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Fighting Antisemitism with Education
Spertus Institute launches certificate program to prepare Jewish communal executives to combat rising antisemitism
By Dr. Dean P. Bell, published in Jewish Chicago
According to the Pew study, a majority of Jewish Americans feel that people who hold antisemitic views now feel freer to express them. About six-in-ten Jews report having had a direct, personal experience with antisemitism in the past 12 months, from seeing antisemitic graffiti or vandalism to directly experiencing harassment. These trends are clear in the numerous recent physical attacks, defacement of Jewish buildings and spaces, and a range of dangerous anti-Jewish expressions.
In its Audit of Antisemitic Incidents for 2021, the Anti-Defamation League notes, “In 2021, ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the United States. This represents a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.” And as we know, antisemitism is not limited to the US. In September, a study revealed that Jews in Canada are the most targeted of religious minorities in that country for hate crimes. While Jews comprise only 1% of the population in Canada, they were the victims of 14% of reported hate crimes, reflecting a 47% increase between 2020 and 2021.
While there have been many attempts to respond to and mitigate antisemitism, some more successful than others, antisemitism can be subtle and insidious, and it isn’t always clear how best to respond. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, in his recent book, It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable, says, “[Although] not everything is a five-alarm fire, you might find yourself in a situation where your personal safety is at risk. It’s important to use judgment. Most of the time, the human tendency is to avoid conflict, retreat from tension, and refrain from speaking up. It’s important to work through these fears and concerns so you can confront issues in an appropriate way.”
Jewish leaders need tools and training to respond to the complex and challenging threats reflected in contemporary antisemitism. Beginning in January, a new Spertus Institute certificate program will address this need with the expertise it demands.
After substantial funding was secured from local and national foundations who have come together for this important and much-needed initiative, the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism will launch in January 2023. The inaugural cohort, which will be heavily subsidized, is reserved for those most responsible for addressing these challenges. Executives from organizations across the landscape of Jewish life—social justice, social services, synagogues, advocacy, education, community relations, philanthropy, campus engagement, and interreligious partnerships—are encouraged to apply.
The executives accepted into the program will gain important knowledge about the historical and contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, combined with the critical skills of community engagement, risk assessment, crisis communications, and alliance building. They will become part of a network of institutional leaders who can leverage each other’s talents, resources, relationships, and support to combat antisemitism in a much more coordinated and powerful way.
To assist Jewish organizational leaders in the difficult but important work of addressing antisemitism, Spertus Institute brings educational excellence, its unique blend of theory and practice, and decades of experience in community building. This initiative builds on our successful Certificate in Jewish Leadership, presented in partnership with Northwestern University, and our innovative work in resilient leadership and interreligious relationships.
The curriculum, which was developed by an Advisory Council of academic and communal experts, will equip participants to facilitate difficult conversations about antisemitism and make a real difference, even in our polarized society.
Participants will develop new strategies, models, and practices to address antisemitism through working group initiatives and engagement with leading practitioners in the field. The program includes individual executive coaching to assist participants with a project or initiative developed to meet their own organizational needs. This new program will ensure Jewish leaders have the skills and tools to respond with knowledge, strategy, and skill.
As a signature Spertus Institute program, the Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism is designed to transform the impact of Jewish organizations and their constituents, enabling them to combat antisemitism as it relates to their mission and communal role. After the initial cohort and its evaluation, Spertus Institute plans to launch additional cohorts. We will consider scaling the program to train a range of Jewish communal professionals and volunteers, as well as non-Jewish community leaders.
Dean P. Bell, PhD, is President and CEO of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, where he also holds a faculty appointment as Professor of Jewish History.