Addressing Recent Antisemitic Rhetoric with Your Family


Recently, we have seen an unfortunate rise in antisemitic rhetoric. This includes bigotry, online harassment, and even violence toward people of the Jewish faith. While typical Jewish tropes have been around for decades, they’ve never been in the ‘town square’ as much as they have been within the last several months. 

Your children may have questions about this, and it’s worth having a discussion when you are ready to address this important topic. But where do you start? How can you find the right time to have heavy conversations around faith, bigotry, and violence? Any parent that needs to have these types of conversations dreads the necessity. It’s tough, but you can do it. 

I encourage parents to consult with their local religious leaders, who will have insights and strengths in this area. They can help them read the local temperature and properly guide them on how to have this type of conversation. 

The antisemitic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October 2018 was a watershed moment. Suddenly, we had to have very important conversations with various aged children about the shooting and the growing rhetoric that led to this horrific attack. 

Consider that the average 10-year-old today may have recently heard antisemitic slurs because of Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, or other celebrities in the media. This is a newer development. Bigots now have access to a public megaphone with millions of followers on social media. Many of these musicians, actors, professional athletes, and even politicians are looked up to and even celebrated. Your child may not necessarily follow these individuals or look up to them, but they may hear the rhetoric online, on the news, or on the playground.

Whether your child has come to you with questions or you’ve decided to have a conversation with them for their own awareness and safety, it’s important to begin by listening. Do a lot of listening. Acknowledge your child’s questions, concerns, and experiences. Recognize how they are feeling and be empathetic. If you don’t hear what they really need you to, you may not give them what they really need.

It is important to be intentional about these conversations. Begin by planning and calculating whether to have it. Once you’ve decided to have this conversation with your child, start with the basics. Explain that the average person doesn’t really know much about their faith or who they are as a person. Depending on where you live, your child may be the first Jewish person someone knows. 

Conservations about identity start early. Jewish children, like children of other faiths or even children of agnostic or atheist families, may assume that everyone is the same as them. Since not all Jews are physically identifiable as Jewish, there is a decision to be made in the Jewish community about when you do or don’t reveal your Jewish identity at school. 

Sometimes children may experience harassment about their Jewish identity. While we’re not most immediately worried about our physical safety, it is a growing concern. Encourage your children to be aware of their surroundings and sensitive to language they may hear because of their differences. Encourage them to be aware if something doesn’t feel quite right and find a safe adult to talk to. 

It is important to remind and encourage kids in this position to recognize that while it may be scary, there are adults spending time to make sure they stay safe and are there to help them. Help your kids find positive, safe ways to express Jewish identity. You want them to be proud of who they are.

How Can Non-Jewish People Be An Ally?

Make yourself aware of the fact that this a peculiar time to be a person of the Jewish community. Over the last decade, most years have represented new all-time high instances of antisemitism. The last few months have been especially peculiar. Suddenly, issues around Judaism are among the forefront of popular discourse in the United States. 

If you’re a parent or teacher working with kids, have sensitivity that they may feel alienated but may not be showing it. They may not know how to express how they are feeling. All their peers may have heard inaccurate portrayals of the Jewish faith, such as the Jews are in tension with the Black community or that they are trying to control the media and financial systems. These are age-old antisemitic tropes, but until recently, they probably didn’t even hear these. At this point, it is likely they’ve heard one or more of these conspiracies.

Have awareness and sensitivity to the odd place Jews are in in this moment. Do not hesitate to be vocal in your support for your Jewish community. If you hear people echoing these tropes, have an empathetic and serious conversation. Explain that these ideas are as problematic as any other bigotry and this kind of ideology affects real people and is dangerous because it can lead to forms of extremism. Be vocal and supportive when you hear these thoughts. 

It’s not as easy to do this in person, to engage in real-time with folks with whom you are in a relationship. It’s easy to shy away in the moment. Recognize it may be difficult to voice your support. Be intentional in your support and utilize your strengths of bravery and fairness. 

Remember, it’s not just that one time, in that one moment. It happens all the time. Those conversations, or lack thereof, add up. Every conversation challenges and empowers us to stand up to bigotry before those ideas fester into violence. 

Cincinnati has a tremendous and unique resource in The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center. Visit their website or contact Jackie Congedo to learn more.