SWAMPSCOTT — College-bound teenagers are invited to attend a free event aimed at helping them understand and identify anti-Semitism and alert school administrators if they encounter it on campus.
The forum follows a recent Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report that shows anti-Semitism is on the rise, which counted 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents nationally in 2017, a 57 percent increase over the previous year.
In Massachusetts, there were 177 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, a 42 percent increase over the previous year. There were 93 reported incidents occurring in schools last year. That was an 86 percent increase over 2016, when there were 50 incidents, according to the ADL.
The Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore, which was formed by Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, who serves as president of the task force, will hold a free event “What’s up at college: How to identify and respond to campus anti-Semitism” on Thursday, March 22 from 5:30-7 p.m. The forum will be at the synagogue, at 55 Atlantic Ave.
The Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force is a nonprofit organization established to provide awareness, education and support to college students and their families based on the North Shore.
“On the North Shore, we’ve seen the rise of anti-Semitic vandalism and a neo-Nazi protest with torches on the UVA campus in Charlottesville last year,” said Ragozin in a statement. “But on many college campuses, incidents of anti-Semitism can often be much more personal and subtle, leaving students to wonder if what they just saw or experienced was anti-Semitic or not.
“Oftentimes, because they’ve never experienced it before, Jewish students tend not to say anything, they don’t report it, they don’t discuss it, and they feel more isolated and vulnerable. This program is designed to help them understand what is or is not anti-Semitism and to help them figure out ways to respond appropriately.”
According to a press release for the event, examples of subtle forms of anti-Semitism can include targeting Jewish students for wearing Jewish symbols, interrupting the observance of Jewish holidays, bullying and demeaning Jewish students for being Jewish, isolating and preventing them for supporting causes, and assigning responsibility for Israel’s actions to American Jews.
The forum will be led by Arinne Braverman, former Hillel director at Northeastern University, who has experience with helping students respond and protect themselves if they encounter anti-Semitism on campus. There will be a discussion about the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism, followed by offering students different scenarios to identify possible responses for.
In a separate phone interview, Ragozin said the event specifically targets the need to begin training and empowering teens to respond to both anti-Semitism and basic Jewish animus on college campuses. It’s the second event put on by the task force. The first was in the fall.
Ragozin spoke about a possible scenario. He said a student taking a Middle East studies class could submit a paper critical of Hamas. The “A” student could receive a “D” on the paper and be told by the professor to rewrite it and include the positive information the professor has taught about Hamas in the class in order to get a better grade.
Another scenario, he said, is that a student could be wearing a Jewish star around her neck and after that, the professor could begin calling her “Sarah,” the name of a Jewish matriarch, leading her to stop wearing the Jewish star because the professor is really bullying her.
At the end of each scenario, Ragozin said teens would be asked if this is anti-Semitism and what they would have done if they encountered this. He said students need to know scenarios so they can think of how to respond.
“It’s unfortunate that we need to provide this kind of training to help identify and respond to bigotry and hatred aimed at Jewish students, but we feel it is important to prepare students,” Ragozin said in a separate statement. “We know a lot of Jewish students aren’t targeted, but we’ve also seen that there can be pervasive anti-Semitism on campuses even with a strong percentage of Jewish students.”
In the past several years, there have been multiple anti-Semitic incidents in Swampscott and nearby Marblehead. Two years ago, swastikas were scrawled on a Pleasant Street sidewalk in Swampscott and in the town’s middle school parking lot.
Over the Fourth of July weekend last year in Marblehead, anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a harbor causeway wall off Ocean Avenue. Two years ago, Marblehead Police found “Jews did 9/11” spelled out in the dirt of the high school’s softball field and swastikas were found on some basketball courts in multiple town parks.