LONGMEADOW — Longmeadow Public Schools hosted panel “Creating Affirming Spaces: Combatting Anti-Semitism” on May 2 at Longmeadow High School.

The discussion included five panelists that each represented different groups within the area and was part of the School Department’s work to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate in the schools after a swastika was drawn on a whiteboard at Longmeadow High School on Jan. 3, Director of Student and Family Support Nilda Irizarry told Reminder Publishing.

Facilitated by Danika Manso-Brown, co-founder of consulting organization Manso Brown Group, the panel discussed examples of antisemitism at the schools, potential challenges to addressing antisemitism and Jewish identity.

Panelists included Springfield College Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Rachel Rubinstein and Longmeadow parent and former civil rights attorney Shelley Barron. Also part of the panel were Glenbrook Middle School seventh grade English teacher Cara Crandall, Longmeadow High School sophomore Jenna Barr and Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea.

During the discussion, Manso-Brown highlighted how addressing one form of hate works to address all forms of hate, later emphasizing that antisemitism “doesn’t need intent or explicit hate to survive.”

“I want to remind us that antisemitism is one system of oppression that exists within a larger web of systems of oppression that includes racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, anti-Muslim bias, anti-immigrant bias, anti-LGBTQIA+ bias, [and] weightism and all of these systems of oppression work to reinforce one another,” Manso-Brown said.

Rubinstein further discussed this idea of connected hate when describing how misconceptions help antisemitism remain within societies. She highlighted that ideas such as that Jewishness is exclusively a religion and that Jews are all of European descent are two of these misconceptions.

Similarly, Barr explained that while students do learn about the Holocaust in classes, they do not study the swastika’s meaning in depth.

“I hope that educators can take the opportunity when the occasion arises to talk more about how the swastika is hateful,” she said. Barr went on to explain an incident she experienced at Longmeadow High School when students laughed while reading a book about the Holocaust.

“I didn’t say anything because I felt so nervous because when you say something it autonomically goes to ‘Oh, you’re a snitch,’” Barr said. “I can’t stand up for my religion and that made me feel really distressed and uncomfortable.”

As a teacher, Crandall described other incidents, stating that incidents of antisemitism at Longmeadow Public Schools have been occurring for years. She stated that students in seventh grade are old enough to understand the meaning behind antisemitism symbols such as the swastika and the Hitler salute, but still use them in order to exhibit power.

When asked about challenges to addressing antisemitism, O’Shea explained that the school community is working to “[face] these incidents head on” by calling out and addressing examples of hate when they occur. He also stated that a bias-free curriculum, access to books and music that affirm different cultures, specific policies and tailored professional development were important for helping students feel safe and supported.

Barron described similar points when asked how non-Jewish families can support the movement against antisemitism, stating that non-Jewish students should know how to report incidents and learn more about Jewish culture and holidays.

Following the panel discussion, Irizarry stated that the School Department was in the process of creating a committee and organizing more events in the next year to address other forms of hate.

The full panel discussion is available to view on the LongmeadowTV YouTube channel.

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