'Since October 7, the mask is off'

ADL partners with NCSY to help US Jewish teens deal with post-Oct. 7 antisemitism

Advocacy group and Orthodox youth movement aim to provide tools to push back against Jew hatred and be a safe space for high schoolers across the country to celebrate their Judaism

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Rabbi Micah Greenland speaks to a Jewish Student Union club in a history classroom in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in early 2024. (Reuven Lebovitz)
Rabbi Micah Greenland speaks to a Jewish Student Union club in a history classroom in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in early 2024. (Reuven Lebovitz)

NEW YORK — Sofie Glassman was standing in line in the cafeteria of East Meadow High School when she overheard some students say they wanted to throw a Jewish student in a gas chamber because they didn’t like him. While Glassman said she’s faced antisemitism nearly every day since kindergarten — she still remembers when a student said she wouldn’t play with her because she was Jewish — it’s escalated since October 7.

“Kids are always saying things like this, it’s just gotten worse. Students post things like ‘Zionists are colonists,’ or ‘Zionists are the worst thing you can be.’ There have been swastikas in the bathroom and in classrooms,” said Glassman, who is in her junior year.

Since the Hamas-led massacre in southern Israel on October 7, students are increasingly exposed to antisemitic jokes, seeing pro-Hamas content posted on social media or being excluded from groups because of their Jewish identity.

The onslaught saw 1,200 people brutally butchered in Israel, most of them civilians, and 253 abducted to the Gaza Strip. Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiment saw a dramatic rise globally in the wake of the attack, as did antisemitism. These were compounded by the subsequent Israeli military operation to remove Hamas from power and retrieve the hostages.

Recognizing this, the Anti-Defamation League and NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, recently launched a new partnership to provide resources for Jewish students in both secular and Jewish day schools, primarily through NCSY’s Jewish Student Union (JSU) clubs.

According to preliminary data from the ADL, there were a total of 3,291 antisemitic incidents between October 7 and January 7 — a 361 percent increase over the same period a year prior. This includes 256 antisemitic incidents reported in K-12 schools, or a 54% increase compared to the same period a year prior.

“Most of us who grew up in America faced little to no antisemitism. Since October 7, the mask is off. All of these blatantly antisemitic people have been emboldened. It’s clearly not a fringe minority anymore, it’s a vocal, large minority. And once the mask lifted, this hate is out there, unvarnished on display,” said NCSY international director Rabbi Micah Greenland.

Sofie Glassman, a junior at East Meadow High School, speaks during a Jewish Student Union meeting in early 2024. (Courtesy)

With more than 320 clubs in North America, JSU is open to Jewish students of all denominations. While the clubs are havens for students to learn about Israel and Jewish life while expressing pride in their Judaism, Greenland said the current climate means also having to learn how to push back against antisemitism.

He said working with partners like the ADL will “give students an additional sense of safety and security.”

Students and staff in NCSY programs are also encouraged to use the ADL’s platform to report incidents of antisemitism, said ADL New York and New Jersey regional director Scott Richman.

Ending the Sabbath with a lively havdalah ceremony at an NCSY event, Rabbi Micah Greenland, onstage, hypes up the crowd. (Etan Vann)

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war the ADL has embarked on a number of partnerships to fight antisemitism in secondary schools and on college campuses. With New York State leading the nation in the number of antisemitic incidents, elected officials including Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) backed the idea of the partnership.

“I wholeheartedly support efforts by the ADL and NCSY to empower the next generation of Jews to be advocates against antisemitism. The leadership of the next generation is needed now more than ever as we navigate a world of amplified antisemitism,” Torres told The Times of Israel.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., questions witnesses during a hearing of a special House committee dedicated to countering China, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 28, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Likewise, Democratic New York City Council Member Eric Dinowitz said having an array of partnerships such as the ADL-NCSY is important as they can disseminate information on how antisemitism affects everyone in the community, help both staff and students identify cases of antisemitic expression and empower Jewish youth to embrace their culture.

“The fact that we must worry that our children are being subjected to hate and prejudicial bias in places that are meant to be safe spaces, especially in their formative years, is horrifying. Nowhere in our community is it acceptable to perpetuate antisemitism, but it is even less acceptable for our public schools. Constituents are now experiencing increasing worry that Jewish students must incur hate for who they are, simply by pursuing an education,” Dinowitz said.

Rabbi Nati Stern, the director of JSU and NCSY in Houston, said there’s been a sharp uptick in antisemitism both inside and outside school, particularly on social media. In his conversations with Jewish teens, he also finds they are feeling increasingly uneasy and isolated.

“A teen who they sit next to in history class, who they once thought was their friend, is now sharing, reposting and spreading antisemitic lies and tropes. They eat in the same lunchroom as their peers share pro-Hamas posts,” said Stern, who helps run JSU clubs in nine schools in the greater Houston area.

Because of that, Stern said Jewish students need supportive communities such as JSU clubs, adding that he hopes the partnership between ADL and NCSY will help create more resources for Jewish teens to be heard.

Echoing that sentiment, East Meadow High School’s Glassman said she’s looking forward to learning more ways to combat antisemitism through the partnership.

“Staying silent isn’t an option,” she said.

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