Spertus offers antisemitism training | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Spertus offers antisemitism training 

What should leaders of Jewish organizations do when they hear a stereotypical anti-Jewish comment, see antisemitic posts on social media, or even when they need to address a crisis resulting from antisemitism? 

Those are the sorts of questions that are weighed at Chicago’s Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning & Leadership, where a certificate in combating antisemitism is now offered to executives of Jewish organizations, with the hopes of arming them with the knowledge and tools to best address antisemitism.  

“We like to think of it as applied Jewish learning,” said Dean Bell, president and CEO of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.  

It’s “the idea that you can take Jewish thought, Jewish texts, Jewish experiences and apply them to contemporary issues. That’s how we arrived at addressing antisemitism because we’ve seen over the last three to five years, pretty significant increases in antisemitic incidents.” 

The new four-month program, which saw its first cohort in 2022, is offered to executive directors and senior-level leaders in Jewish organizations who have dealt with antisemitism. It costs $1,500. The curriculum begins with several online sessions, then a five-day intensive on campus followed by another six online sessions. It includes consulting with faculty and final projects.  

Professionals “need a network and they need skills and knowledge in order to be able to do this work effectively on the ground. We’re training them to go out into the field and to do that work,” Bell said.  

Bell said much of the training and coursework offered by other institutions regarding antisemitism typically is based on history or security issues.  

“We’re a lot about the nuance and the gray and the complexity … (and having) people understand the context of what’s happening and how to respond to it in its particular manifestation,” Bell said.  

 For example, participants and faculty members discuss the best ways to monitor antisemitism on social media, including decisions about when to engage and what kind of messaging to use.  

“The moment you respond, you’ve now elevated it even further,” Bell said. “I think it’s a real issue out there and I don’t know if there is a solution to it other than stepping back and trying to evaluate it.”  

University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Daniel Goldwin, the executive director of public affairs at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago, will finish his coursework this month. He spends his time at work deciphering antisemitism on social media and elsewhere, he said.  

“Having the historical underpinnings helps you separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said. “It’s also helping us figure out what are the things we can best attack because I can’t play whack-a-mole with everything.”   

Goldwin said that while he deals with antisemitism daily as part of his job, he needed a deeper understanding from a historical and theoretical perspective.  

“Spertus really specializes in giving that theoretical and historical perspective, and it’s not just creating a to-do list of things I need to do on a daily basis,” he said.  

The coursework consists of five modules, including history and context, intra-communal conversations, social media and inter-communal issues. The fifth module focuses on initiating change and requires students to apply what they have learned to their organizations and communities to make a difference.  

“Each participant has to identify a project and start on the project. Sometimes that’s around board education, creating an education program for community constituents, staff training or building an Interfaith Alliance,” Bell said. 

Faculty members are both from academia and the practical Jewish communal field, creating a deep level of expertise. A large portion of the course material is case studies that give students a chance to work through antisemitic incidents in a practical way, Bell said.  

“They’re developing these contextual skills of understanding the theories and the histories, but they’re also developing the practical skills of what to do when this happens,” Bell said. “If you’re thinking about it as it’s happening, it’s too late to identify the sorts of strategies that are available to you.”  

One of the major benefits of participating in the program is the networking, Goldwin said.  

“I’ve got a different universe of people I can turn to now for context, expertise … and commiseration,” he said. “My cohort is diverse in experience, diverse in geography and diverse in opinions. That’s going to be something that I’ll walk away with that is a really strong benefit.”