and “You don’t look Jewish.”

Participants walked around the room interjecting these comments into conversation, while others responded using the strategies Bloomstone taught them.

Petworth resident Zach Udin said he wants to pass on what he learned to others. “I’m very cognizant of the anti-Semitism in the country and the world.”

“I think we would be foolish to think that anti-Semitism is going to go away,” Koralnik said, “and I think it’s important that we also provide space for serious conversations.”

Kamin said she feels like she could now respond better to respond to an anti-Semitic incident that would happen to her or a family member or friend. “I actually feel a little more empowered now to have conversations with people.”

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Twitter: @jacqbh58

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