It is no secret that in the run-up to the presidential election anti-Semitism reared its ugly head more stridently and viciously than it has in a long time. Since Donald Trump’s election, the press has painted a small, but virulent, anti-Semitic fringe group as a legitimate alternative political faction by lumping together white supremacists, economic nationalists, and anti-establishment voters and referring to them as one monolithic group—the Alt-Right. Ben Shapiro’s recent interview published at Slate provides an excellent primer on this phenomenon.
While the anti-Semitic movement is small, it is still worrying, especially given the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the word. What, though, can we do to combat it? Here, as in most areas of life, the best solution lies with parents: Raise your children well.
But what can parents do besides teaching by example and condemning comments that disparage the Jewish people? Here are five suggestions learned from coming of age in homogeneous Christian rural Wisconsin.
1. Use Your Faith Tradition
As a Catholic, while I might self-deprecatingly quip that I don’t read the Bible, that of course is not true. We read both the old and the new testaments and, as such, Judaism and the Jews—God’s chosen people—form a part of our faith tradition.
When reading of Mary and Joseph, speak of them as being Jewish. When reading of the Presentation, of Jesus being lost and then found teaching in the temple, of Jesus’ disciples preparing for the Passover, that Jesus was Jewish is part and parcel of those stories. Share this perspective with your child. A child reminded frequently that his Savior was Jewish carries an impenetrable shield when confronted by the anti-Semitism of the world.
2. Share the Jewish Faith Tradition
Beyond connecting your faith to the Jewish people, teach your child about Judaism. At Passover, remind your child of the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt. At Hanukkah, talk about the celebration. Speak opening and inquisitively about the Jewish faith.
For instance, one year during our son’s annual check-up, his doctor mentioned that he had just finished a religious circumcision with his first patient. With our son’s rapt attention focused on the conversation, and with genuine interest, I asked, “Oh, was it a bris?” We chatted a moment about the ceremony and then I asked—sincerely and much to his amusement—if Rabbis, as opposed to doctors, do it free-hand!
If you do not know much about the Jewish faith, learn it together. Or consider reading books that tell of life in a Jewish family, such as Sydney Taylor’s “All-Of-A-Kind Family” series. That classic collection is worth a read for purely literary pleasure—they are absolutely wonderful—but the books also provide a warm look into a Jewish home in the early 1900s in New York City.
3. Speak of Evil
Hitler. Even a child of five should know his name and his atrocities. Of course, information should be presented in an age-appropriate way, but just as a child should learn early of “stranger danger,” so too should he learn of the horror of the Holocaust.
The best way to teach without preaching, I have found, is through stories. I often tell our son of his family. As is the case with most children, our son is full of questions:
“Did Grandma O’Brien have any brothers or sisters?”
“Yes, she had two sisters and one brother. Remember, I told you about my Aunt Rose and Aunt Marie.”
“Who was her brother?”
“Why don’t you ever tell me about Charles?”
“Because I didn’t know him, honey. Grandma’s brother Charles died when she was 14.”
“How did he die?”
“He was killed in World War II.”
“What’s a war?”
“It is a horrible thing where countries fight each other. But sometimes good countries have to stop bad countries from hurting innocent people. And the United States had to stop a very evil man named Adolph Hitler.”
“Why was Hitler evil?”
“Hitler killed millions of innocent people just because they were Jewish. And we had to stop him.”
“Why would he kill them because they were Jewish?”
“It doesn’t make sense does it? But he was evil. And evil men do evil things.”
The dialogue varies, but questions of family, countries, and history often present opportunities to teach the face of evil.
4. Make It Personal
Knowing Hitler was evil and that he killed many innocent people is one thing. But firmly planting that truth close to their hearts so that “Never Again” truly means “Never Again” requires more—it requires a personal connection. For many it was “The Diary of Anne Frank” that made the history of the Holocaust more real because it presented readers with a glimpse of a child just like them—with similar joys, fears, angers, and sorrows.
For me, “The Diary of Anne Frank” resonated in a more profound way that to this day still gives me chills: the cover picture of Anne Frank was the spitting image of old photographs of my brown-eyed brunette mother as a young girl. Also like Anne Frank, my mother, who was of German ancestry, was born in 1929. I vividly recall thinking as I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” that my mother could have been Anne.
Thinking back now, I wonder if my mother had commented on the chance resemblance to prompt that exact thought! It wouldn’t surprise me. In teaching me the most important lessons in life, my mother often made the abstract more real. Such was the case when she took me—at the age of eight, or maybe ten—to a showing of “The Hiding Place.” That film recounts the story of a Dutch family secreting Jews from the Nazis until a spy gives them away.
Forty years have passed, but that memory remains strong, albeit blurry. A local group had sponsored a showing of the movie in a neighboring town. I recall shyly entering a small second-floor room where a handful of people had gathered to watch the film. I remember the smell of the old pine wood floors and the dust burning on the bulb of the now-dated reel projector. I see the kind smiles—the welcoming ones adults give a child who bravely joins in a grown-up activity. I recall the movie being paused briefly to allow my mom to take me outside for a break while the group watched as the story of the Boom sisters played out in the Ravensbruck concentration camp. And I remember the incomprehensible evil of the Holocaust.
Children who have internalized the reality of anti-Semitism in a personal way are more likely to battle it as adults. So read, view movies, visit museums, go to talks by survivors. Make the unfathomable personal.
5. Celebrate the Good
But don’t just make the evil personal. Make the good personal, too—and celebrate it!
“The Hiding Place” told not just of evil, it told of good. Of Corrie and Betsie and their father. Of their faith and how through their bravery and sacrifice the Jews they had hidden survived. Study saints like Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar who provided shelter to Jews hiding from German persecution.
He later volunteered to die in the place of a husband and father the Nazis had selected to die. Read of Saint John Paul II’s younger life when, as a parish priest, he refused to baptize a Jewish boy after his parents had died during the Holocaust. Instead, he insisted the child be raised in the Jewish faith of his birth parents.
But don’t just speak of good Christians standing up to evil, as if Christians held a monopoly on virtue. Speak of faith-filled Jews. Men like Aaron Feurerstein—a true mensch. When fire destroyed Feurerstein’s textile mill, he vowed to rebuild and did. In the interim, he continued to pay his 2,600 employees the wages on which they depended to live. When life presents other examples, as it often does, highlight those for children too.
We may not be able to convert the virulent anti-Semitics in the world today, but by raising our children well we will assure that “Never Again” can mean just that.