Inside Berkeley Hillel’s Innovative Approach to Disrupting Antisemitism
Jewish leaders at UC Berkeley have created a comprehensive toolbox for students to learn about antisemitism at Berkeley and beyond.
The Antisemitism Education Initiative, launched in the late spring of 2019, aims to holistically combat antisemitism through trainings, speakers, panels, and the notable 11-minute video, “Antisemitism in Our Midst: Past and Present.” The initiative received a $25,000 grant from the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) in 2020.
“The idea [of the initiative] is to raise awareness and knowledge about antisemitism on campus and start to improve conversations,” said Ethan Katz, Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley.
Katz co-founded the initiative with Berkeley Hillel Executive Director Adam Naftlin-Kelman and Berkeley Law Professor Steven Davidoff Soloman. The professors’ scholarly expertise combined with Rabbi Naftlin-Kelman’s day-to-day contact with Jewish student life brings a high level of integrity to the initiative.
“That combination really allows us to speak to people with a level of credibility that one of us alone would not have,” Katz said.
The founders aim to teach the greater public about the background of Jews, Judaism, and antisemitism while offering new language to support more constructive conversations.
“After watching [the film] for 11 minutes, students immediately leave feeling more confident [that they have] tools to call out antisemitism and recognize it when they see it,” Naftlin-Kelman said.
The video addresses the history of Jews and antisemitism through clear language and visuals. In fact, the script took four and a half months of writing and revising to capture three main takeaways, including the longer history of anti-Jewish hatred, the issue of Jews and race in America today, and the question of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, Katz said.
“The biggest challenge is that the issues are extremely complex, fraught, and extraordinarily divisive for the wider campus community and the American Jewish community,” Katz said. “We wanted to create something that would be clear and nuanced but also feel like it was open to people with different perspectives.”
The pandemic didn’t halt the debut of the initiative at universities. Sophie Morris, ASUC Student Senator at UC Berkeley, facilitated an antisemitism training for the Berkeley student body with the Antisemitism Education Initiative video leading the conversation. Only minutes into the training, the emotional impact of the video became apparent to Morris.
“During the training in the senate, there’s one other Jewish senator who expressed to me that she started to tear up during the training because of how validating it was,” Morris said. “So the video does a really good job of validating Jewish students and [giving them] a vocabulary to actually speak up about antisemitism.”
This innovative approach to disrupting antisemitism is just the beginning. Naftlin-Kelman plans to continue using education to support a campus climate where Jewish college students can be their authentic selves.
“From a place of education, we can empower administrators, student leaders, and staff to feel confident calling out antisemitism or even things that make it difficult for Jewish students to be their whole selves on campus,” Naftlin-Kelman said.
The Antisemitism Education Initiative video has nearly 7,000 views on Youtube and amassed national attention. “Our goal is to just really put it out there. We’ve been thrilled by how many people have used it as a resource,” Naftlin-Kelman said. “Every word makes a difference.”