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Jan. 29, 2024, 8:03 p.m.

Educator Voice: Teaching about antisemitism, 'the longest hatred'

Jewish Solidarity March Held In Response To Rise In Anti-Semitism
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: People participate in a Jewish solidarity march on January 5, 2020 in New York City. The march was held in response to a recent rise in anti-Semitic crimes in the greater New York metropolitan area. (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

by Syd Golston

Antisemitism has been called “the longest hatred” because it dates back to the kingdoms of the ancient world. It has persisted throughout millennia alongside the world’s evolving geography, economics, politics and social history.

As educators grapple with teaching current events in the Middle East including the Israel-Hamas war, specific resources can help students understand the history of the disputed land and the stereotypes around Jewish identity.

Credit: Share My Lesson, screenshot

Presenting such an extensive story to students is truly a challenge. There is a traditional Jewish saying about improving the world — “You do not have to complete the task, but you do not have the right to abandon it.” The same wisdom also applies to teaching the history of antisemitism.

Around 1000 BCE, a theocratic monarchy, the Kingdom of Israel, flourished where the state of Israel exists now. The kingdom was attacked by the Babylonians and the Egyptians, among others. The final blow was dealt when the Romans conquered the land and dispersed the Israelis.

After much of Europe was Christianized, Jews were often blamed for the Romans’ execution of Jesus, and were the scapegoats for many ills in European society. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague killed a third of all of the population of Europe. Jews were accused of poisoning wells, and of using babies’ blood in their rituals (the “blood libel”). We often teach this moment with vivid primary sources, including literary ones like selections from Boccaccio’s “Decameron.”

There is a traditional Jewish saying about improving the world — “You do not have to complete the task, but you do not have the right to abandon it.”

The culmination of this scapegoating and hate was the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews throughout Europe. The resources for teaching the Holocaust are extensive and varied. Many educators believe that the most helpful texts include the Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” Gerda Weissmann Klein’s “All But My Life” and more.

I believe that world history is still best learned chronologically, but with significant thematic strands reintroduced in every study unit. That would be the best way to study antisemitism. Social studies educators — you do not have to complete the task but you cannot abandon it. The following resources offer ways for students to understand antisemitism’s historic roots as well as how antisemitism finds expression today.

Antisemitism in history

The Institute for Curriculum Services (ICS) defines antisemitism as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group." This ISC lesson will allow students to learn a more in-depth definition of antisemitism. You may also want to review this glossary on key terms associated with European antisemitism.

The ICS lesson Teaching the History of European Antisemitism will help students understand that the history of antisemitism goes back long before the Holocaust. This lesson on antisemitism goes back to the medieval era, and this Facing History video discusses the ancient roots of anti-Judaism.

ICS's Map of European Antisemitic Actions 1845-1914 allows students to understand the historical context around the formation of Israel. Use the map and discussion questions to research additional examples of antisemitism throughout Europe and learn about this critical period in history.

Credit: Screenshot via ICS

Antisemitism today

In April 2023, months before the Oct. 7 attack, a report showed an increase in 2022 of antisemitic incidents across the U.S. with "little sign of abating worldwide as political radicals have gained mainstream popularity."

Here are more resources on antisemitism you can review and use with your students:

  1. Share My Lesson's collection page has various resources on antisemitism for different age groups, including this TikTok video on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27).
  2. PBS Learning Media has a variety of lessons for different age groups, including the multi-part series Return to Auschwitz: The Survival of Vladimir Munk. and Ken Burns' The U.S. and the Holocaust series.

3. ADL Education (Anti-Defamation League):Jewish Culture and Antisemitism resources include historical and contemporary antisemitism and topics like antisemitism in sports.

4. Facing History & Ourselves: Responding to Antisemitism in the Classroom: Use these tools to help students understand the impact of antisemitism and stand up against hate. Facing HIstory has many videos on their YouTube page.

5. PBS NewsHour Classroom and NewsHour's resources:

Take 30 seconds to watch this Facing History video of Elie Wiesel. Why is he so concerned about indifference? How might indifference connect with antisemitism?

About the author

Syd Golston is a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies. She has served as a history teacher, school administrator, author and curriculum writer for many decades. Golston is a member of PBS NewsHour Classroom’s advisory board.

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