Yesterday I retweeted this tweet from Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn:
“Lord am I overjoyed to check my phone after Yom Kippur and find no terrible news of an antisemitic incident at a synagogue! #thetimeswelivein”
I echoed her sentiment and agreed that this was indeed an awful thought to have. Unfortunately, we had spoken too soon, and there came the reports of a German synagogue’s window being shattered during Yom Kippur services.
These are indeed the times we live in, disturbing and frightening times where it seems like every other day there’s another swastika sighting, age-old antisemitic tropes resurface, or another Jew is attacked on the streets of New York.
This antisemitism is multi-layered and multi-directional. It comes from the right and from the left, and it is a present and real threat. Our response must therefore also be multi-layered and multi-directional, addressing the root causes and each facet concurrently.
We at JCRC and our partners have been hard at work on this multi-layered approach. We successfully advocated for a law mandating Genocide Education in our schools and secured $1.5 million for the genocide education trust fund to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust will be taught to future generations. And as religious institutions and those of our neighbors are threatened, JCRC successfully advocated to secure three million dollars in nonprofit security grants for vulnerable religious institutions.
Our newest initiative, and the next layer, is grassroots, and leverages our successful advocacy campaign to directly educate the next generation. We are thrilled to be launching Student to Student (STS), a classroom-based experiential program that engages Jewish teens who are trained to demystify Judaism by giving presentations in high schools that have no Jewish presence. These young people authentically share their Jewish identities with their non-Jewish peers, many of whom have never met or interacted with someone from the Jewish community.
“Can Jewish people celebrate birthdays? What about Thanksgiving?” “Do Jews still do animal sacrifices like in the Bible?” “Can you only go to Jewish colleges?” “What are your feelings about Israel? “Do stereotypes about Jews bother you?”
These are just a few of the many questions that have been asked during the presentations, which take the form of informal conversations, confronting stereotypes and misinformation. Participants speak openly about their experiences as Jewish teens. They share stories about their lives and bring props to enhance their presentations. When discussing Shabbat, instead of just describing challah, they pass around the Sabbath bread for the students to sample. The non-Jewish students come away with a new understanding of Jewish religious and cultural practices and connect to the presenters on a personal level.
The program was created 30 years ago by the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council, which five years ago began helping other communities launch their own STS programs. Of the non-Jewish students surveyed in D.C.’s Student to Student program during the 2018-2019 school year, 84% reported they had been motivated to share what they learned or take another step to learn more about Judaism and the Jewish people, and 61% shared what they learned with others. 83% of the teachers strongly agreed that the presentations broke down stereotypes, and 78% strongly agreed that the presentations helped counter antisemitism.
“Student to Student gave me a platform to bring more awareness and understanding about my religion to other students. Without this program, other students would only have a surface level understanding of Judaism which could perpetuate misinformation and negative stereotypes.”
– Nicole, Jewish Student Presenter
Your child or a teen in your life can join us for the 2022-2023 school year to help break down stereotypes and foster increased understanding in our community! Nominations and applications are Open for this Year!
- Please nominate Juniors and Seniors to participate in Student to student 2022-2023
- Students can apply directly here
For more information, please contact JCRC Director of Education Initiatives and Special Projects, Emily Reichman.
We are committed to meeting these challenges together as a community, to working together with our partners, and investing in future generations.