Panel Discusses Antisemitism in Schools, Efforts to Educate

With reports of antisemitism in schools rising since Oct. 7, a number of local Jewish organizations partnered to discuss what is happening on the ground and what solutions are available. 

“Antisemitism and Schools: A Community Conversation on Challenges and Opportunities,” was organized by Hadassah Minneapolis St. Paul, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, Jewish Student Union, JFCS Minneapolis, and NCJW Minnesota, included a panel of school stakeholders and advocates for a discussion regarding solutions for antisemitism in schools.

Holly Brod Farber, Director of Judaism and Israel Education and a panelist at the event, shared the role the JCRC plays in addressing these issues.

“The incidences of antisemitism we’ve been seeing is unprecedented,” Farber said, “Since Oct. 7, our community has been identifying the challenges and opportunities in combating these issues.”

The JCRC has ramped up its efforts to respond to the needs of the community. 

“We’ve developed a full education committee that meets twice a week and had met daily in the immediate aftermath,” Farber said. This approach has included broadening their reach from grade schools to high schools and engaging with teacher unions.

Said one participant: “The entire JCRC staff has worked so hard, whether it’s with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, [or] it’s with the individual schools.” 

One of the key elements of the JCRC’s approach is their educational program titled “Jewish Identity and Antisemitism,” designed to educate students, parents, and educators about Jewish culture and history beyond the most common associations. “Our opportunity lies in shifting the narrative to focus on the values of pride, resilience, and the joys of our peoplehood,” Farber said.

The discussion also covered the introduction of mandatory Holocaust education in Minnesota. 

Another panelist, Melissa Del Rosario, an Education Issues Specialist and Founder of the Jewish Affinity Space at Education Minnesota, has been at the forefront of developing impactful educational programs for educators aimed at combating antisemitism. “My perspective is actually training teachers on how to recognize it,” she said. 

Del Rosario is committed to integrating these efforts within broader diversity frameworks.

“The recognition that antisemitism fits under the DEI category, which I feel like is still an upward battle,” she said. 

She said the panel discussion was a useful gathering to discuss real solutions.

“We weren’t harboring in all the negative that could be happening in the classroom, and instead, where are solutions working, and where can we actually get traction,” she said.

Mindy Daitchman from the Jewish Student Union (JSU) and a panelist at the event, highlighted the crucial role that JSU plays in offering a safe space for Jewish students. 

“JSU has always been there, but the urgency of utilizing the space became apparent almost immediately,” she said.

The organization collaborates closely with the JCRC to facilitate its outreach and educational efforts. “We’ve been able to act quickly because the structure was already in place. That’s crucial when you need to address issues without delay,” Daitchman said.

Beyond just a physical space, JSU focuses heavily on fostering a stronger Jewish identity among students through educational programs and opportunities to engage more deeply with their heritage. “In combating antisemitism, it’s about building confidence. A proud and informed Jew is more resilient,” Daitchman said.

“It’s upsetting to hear all that Jewish students need to do to navigate the atmosphere in schools and defend themselves. But I’m also so grateful for the organizations that are helping equip and prepare them. And the work that students like Rebecca Badzin are doing through JSU and on their own is incredible,” said Kiel Majeweski, an attendee at the event who works at the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. 

The educational focus at the panel also extended to future strategies to further enhance the support system for Jewish students. The panelists, including Daitchman, discussed the importance of community involvement at the school district level. 

“It’s about ensuring there are proactive measures in place, and that we have a voice in educational settings before issues arise. As soon as the need arises, we bring in professionals. It’s about being proactive and prepared,” she said.

The resilience of Jewish students was a key theme toward the end of the panel; Daitchman said, “These teens have shown incredible strength. They are not only surviving; they are thriving and becoming prouder of their identity.”