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Lesson

Contemporary Antisemitism and Youth

Students explore ways that young people experience and stand up to antisemitism by examining recent research and exploring stories of young upstanders.

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At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — US
Also available in:
French — FR

Subject

  • Civics & Citizenship
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Lesson

In this multi-day lesson, students explore ways that young people experience, and stand up to, antisemitism. It draws from recent research on antisemitism in the United States and across Europe and focuses on two examples: a young person in Sweden who is committed to standing up against antisemitism and xenophobia, as well as a student who spoke up against antisemitism at the University of Birmingham (UK) and then was attacked online.

  • What is antisemitism and how is it visible in the world today?
  • What impacts does antisemitism have on individuals and communities?
  • How have young people stood up and spoken out against antisemitism?
  • Why is confronting antisemitism, racism, and other forms of bigotry and stereotypes everyone’s responsibility?
  • Students will be able to define and recognize antisemitism.
  • Students will understand the persistence of antisemitism, as well as how they might recognize it in the world today. 
  • Students will be able to identify ways that they can play a role in creating inclusive, compassionate classrooms and communities.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 4 teaching strategies 
  • 1 handout
  • 4 readings

Stereotypes, prejudice and hatred toward Jews have persisted and evolved for millennia. In the nineteenth century, this hatred became known as antisemitism, and it describes expressions and acts of hate towards, and a range of destructive conspiracy theories about, Jews in the contemporary world. 

In recent years, reported incidents of antisemitism have increased. In May of 2018, the Anti-Defamation League released findings that 4.2 million antisemitic tweets were shared or re-shared on Twitter in a 12-month period. In its most recent Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, the ADL logged 2,024 incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assaults in 2020, the third highest year on record since the ADL first began tracking such incidents in 1979. It is important to consider that these numbers do not take into account the antisemitic incidents that are never reported. 

When antisemitism is ignored in a community, other forms of discrimination are often tolerated as well. A Human Rights First report on antisemitism in France notes, “Left unchecked, antisemitism leads to the persecution of other minorities, and to an overall increase in repression and intolerance. An increase in antisemitism is a harbinger of societal breakdown.” 1 Antisemitic actions and expressions are a sign that not just Jews, but also members of any minority group, might experience exclusion, unfair treatment, emotional abuse, or physical and verbal assaults. Therefore, as you engage in this lesson with students, it is important to consider the question: Why is confronting antisemitism everyone’s responsibility?

 

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

Before you discuss painful topics like antisemitism with your students, it is important to establish community norms for nurturing a brave space. Take time to consider with your students what a reflective classroom can look and sound like. If you have not established a classroom contract, we recommend doing so before teaching this lesson. If you have established a classroom contract, be sure to review it with the class before beginning the lesson.

In Activity 2 students use the concept of the universe of obligation to analyze the actions of a person who stands up against antisemitism. If your students are unfamiliar with this concept, consider reserving an extra class period to introduce it before you begin these lessons. Our Universe of Obligation lessonreading, and handout can provide a foundation on which to explore both historic and current topics that include the “we and they” dynamic.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

  • Lead students in briefly creating a concept map for antisemitism. Write the word in the middle of the whiteboard and ask students to share the associated words that come up for them when they see this word. Write and organize their contributions into a web around the word.
  • Ask students to read the first paragraph of Antisemitism on US Campuses and underline words and phrases that help them understand the authors’ definition of antisemitism. Based on this reading and the concept map on the whiteboard, develop a class working definition of antisemitism.
  • Now ask students to read the rest of the article, in which the authors discuss their research. Ask students to highlight three things that they learned from this research.
  • Create small groups. For each group, ask students to select the two most important things that they learned from the research. Guiding questions include:
    • Why do the authors believe antisemitism persists and often goes unacknowledged and unaddressed?
    • The authors note that Jews are likely to be most aware of antisemitism and most able to recognize it. (This is true of other groups who experience discrimination or hatred based on their identity.) What do others need to learn to become better allies so that the burden of identifying and fighting antisemitism doesn’t only fall on Jews? How can people’s own experiences with discrimination help them become a better advocate for others with different identities than their own?
  • As students read Siavosh Derakhti’s story in A Young Upstander Stands Up to Hate, have them circle a word or image that stands out to them and then spend a few minutes journaling about that word or image. As a class, discuss students’ responses.
  • Have students make identity charts for Derakhti in their journals. Identity charts are graphic tools that help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. Have students share their identity charts with a partner and discuss what aspects of Derakhti’s identity may have influenced his choices.
  • Explore why Derakhti chose to stand up against hatred, specifically antisemitism, and what specific courses of action he took. As a class, use evidence from the reading and the identity charts that students made to represent Derakhti’s universe of obligation using the Universe of Obligation handout.
  • Have students revisit their journal entries about Derakhti. Consider asking them to add to their reflections by responding to the following question:

    What does Derakhti’s story make you think about your own “universe of obligation” and the choices you might make in the face of intolerance? How can his work inform the development of a more caring and inclusive community?

  • Use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to explore Izzy Lenga’s story in Responses to Antisemitism Online. After reading, ask students to respond to these prompts in their journals:
    • What evidence or examples of antisemitism do you see in this story? How does the definition of antisemitism from this reading connect to Izzy Lenga’s experience? 
    • How does antisemitism affect Izzy? How does it affect others in her community?
    • Based on this reading, how would you add to or modify your working definition of antisemitism?

    In pairs, have students share one or more of their journal reflections. Then, as a class, discuss Izzy’s story and make an identity chart for Izzy as part of your discussion of what happened in the reading.

  • Continue the class discussion with the following questions:
    • What role does social media play in this story? Think about our own classroom, our classroom contract, and other efforts we have made to make the classroom safe, reflective, and civil. How do we extend these practices to create a culture of inclusion and belonging online?  
    • What are the differences between standing up to hatred when one is a member of the targeted group (like Izzy) and when one is an ally (like Siavosh)?  

Lead a class discussion about responding to antisemitism. Begin by asking students to make a list of the concrete actions both Siavosh and Izzy chose in order to respond to the antisemitism they encountered. Then discuss the following questions:

  • Which responses do you think were effective and why?
  • Beyond the readings, what are some other strategies to combat antisemitism in a community?
  • Choose a strategy you believe you can adopt to combat hate and discrimination in your community. Are there any potential barriers that might prevent you from actually adopting this response to antisemitism? How can you overcome those barriers? What support do you need?

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Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts that students use throughout the Contemporary Antisemitism and Youth lesson plan.  

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