Empowering Jewish Teens: Navigating Antisemitism with Pride and Resilience
Tel Aviv, Israel - May 12, 2016: Old Yaffo streets full of tourists.

Empowering Jewish Teens: Navigating Antisemitism with Pride and Resilience

By Iris Hami

Since the October 7th pogrom, we’ve seen an ugly outbreak of antisemitism. Lawless occupations of college campuses and street demonstrations have marred our communities, while a frenzy of online vitriol is poisoning social media. It’s a disturbing and intimidating environment for everyone – and for Jewish teens in particular. The good news is that we can fight back through antisemitism awareness and youth empowerment!

The murderous Hamas pogrom, and Israel’s robust response to the massacres, has stirred up a hornets nest on already volatile US college campuses. We’ve also seen frightening street demonstrations, reminiscent of SA marches. Modern antisemitic thugs don’t wear brownshirts, they wear Palestinian keffiyehs and black hoods. But today’s terrorist slogans and incitements to violence against Jews would have resonated with the Nazis.

 A lot of the disorder appears to have been inflamed by foreign agitators and financed by regimes hostile to Israel and the West. There is also a mob of angry and attention seeking kids whose knowledge of the Middle East is minimal. They are chanting slogans they barely understand, and mindlessly parroting slanders like “apartheid” and “zionnist occupation” – and blood libels like “genocide”. The real problem is that vicious antisemitism is now socially acceptable in some student and academic circles, and on social media.

Helping Jewish Teens Cope with Mob Hate

There are numerous reports of Jewish college kids and teachers being denigrated, intimidated and even assaulted. The atmosphere is ugly and increasingly dangerous and the response from academic administrators and college presidents is somewhere between feeble and cynical. It’s a tough time for Jewish teens, many of whom feel like they are in 1930s Germany. This time however, there will be an organized fightback.

If you’re worried about your kids, there are plenty of effective strategies for empowerment. The most obvious is to enroll them in a martial arts class or boxing gym to give them the practical skills and robust self-confidence to deal with bullies (which is all that most of the college protesters actually are).

There are also other less “kinetic” strategies such as fostering a strong and positive concept of Jewish identity for teens and a deeper sense of Jewish heritage, as well as strengthening local Jewish communities and forging links with Jewish communities around the world.

Develop Antisemitism Awareness – Not Antisemitism Anxiety

The first step when you’re helping Jewish teens navigate antisemitism at school and online is to be honest and try to give a balanced sense of perspective. Yes, there are ugly rabbles on campus, but the bigots are by no means the majority of students. The same applies to the demonstrators in our city centers.

They are noisy, vocal and hostile, but there are more than 340 million people in the US. The silent majority doesn’t support the mob – and many actually support Israel and Jews. Discuss the relative dangers and talk about how Weimar Germany fell into the abyss of Nazism and the Holocaust, and explain that 1930s Jews were disorganized and (mainly) naive.

Remind your kids that modern Israel has a top tier army (with an ethical foundation) and a population that stands up and fights back against terror. Encourage your kids to research all the positives of Jewish history and the millennia of cultural and scientific achievements. There is a wealth of Jewish heritage to explore and take genuine pride in.

Never Suffer Antisemitism in Silence

When we teach our kids to fight back against antisemitism, we need to show them how to use the system and the importance of holding individuals – and institutions – to account. Involve your kids in writing to elected representatives, college administrators, financial donors, and media outlets. Ask questions and demand action. If your kids are ready to apply to colleges, suggest that they write to request a copy of the school’s policy towards antisemitism on campus and demand assurances that they will be safe.

Make it plain that antisemitism comes with financial, legal, career and reputational consequences. You’ll be amazed at how fast attitudes and policies change. There is strength in numbers, so join together with likeminded people – galvanize non-Jewish friends and allies too – and start applying coordinated pressure.

Build Links with a Shared Jewish Identity for Teens

Combating antisemitism aside, it’s great to get teens to build links with their peers in other Jewish communities around the world. The internet is a useful tool for this, but nothing beats signing up for Jewish heritage tours and bar or bat mitzvah tours to different countries.

The obvious, and most popular destination is Israel, but there are superb opportunities to travel to meet the Jewish community in cities as far apart as Buenos Aires in Argentina, Berlin in Germany, or even really unexpected locations like The UAE or India.

Structured programs, with plenty of open dialogue and cultural activities, can raise awareness of local and international Jewish issues and create powerful bonds and a sense of shared Jewish identity for teens and young adults among the next generation of business, community and even political leaders.

Jewish heritage tours are also a lot of fun and can really broaden the average teen’s awareness and understanding of the world. Travel is a real confidence and character builder. It can also be a real pleasure to travel as a group organized by a professional travel company and gain privileged access to places and people that most tourists simply aren’t even aware of.

Gil Travel is a leading Jewish tour specialist and is committed to playing a leading role in promoting antisemitism awareness and combating bigotry. If you’re interested in a tailored group heritage tour catering for kids or young adults – or for people of any age – talk to us now.

About the Author

Iris Hami is President of Gil Travel Group, the largest travel management firm sending people to Israel. She has over 40 years of experience in the travel industry, and uses that knowledge to craft unique Jewish journeys around the world. Her company has won multiple awards, including one from State of Israel Bonds for Extraordinary Achievements Promoting the State of Israel.

About Staff

They call me "NewsHound IV," because I'm a clever Finnegan, sniffing out stories all over the Boulder area. I love Jewish holidays because the food is GREAT, especially the brisket. Well all the food. I was a rescue pup and glad to be on the scent!

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