On October 27, 2018, a gunman took the lives of 11 people worshipping inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community. It was also the latest in a series of antisemetic events and growing antisemtic sentiment around the country and the world.
Antisemitism is similar to other forms of hate and prejudice, but key differences lie in the perceptions of power and ability. The Tree of Life murders—and other recent anti-Jewish crimes—spurred O’Neill Assistant Professor Jamie Levine Daniel to action.
“We talk a lot about social equity, inclusion, and anti-racism but antisemitism is largely overlooked in many fields, including public affairs,” she says.
As a Jewish faculty member at a public affairs school, Levine Daniel wanted to know how she could make an impact and equip her students to better address these issues in the future.
“Antisemitism can affect how people deliver public and nonprofit goods and services, and how those services are consumed,” Levine Daniel adds. “Without understanding this relationship, we’re doing a disservice in training our students to be leaders in diverse societies.”
Levine Daniel wasn’t alone. Two other Jewish colleagues—Rachel Fyall from University of Washington and Jodi Benenson at University of Nebraska Omaha—had similar concerns. They began collaborating to find ideas on broaching the subject in their public affairs classrooms.
“My coauthors and I discovered we were shockingly unprepared when faced with how to talk about antisemitism to our students,” she admits. “We did not know how to approach the topic without making ourselves vulnerable.”
The three started looking for research to help guide their classroom conversations, but came up empty handed. What they did find focused on the Holocaust from a historical perspective.
Levine Daniel and her co-authors wanted to change that. They developed a first-of-its-kind article on how to incorporate discussions regarding antisemitism into public affairs classrooms, published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education.
The article provides insight on antisemitism, how faculty members can address it in their curricula, and how organizations can respond in the wake of these incidents. It also provides specific recommendations for courses in public management, nonprofit management, public policy, evaluation, human resources, and research methods. Some of these suggestions include incorporating case studies that impact Jewish populations; using an equity toolkit as a model to evaluate how programs impact Jews; and drafting sample HR policies with inclusive language.
Other key takeaways from the article include:
- Be prepared to differentiate between policy critiques that are connected to specific political actions versus those that play on stereotypical antisemitism tropes.
- Individual actions—such as a supportive email or check-in—help members of the Jewish community feel acknowledged and valued, particularly after anti-Semitic incidents.
- Employers should include Jewish holidays when planning meetings, removing the burden from employees.
Levine Daniel says public and nonprofit students need to demonstrate cultural competencies with the populations they serve and let people know they can trust their organizations. Those abilities start with the lessons they learn in the classroom from their instructors.
“Faculty sometimes don’t feel comfortable engaging in certain topics if they’re not part of a particular community or they don’t want to start potentially sensitive or offensive conversations,” she says. “We hope this article helps them feel more empowered to address this topic. We hope students who are engaged in these conversations come out of MPA programs better able to serve their stakeholders and communities.”