Over 160 state municipal leaders join fight against antisemitism at Lappin forum

“This is not just a Jewish problem,” Deborah Coltin said at the March 28 forum.

By Shelley A. Sackett

SALEM — The Lappin Foundation on March 28 sponsored “Two Steps Forward Against Antisemitism,” a virtual event aimed to educate Massachusetts city and town officials on two important steps they can take to help their communities stand up to and combat the growing threat of antisemitism. The event drew 168 municipal leaders representing more than 100 localities.

Deborah Coltin, Lappin Foundation executive director, explained the summit’s goal was to educate attendees about two tools available to fight antisemitism: adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s non-legally binding, working definition of antisemitism, and local enactment of a proclamation to annually commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

“This is not just a Jewish problem. Where there is antisemitism, there are also other kinds of hate,” Coltin said.

The IHRA, which has promoted Holocaust education, research, and remembrance since 1998, is the only intergovernmental organization mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues. With strong evidence of a recent rise in antisemitism, its experts determined that in order to begin to address the problem, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is, according to its website, http://www.holocaust­remembrance.com.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Over a dozen scenarios apply the definition in the contexts of criticism against Israel and contemporary examples in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and the religious sphere.

Robert Leikind, regional director of the American Jewish Committee of New England, stressed the importance of a common framework to help governmental officials and others understand what is meant by antisemitism. “In the absence of a clear understanding of the definition, you can’t create policies to deal with it,” he said. “You can’t fight what you don’t recognize.”

So far, 35 countries have endorsed the IHRA, including the United States. Twenty states and five governors have adopted its definitions of antisemitism, including Massachusetts, when Governor Charlie Baker signed a proclamation on Feb. 18.

Peabody Mayor Ted Betten­court, honorary chair at the Lappin event, announced that the Peabody City Council unanimously voted to adopt the IHRA’s antisemitism guidelines at its March 24 meeting, making Peabody one of the state’s first to do so (Newton, New Bedford and Lynn have already adopted the IHRA definition). Mayor Bettencout also issued a proclamation on Jan. 27 recognizing it as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and January as Holocaust Education Month.

The Peabody City Council is considering adding Holocaust education to its middle and high school curriculum, Bettencourt said.

Referencing the verbal attack on Chabad Rabbis Nechemia Schusterman and Sruli Baron on Lowell Street in 2019, Bettencourt stressed that acts of hate will not be tolerated in Peabody. “Love and acceptance can triumph over hatred, intolerance, and exclusion,” he declared.

Underscoring the importance of adopting the IHRA guidelines, Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League New England regional director, cited a recent poll that indicated almost all American Jews say antisemitism is a problem. Furthermore, 2021 FBI statistics indicate that 60 percent of all hate crimes are against Jews.

“This is not just anecdotal. The increase in violence and antisemitic incidents is real,” Trestan said.

Sharon was the first town to adopt the IHRA definition in March 2021. Sharon community activist Robert Soffer, who was instrumental in this process, emphasized that antisemitism is as grave a danger for non-Jews as for Jews. “It is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ and indicative of all forms of hate,” he said. “If the municipal managers attending this summit truly embrace this fact, then something very important will have been achieved.”

Rounding out the list of speakers were Josh Kraft, president of Kraft Philanthropies and the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism; Jody Kipnis, co-founder of Holocaust Legacy Foundation; Lucy New and Sofia Vatnik, cochairs of the Teen Antisemitism Task Force; and Dr. Hans Fisher, a frequent speaker and Holocaust survivor who was aboard the M.S. St. Louis in 1939. The ship carried more than 900 Jews who had fled Germany and hoped to reach Cuba and then migrate to the US, but passengers were not allowed to get off the ship in Havana, and then shut off from docking in Florida. The St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where more than 250 of the Jewish passengers were killed by the Nazis.

“Antisemitism is alive and well in the US,” Dr. Fisher told the Journal after the summit. “Police protection, unfortunately, is often necessary right now, but strong school education programs can be very effective in ameliorating this scourge.”

In her remarks, Kipnis urged attendees to work to get their communities to adopt the IHRA definition and proclaim January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Ask yourselves two questions: What have I learned? And, how can I make a difference in community,” she said.

For more information about adopting the working definition of antisemitism as an educational tool to identify and combat hate, email Robert Leikind, Director of American Jewish Committee New England, at leikindr@ajc.org. For information about the process Sharon went through to adopt the definition, email Robert Soffer at sofferrobert@gmail.com.

