Approaching Antisemitism With Kids

A mother and young daughter hurry to their car when the girl asks about something on their garage door. The mother, shaken by what she sees, tries to ignore the girl’s curious questions. Their neighbor, an older man working on his car, sees a Nazi symbol and the words “No Jews” spray painted on the garage.

When the family returns later, the graffiti is gone. The neighbor – “Mr. Tony” as the young girl calls him – has white stains on his boots, evidence that he painted over the slurs. The mother mouths “Thank You,” which he acknowledges, and they walk inside.

This video is part of a larger public awareness campaign produced by the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism. The organization was founded by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to “win the hearts and minds of non-Jews and Jews through powerful positive messaging and partnerships,” according to its website.

In the video, the mother shields her daughter from the ugly hatred targeting Jews. The situation is peacefully and meaningfully resolved, thanks to a kind neighbor and a bucket of paint.

But what the video doesn’t show is the lasting impacts that antisemitism has on Jews. The paint may conceal the slur, but it doesn’t erase the mother’s pain or the concerns about whether her family will be targeted again.

Will they hesitate to go to synagogue? Will she conceal her favorite Star of David necklace? Will the Hanukkah decorations normally displayed in the window stay in the closet?

These are everyday manifestations of how antisemitism traumatizes and otherwise impacts Jews in ordinary ways.

How parents talk to their kids about antisemitism varies by age, location, exposure to hatred and many other factors. But with the number of antisemitic incidents tripling in the Washington, D.C. region in the last year alone, we can’t disregard it and hope it simply goes away. We must talk with our kids about hate, about allyship and being upstanders in the face of those who spew intolerance.

Admittedly, I wasn’t prepared for when my child asked me about antisemitism. It wasn’t unexpected, as the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh happened two days earlier. I purposely did not tell my then 2nd grader about this atrocity, but one of his Jewish day school classmates did, leading to the conversation on our walk home.

Had I heard about the people who were shot at the synagogue? Why did someone shoot people at the synagogue? Did they know the person or was it a stranger? Like any curious child, he was full of questions for which I had few answers that made any sense.

How do you tell a young Jewish child that someone hates Jews simply because they are Jewish?

This year alone, the JCRC has reached more than 10,000 students, teachers and other adults through Student to Student and the Bureau, which brings Holocaust survivors and their descendants to share their families’ Holocaust narratives with audiences throughout our region.

The JCRC also advocates for local and state governments to put more resources into Holocaust education and anti-hate crimes initiatives. This year in Maryland, legislation that dedicates $500,000 to be spent on school field trips to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and other “museums of cultural import” was signed into law.

Education is the most effective tool to fight antisemitism. As the Holocaust fades further into history and the number of survivors wane, misinformation spreads, particularly on no-holds-barred social media platforms where young people are exposed to a raft of Holocaust denialism and anti-Jewish propaganda.

Recently, we’ve seen influential celebrities with tens of millions of followers espouse hateful antisemitic rhetoric. We hear elected officials and candidates use anti-Jewish tropes for their own political benefit.

This behavior cannot be normalized. We must fight ugliness with facts. We must emphasize that antisemitism is not merely a one-time problem that occurred decades ago during the Holocaust, but rather the oldest form of hatred that is alive and happening all too often.

Ultimately, that effort starts at home with you, regardless of your background or identity. Empower kids to speak out when they see antisemitic behavior. Provide them with resources they can share with friends. Encourage other parents and community members to join anti-hate initiatives. Be more like “Mr. Tony.”


Jewish Families Find Community Through Ambassador Program