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High schoolers learn how to counter anti-Semitism at college

Journal Correspondent

Ben Birnbaum and Sophie Smith present their findings to the group.

APRIL 12, 2018 – Despite threats of the fourth nor’easter in the last few weeks, 15 high school students from Marblehead High School, Swampscott High School, and St. John’s Prep made it to Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott to attend an interactive training session called “What’s Up at College: How to Identify and Respond to Campus Anti-Semitism.”

The March 22 workshop was presented by the Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore, a nonprofit established to provide awareness, education, and support to high school and college students and their families.

Arinne Braverman, former Hillel director at Northeastern University, led the interactive discussion, helping the students recognize and prepare possible responses to various examples of anti-Semitism, both subtle and direct. Students learned responses might be to ask someone where they heard something, or do they really believe that, or, even, do you know any Israelis or Jews, personally?

Students also learned another response could be to challenge someone: For example, stating that’s not right or that comment was really offensive. The important message learned is that students should identify a possible response that they are comfortable making and be prepared to respond, rather than thinking after the fact I wish I had said something. They also learned how these responses can be used to stand up to all forms of prejudice and hate, not just anti-Semitism.

Students broke into smaller groups and discussed a range of real scenarios. They discussed how to identify whether an incident is anti-Semitic versus political advocacy or free speech; how to gather evidence to use when reporting an incident; how and where to report an incident; and why it is important to report these incidents.

Dylann Cooper, a graduate of the former Cohen Hillel Academy (now the Epstein Hillel School) in Marblehead and currently a senior at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., discussed a scenario that happened at her college. This incident involved a large swastika that was drawn in a dorm bathroom. In this case, the administration opened an investigation immediately, and sent multiple emails to the student body explaining the situation and asking students to come forward with information. Even though the culprit is still unknown, Jews on campus were supported by their school and felt safe in their community.

After the event at Shirat Hayam, the overwhelming feedback from all participants was this was an eye-opening experience. Multiple students, including Daniel Kasten and Max Mogolesko of Marblehead, stressed the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Others, like Jake Cullitan of Swampscott, stressed the importance of learning techniques for how to combat anti-Semitism. Others also thought it was helpful to learn how to best report an incident.

Kasten, Mason Friedman, and Lily Gregory worked with the adult members of the task force to plan this event and are excited to have additional students planning to join them next year.

Those interested can reach out to Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam at rabbiragozin@shirathayam.org.

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