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JCRC wants to know about even ‘minor’ anti-Semitism
March 1st, 2013
One or more high school students throw some coins on the floor. When another kid picks them up, the throwers sneer and say to that kid, “You’re such a Jew.”
Is this an anti-Semitic incident? It appears likely. But is it an incident serious enough to be worth reporting to an agency like the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation?
JCRC director Elana Kahn-Oren says definitely yes. In fact, precisely because she and others believe that such incidents too often are not reported, the JCRC is doing something different with its annual audit of Milwaukee-area anti-Semitic incidents this year.
In the organization’s release to constituent organizations, Jewish agencies and rabbis about its 2012 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, Kahn-Oren and JCRC chair Joyce Altman wrote:
“We are particularly concerned about apparent under-reporting of anti-Jewish expression. Specifically, we have heard about continued anti-Semitic harassment and verbal expression among middle and high school students, which takes the form of jokes, pranks, teasing, and bullying.”
And it is right for Jews to be concerned about such incidents, Kahn-Oren explained in a conversation with The Chronicle on Feb. 21, the day of the audit’s release.
“Jokes that seem harmless create an atmosphere in which it is uncomfortable to be Jewish,” she said. Moreover, such incidents can become “a gateway to other anti-Semitic expression and activity.”
In addition to these, Kahn-Oren said another kind of anti-Semitic activity in schools and workplaces may be going underreported: instances of discrimination or harassment surrounding the High Holy Days.
She said students or employees may be told they cannot take off for Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur, or they do take off and are penalized. Sometimes at schools, a test is given the day after the holiday based on information given on the holiday when the Jewish students are absent.
Such instances have become “pretty widespread,” according to anecdotal evidence, Kahn-Oren said. If they are reported, the JCRC can intervene, and “there are ways we can stand up for ourselves,” she said.
But the JCRC needs to know about these and other incidents for several reasons, Kahn-Oren said:
First, “this audit is our official tracking of anti-Semitism in the Milwaukee-area,” and the JCRC passes it along to the Anti-Defamation League, which includes that information in its work of tracking anti-Semitism regionally and nationally.
Second, by telling the JCRC about incidents, “we can help people figure out an appropriate response.”
Third, “It is important for us to understand what the climate is for Jews in our community, so we can make it a safe community that embraces diversity, and appropriately and effectively counters intolerance and hate,” she said.
According to the “Jewish Community Study of Greater Milwaukee 2011” carried out by the MJF, about 20 percent of Milwaukee-area Jews reported feeling uncomfortable about revealing their Jewish identity on one or more occasions.
To encourage more reporting, the JCRC has put on the Internet an Anti-Semitism ReportLine at www.milwaukeejewish.org/antisemitism. People also can call the JCRC at 414-390-5736. By both means, community members can confidentially and securely report anti-Semitic incidents of any type.
Moreover, Kahn-Oren said, “The JCRC has decided to focus on helping people in the Jewish community identify and recognize anti-Semitic expression, and to develop tools to help them respond to it.”
Last year, the JCRC brought ADL representatives to Congregation Shalom for a program on anti-Semitism that drew some 50 high school students, and “we want to hold many more of those kinds of programs this year,” Kahn-Oren said.
And community members should not be afraid to report incidents that upon further investigation may not actually be anti-Semitic. “We would rather have over-reporting than under-reporting,” Kahn-Oren said.
The audit lists 12 reported incidents in the Milwaukee-area in 2012. Most of them, according to the JCRC release, involved “verbal and written expressions of anti-Semitism.” There was one recorded instance of vandalism of public property.
Kahn-Oren said the JCRC has been seeing over the last few years “a disturbing amount of Holocaust and Nazi language and imagery” in anti-Semitic expressions. One-third of the incidents reported in 2012 involved such language and images, the JCRC reports.