“Did you hear what happened at Whitman?”

My student’s question greeted me as I walked into my Hebrew school classroom days after “Jews not welcome” was scrawled on the entrance sign to Walt Whitman High School—the latest in a wave of antisemitic attacks on our community, state and country. My planned lesson for that evening, covering life in ghettos for European Jews in the 1930s, never materialized. My seventh graders needed to discuss what was happening right now. 

Our ensuing conversation about recognizing and fighting antisemitism affirmed a critical truth: even as antisemitism invades our schools, classrooms are where we can help kids heal, inspire them to speak up for themselves and others, and plant seeds of tolerance and respect that will prevent future attacks.

As the Biden Administration and Maryland lawmakers eye national and state strategies, respectively, to combat antisemitism—and Montgomery County Public Schools grapples with a wave of attacks—education must be a top priority. 

As a Holocaust educator and as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, here are some principles for teaching and addressing antisemitism that school districts should prioritize: 

Antisemitism may be familiar to adults, but it is new to kids. After my class watched Dave Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live monologue—where he claimed “it’s not a crazy thing to think” that Jewish people control Hollywood—a student asked: “Why would anyone think I control anything just because I’m Jewish?” Her question was both a refreshing reminder of the absurdity of baseless conspiracy theories as well as a sobering reminder that a significant percentage of Americans believe them. It also showed how kids are far less familiar with these tropes than adults. Educators should not assume that kids’ have preexisting knowledge about antisemitism. They should expect questions underscored by sadness, confusion, disbelief, anger and fear; answers to those questions should be grounded in empathy and patience. 


To teach the past, start with the present. My grandparents toiled as slaves under Nazi rule in Poland before liberation from concentration camps; I teach the Holocaust to honor their legacy. But while most of my students don’t have a familial connection to the Holocaust, many of them have either personally experienced antisemitism at their schools, know others who have been affected, or are otherwise talking about these seemingly daily occurrences with their friends. As a teacher, I have found that having discussions about present-day antisemitism is essential to kids’ learning and understanding of the past and applying lessons learned to their own futures. Antisemitism dates back thousands of years, and teaching that full history is critical, but what’s happening today often resonates with kids far more. 

Most people are not antisemitic, but antisemitism doesn’t need a majority. The Nazis never received a majority vote in any legitimate German election, and many times didn’t even come closer: 3% in 1924, 2.6% in 1928, and 18.3% in 1930. Even after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, the Nazis received only 44% of the vote in an election later that year. The fact that most Germans were not Nazis and did not cast votes for them was not enough to prevent the ensuing atrocities. Adherents of antisemitism thrive on silence from others. School-based training resources to help children (and adults) stand up and speak out is an essential complement to classroom discussions. 

Antisemitism, like other forms of discrimination, can affect students’ health and ability to learn. Removing a swastika from a desk or hateful language from a school sign is the easy part. Properly addressing the emotional scars left behind is a major long-term challenge. Too many of our children are already experiencing debilitating levels of stress and anxiety; ongoing antisemitic attacks can fuel it further. School counselors and psychologists are often the first line of defense with respect to providing care for affected students. They should also receive education on antisemitism to build proper awareness and understanding. 


Properly incorporating antisemitism education into school curricula requires resources. HB638 would establish a $1.2 million Holocaust Education Assistance Grant Programannual appropriation under the Maryland State Department of Education. Grants would be available for schools to assist with Holocaust-related training, materials and activities. This is the type of investment we need to help schools become effective allies. 

It is through no fault of their own that our children are subject to the current barrage of antisemitic attacks. As I regularly tell my students: generations of Jewish people before us have persevered, and we will as well. But we need schools in our corner as the fight continues. 

Adam Zimmerman teaches the Holocaust and Jewish identity in America at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD


Editor’s note: MoCo360 encourages readers to send us their thoughts about local topics we have covered for consideration as a letter to the editor or op-ed piece in our Saturday newsletter. Email them to editorial@moco360.media. Here are our guidelines. We require a name and hometown for publication. We also require a phone number (not for publication) for us to verify who wrote the letter. Please provide a source for any facts in your letter that were not part of our coverage; if they can’t be verified, they likely will be omitted. We do not accept any submissions from a third party; it must come directly from the writer. We do not accept any pieces that have been published or submitted elsewhere.