Standing Up For Family - Choosing to Take a Stance on Antisemitism
Scrolling through your Promotions tab in Gmail one day, you come across your alma mater’s monthly newsletter, with a subject line that reads, “Mr. and Mrs. John Doe Lie to Society”.
You stare in horror, and then proceed to read the entire article, which completely falsifies and defames Mr. and Mrs. Doe in the most humiliating fashion. You can’t believe it. Not only are the Does alumni, but they are proud supporters, large donors and they would never, ever do what they’re being accused of. You know this for a fact, actually, because they are your parents.
You are now faced with a choice. You can write to the editor, demanding an explanation and retraction of their statement. You can copy the link to the article, blast it out to every person you know, and proclaim its falsehood. You can confront your parents and make sure that they are who you think they are, and relay this information to your friends and colleagues, clearing up your parents name.
Or you can simply delete the email, pretend you never read it, and hope that at the next alumni event, no one remembers your last name.
If you’re like most healthy, normal people, then hopefully the choice to do nothing (which is, of course, always a choice) would never even cross your mind. Allowing others to defame, denounce and destroy the name of the people constantly cared, loved and raised you is something you would never allow, much less ignore. To do so would be ludicrous, and would denote a severe disconnect between yourself and your parents.
We call this response apathy; the lack of interest in the event taking place.
But when it comes to our nationality, our birthright, our legacy, sometimes, apathy is our modus operandi.
The current conversation around antisemitism is all-encompassing. We turn on the TV, open our social media or our inbox and are flooded with messages about who said what and why. Celebrities, politicians, Rabbis, and everyone in between, are adding their two cents to the conversation. And if you’re Jewish, scrolling through this minefield of chatter and opinion can make it tempting to simply close the app, hunker down, and hope no one knows that your last name is Goldberg.
But if, like in the above example, you don’t stand up for your parents and attempt to clear their name, who will?
If the young, Jewish generation’s response to antisemitism and Jewish values is one of apathy, who will be the ones to care? Who will stand up and clear the name of our family, if not us? In fact, who can stand up and defend the Jewish people, if not the Jews? If it doesn’t bother you, it won’t bother anyone.
We all will experience events in life that demand we react; the question is, how should we react?
This question is an important one, and has been on my mind as these conversations and debates abound.
As the Director of Thrive Study Abroad, I’ve spent the last fifteen years combatting Jewish apathy through our various study abroad programs in Israel. A large part of this has been having discussions with our students and alumni, challenging their assumptions, educating them on the truth, and most importantly, encouraging them to do anything but be apathetic.
I’d like to share some insights I have discovered through these conversations.
The first, and most important takeaway, is, don’t be apathetic. Don’t tell yourself, it’s ok, someone else will respond. No, always care for and stand by your family. (And if you aren’t Jewish, it’s ok to stand by the Jewish people, too. We as a society need to stand up for each other, and not wait for someone else to do it.)
While not being apathetic is a passive response, the next level encourages action. Figure out how you can take a stand. Talk to your roommates. Talk to your family. And if these conversations make you uncomfortable, then educate yourself so you feel empowered to have these conversations.
A student who reached out for guidance was uncomfortable taking a stance at work. He was focused on his professional development, and felt that discussing antisemitism in his work environment would negatively impact his career.
I explained that there are certain values in life that we need to stand up for, and this is one of them. However, he could take a stance in a different area of life. He decided to use this opportunity to increase his involvement in his Jewish community, and joined a Shabbat meal that same week. He also felt comfortable enough to have discussions about Jewish values with his roommates.
The most impactful response is a public one. I spoke with one of our alum, Michelle Jungreis Pearl, about her and her father Aaron Jungreis’s brave decision to wear “Fight Antisemitism” T-shirts at a Brooklyn Nets game last month as a response to antisemitic sentiment displayed by Kyrie Irving, a Nets player.
Michelle, whose bold act was featured all over the news, explained that she and her father felt they couldn’t remain silent, and had to speak up in defense of the Jewish people. She realized that she could make a difference, in a place where others were not standing up or taking responsibility for the statements that had been made. In the end, her stance was the catalyst that led to Kyrie’s suspension for eight games due to his statements.
Other students I’ve spoken with have pushed past their discomfort and taken a stance on social media. Whether you put on a shirt at your local sporting event or prefer to post on social from the comfort of your home, reacting with intention and standing up for your Jewish family is imperative in our fight against antisemitism.
So as the conversation continues to grow, I encourage you to recognize that this is one of those opportunities in life where you can choose. Choose to react, to distance yourself from apathy, and to care. Choose to step outside of your comfort zone and connect with your Judaism and your values. Choose to educate yourself and those around you. Choose to take a stance and fight for your family. It may be the most important thing you ever choose to do.
As Thrive alumni and current students know, my door is always open for questions and discussions. If you’d like to educate yourself further on the current topics of conversation, we are hosting an Alumni Q&A on Antisemitism this Sunday, December 11 at 11 AM EST on Zoom.
Please spread the word and feel free to bring a friend who would like an honest and open discussion about Jewish values and combating apathy. The Zoom link is here: and will be emailed to all alumni, and posted on our Instagram as well.
Join the conversation!