North Shore task force holding forum to address anti-Semitism on college campuses


“Campus anti-Semitism is becoming more complex and pervasive,” says Kenneth L. Marcus.


OCTOBER 19, 2017 – SWAMPSCOTT – Rabbi Michael Ragozin was particularly fired up during his 2016 Kol Nidre sermon at Congregation Shirat Hayam. The topic was anti-Semitism on college campuses, an issue he said “Gets me in the kishkes. It was in college that my Jewish identity solidified and set me on my trajectory. I don’t know that I would have grown in the same way if I had been under attack simply for being Jewish.”

That sermon generated interest and launched the Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore. Its mission is to promote awareness of campus anti-Semitism; to educate teens on how to deal with situations they may encounter; and to empower students to advocate for themselves and others.

Task force participants include members of Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, unaffiliated families, and Marty Schneer, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore.

“The issue of campus anti-Semitism is not the sole dominion of a single individual or shul,” Rabbi Ragozin said. “We must all work together to put an end to the hate, lies, disinformation, and intimidation on college campuses.”

On Sunday, Oct. 29, the task force will sponsor its fall event, “What’s Up at College,” a panel discussion about Jewish life on campus geared to parents and teens. The panel includes current college students, professionals and alumni. It will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Congregation Shirat Hayam, 55 Atlantic Ave., in Swampscott. Rabbi Ragozin will moderate.

“I hope teens and their parents will leave feeling empowered,” said Arinne Braverman, one of the panelists and the former executive director of Northeastern University Hillel. She will provide information about how the State Department defines an anti-Semitic act and will address the active role students and their families can play by participating in community responses to campus incidents.

Two alumni of the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, Dylann Cooper, a senior at Roger Williams College, and Zach Shwartz, a graduate of Boston University, will be joined on the panel by Tufts University sophomores Madeline Blondy and Rachel Wulf.

Last April on the night before Passover, members of the Tufts Community Union Senate passed a divestment resolution that accused Israel of being an apartheid regime and endorsed the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement.

Similar issues are arising widely and more frequently, according to Kenneth L. Marcus, president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., and author of “The Definition of Anti-Semitism” and “Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America.”

“We’re seeing four important trends lately,” he said. “First, alt-right activity is substantially increasing. Second, left wing anti-Zionist activity continues to surge. Third, in the current environment, anti-Zionist activity tends to merge with other campus protest activity, such as anti-Trump, anti-fascist, and Black Lives Matter. Finally, campus anti-Semitism continues to spread throughout the country, no longer focused on a few states or regions.

“Campus anti-Semitism is becoming more complex and pervasive,” Marcus said.

Nationwide, there have been 457 incidents so far in 2017, including 27 in Massachusetts, according to the AMCHA Initiative, a California-based nonprofit that tracks anti-Semitic acts at institutions of higher learning (amchainitiative.org).

Nonetheless, Marcus is heartened that the Jewish community is becoming more aware of the problem and is ready to take action. “There are now increasing numbers of Jewish, pro-Israel, and counter anti-Semitism events at many colleges,” he said. “While it is true some problems are worsening, it is also true that we are getting stronger and better able to fight them.”

Jahna Gregory, a North Shore task force member and Marblehead mother of three, is pleased the group is fulfilling its mission of awareness, education, and advocacy. At its next event, the task force will invite Braverman to lead a one-day workshop of tools and strategies for dealing with campus anti-Semitism that she developed while at Northeastern.

“It is important that the Jewish community not isolate ourselves after anti-Semitic incidents and that we send an unambiguous message to our Jewish young adults that they should never allow themselves to be intimidated into silence or hiding their Judaism,” said Braverman.

“As Elie Wiesel said, ‘Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’”

For more information, email Marylou@shirathayam.org, call 781-599-8005, or visit bit.ly/CASTF-NS.

Pro-Israel Campus Groups Need To Become A Real Movement

Once again, articles about anti-Israel groups on U.S. campuses peppered the Jewish and secular press this week, leaving the impression that Jewish and pro-Israel students are being harassed, intimidated and compromised.

The ADL, in a November 20 blog titled, “Anti-Israel Activity Prevalent on Massachusetts Campuses This Year,” listed nine events that have occurred since September, including a “Festival of Resistance” at Smith College that culminated in an anti-Israel rally outside Northampton City Hall.

Haaretz reported that Wellesley College’s Hillel director and Jewish chaplain were fired after they asked for a meeting with Wellesley’s Students for Justice in Palestine leaders. The Times of Israel reported about SJP’s planned illegal activities against Jewish students and Israel.

