SWAMPSCOTT — A local task force formed by a rabbi from Congregation Shirat Hayam is putting the focus on how anti-Semitism is affecting college life with a panel discussion on Sunday.
“What’s up at college: How anti-Semitism is affecting college life, a free panel discussion about Jewish life on campus, featuring current college students, alumni and campus professionals and aimed at an audience of teenagers and parents, will be at Congregation Shirat Hayam, 55 Atlantic Ave., from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
The event was organized by the Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore, which was formed by Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Congregation Shirat Hayam, and president of the task force, last year in response to a disturbing trend of increased anti-Semitism on college campuses across the country.
The panel discussion is the first by the task force, a nonprofit founded to provide awareness, education and support to local college students and their families. The goal of the task force is to raise awareness, educate and to help college students advocate for themselves on campus.
“There’s a problem of rising anti-Semitism in the world and the part that I am most concerned about has to do with the college campus because it was on the college campus that my own Jewish identity deepened and began to flourish in significant ways,” Ragozin said. “I don’t know what trajectory my Jewish identity would have taken had I been a student in an era of anti-Semitism like we have today.”
Ragozin said the primary goal of the event is to raise awareness, especially among high school teenagers thinking about college, so they’ll be prepared “to respond or really keep their soul intact when they enter the college environment and encounter anti-Semitism.”
He said sometimes students aren’t always aware of their school’s processes in place to protect students, so they wind up not saying anything or transferring to get away from the harassment they were subjected to on campus. The discussion will give them a chance to learn from the experience of current students and recent alumni.
Ragozin said anti-Semitism comes from the far-left and the alt-right.
On the left, he said, there is anti-Israel based anti-Semitism, which is sometimes called the new anti-Semitism. According to a state working definition of anti-Semitism relative to Israel, that could include blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions, or delegitimizing Israel by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination or denying Israel the right to exist.
On the right, Ragozin said, there is classic anti-Semitism, whether that’s going back to blood libels or Nazis, swastikas or stereotypes about Jews.
In Swampscott and nearby Marblehead, there have been several recent instances of anti-Semitism in the community.
In April 2016, swastikas were found chalked on a Pleasant Street sidewalk in Swampscott, and another swastika was scrawled in the parking lot of the town’s middle school.
In Marblehead, a rash of anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered over the fourth of July weekend on a harbor causeway wall off Ocean Avenue. A month later, police responded to a swastika found drawn in the dirt at Marblehead High School.
In August 2016, Marblehead Police found “Jews did 9/11” spelled out on the dirt of the high school’s softball field. Swastikas were also scrolled on some basketball courts in multiple town parks last year. In Dec 2015, pennies in the shape of a swastika were photographed by Marblehead High School students and posted on Snapchat.
“We live in a time of increasing hate and animus directed at not just Jews, but at human beings who are (categorized) somehow as being different,” Ragozin said. “That hatred will stem from really nothing that the person did, but it will be hated at who they are at the core of their being, when that core of their being is doing absolutely no harm to anybody else.
“It demands a multi-pronged approach. We want to strengthen the identity and the inner confidence of people so that their soul is protected from an encounter with hate and we want to mobilize a society (of) not just the victims but really a society to respond to hatred, bigotry, anti-Semitism, racism, animus based on sexual orientation etc.,” he said.