Divestment organizers at UCLA, representing a wide coalition of students from all backgrounds and sectors of campus, celebrated a milestone victory for social justice with the passage of “A Resolution to Divest from Companies Engaged in Violence against Palestinians” that singled out Israel.

Once again, pro-Israel groups reacted independently and inconsistently. Some worried that generating outside attention might inflame the situation, making campuses even more vulnerable. Some planned Israel advocacy trainings and sponsored thoughtful opportunities for dialogue. Others rose in defiance, loudly defending Israel against unfair resolutions.

One challenge they all faced was how to address these injustices without legitimizing them. David Suissa, in his opinion piece on the facing page, proposes a solution that is both proactive and constructive.

He suggests that all pro-Israel groups unite behind a single slogan so potent that it will reframe the debate over Palestine in a way that can empower all students, Jewish and non-Jewish, to support Israel.

His idea? “Israel can save the Middle East.”

Think about what might happen if the various pro-Israel groups banded together as a true movement that spoke with one voice and one goal: to draw attention away from Israel’s flaws and towards Israel’s position as the only positive and democratic influence in the Middle East and the only hope for transforming the chaotic region.

Who knows what could happen? Maybe someday the articles about pro-Israel activity on U.S. campuses might just outnumber their counterpart’s.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on December 4, 2014.

Supporting Our Children

Our college students are under pressures most of us did not encounter when we were their age. In addition to the expected stresses of academic and social adjustments, they are part of a generation that must struggle with financial anxieties over how they will bear their share of the exorbitant cost of their education and whether they will find a job in this very competitive market when they graduate. This fall, they must also contend with the burden of what it means to be a Jewish student on an American campus. The summer’s war in Gaza has led to an increase in global anti-Semitism, including pro-Palestinian protests and activism on campuses throughout the country. Some of the rallies, meetings and letter-writing campaigns have been organized by groups expressing reasoned criticism of Israel in respectful ways. Some of the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist demonstrations, however, are hateful attacks against Jews and the Jewish State that embrace Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic slogans. Most of our children have never encountered such openly hostile and aggressive targeting during their lives.

Many campus Hillel organizations have recognized the problem and are offering additional support and resources. For example, at Tufts University, where the Tufts chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will hold its national conference October 24-26, Israel educational programming and advocacy training are available for all interested students. Nonetheless, the presence of so many students, academics and activists who sponsor “Israel Apartheid Week” and promote the movement that advocates boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel will be unnerving.

And what about our students who do support a two state peaceful and just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Where can they find a safe place for thoughtful, nuanced civil dialogue in the current polarized environment where even some of their parents have drawn bright lines between what it means to be pro-Israel and what it means to be anti-Israel?

We need to make the time to talk to our young adult children and support them as thinkers in their own right.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on October 23, 2014.

Peace of Mind

September 11, 2001 marked a day of fear, disorientation and profound sadness for all Americans. Life as we knew it was suddenly altered. Since then, we have learned to live with its aftermath: color-coded terror alerts, heightened airport security and increased surveillance camera presence. We have become accustomed to the new post-9/11 “normal.” We may not be our pre-9/11 complacent selves but neither are we perpetually on the brink of panic. We take precautions, but we carry on.

September 11, 2014 presents similar challenges for Jews everywhere in the world. A wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel demonstrations has swept across every European country, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8. Daily reports of violence and defamation against Jews and Jewish property are impossible to ignore. The head of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, Vladimir Sloutzer, warned, “Never before since the Holocaust have we seen such a situation as today.” Such pronouncements are unnerving.

World Jewry is on edge, with good reason. This is not paranoia; to be anxious about the scope of this toxic hostility makes sense. There is a real and present danger in this anti-Semitic trend, and the relentless media coverage only increases our unease. Furthermore, there is the added complication of Israeli policies, politics and tactics with which not all Jews agree. However, disagreements with the policies of the Israeli government does not make us any more or less vulnerable to anti-Semitic attacks.

How can we American Jews avoid being consumed by feelings of helplessness and victimization? How do we maintain inner calm and peace of mind in this turbulent time of vandalism and desecration?

The answers are as different as the individuals asking the questions. For some, engagement, action and protest lighten the weight. Many seek the support of community and discussion and the outlet of action. For others, turning a hopeful eye inward works.

We must find ways to cope as individuals and as a global community with this new fear, disorientation and sadness. If we let the enemy destroy our peace of mind, then they will have truly won.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on September 11, 2014.