“It feels like jews are exotic, and you have to be afraid of them”

Children on their way to school © Maja Hitij

A comprehensive school teacher of Jewish faith describes how she experiences everyday anti-Semitism at school. Insults like "You Jew!" are the order of the day. Where does this anti-Semitism among children and young people come from??

Interviewer: As a teacher, have you experienced anti-Semitism at your school?

Mascha Kogan (teacher at Neuss comprehensive school): First, I'd like to clarify: What is anti-Semitism anyway? The general definition says: Anti-Semitism is an act against Jews, a hateful act. For me that is a bit too narrow. I find these invectives like "You Jew!" or also these statements "These are Jewish prices", which are not really meant in a bad way, are for me clear signs of anti-Semitism and of certain negative attributions towards Jews.

This is the kind of thing you experience on a regular basis – not always ill-intentioned. Quite often these are thoughtless remarks. One would describe it as a linguistic derailment of students. I have seen a few times that students subliminally disliked Jews even though they had never seen or talked to Jews. They also couldn't explain what was wrong with Jews, and then were very surprised that Mrs. Kogan, whom you actually do like, is Jewish and makes no secret of it. In the course of the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts there is also hostility, because as a Jew you are always responsible for what happens in Israel.

Interviewer: After all, it is inconceivable that in 2019 we have to discuss anti-Semitism again. Where does this anti-Semitism come from, from children who don't know any Jews at all?? Does it also come from the parental homes?

Interviewer: It is – perceived – nothing new, but has always been there. It feels like Jews are always exotic, something unknown that you seem to have to be afraid of. Partly it comes from the parental home. A relatively young child who has never seen Jews has no idea yet of what not to like.

There are also very different types of anti-Semitism. Of course, there is Islamic anti-Semitism, which is quite often brought into focus. But this is by far not the only one. Right-wing anti-Semitism is present in the middle of our society and has probably always been there and never gone away. But left-wing anti-Semitism is also growing very strongly.

Interviewer: Do the students even know what they are saying there?

Kogan: I think that it is already quite clear to one that one is insulting and hurting a religious community. It is simply accepted.

Interviewer: You complain that teachers often don't even notice anti-Semitism because they don't know exactly what is meant by anti-Semitism. So how do you recognize anti-Semitism?

Kogan: Quite often people say "You Jew!" not be perceived as a serious offense. It also took quite a long time in our society to understand that "disabled" as an insult does not go. This is the way we have to go with the name-calling "You Jew!" also go. In fact, "You Jew!" perceived as the most subtle. Then when there are clearly disputes in the realm of "you're a bad Jew!"I'm bullying you because you're a Jew", then it will be noticed. Schools do not always act rigorously in such cases, but most act correctly.

Interviewer: What role does social media play in terms of anti-Semitism?

Kogan: As a teacher of social sciences, I am well aware that our sphere of influence as teachers, parents and adults is not as big as that of social media. That's where the supposedly "cooler people" move around. I feel the influence of social media is enormous and extreme. The influence of the music scene is also enormous.

Interviewer: Students should be made aware that anti-Semitism is inhumane. For example, if a student sees someone doing the Hitler salute behind a teacher's back, shouldn't he report it, or?

Kogan: I would expect it. Ads would not be my first suggestion. At the school there are different levels of escalation. You should go to the class teacher, school social worker, school principal, and to the level where you feel comfortable and definitely confide in these people.

Interviewer: What could help? Would be desirable if there was always an anti-discrimination expert in schools?

Interviewer: That would actually be an institution very worth considering, because there are several groups that can be discriminated against. It's not only Jews, but also Muslims, homosexual or transgender students, or teachers. And everybody could benefit from this institution.

Interviewer: What role would you say interfaith dialogue plays in breaking down prejudices?

Kogan: It is a very exciting business to talk to people from other religions. But at this point we should ask ourselves: How deep does this dialogue go?? Who do I reach through this dialogue? Are these the people who are willing to talk to me anyway, who find me exciting as a Jew and as a human being anyway? Or do I also manage to penetrate a group that is skeptical about Jews and whomever? If we actually manage to go deeper in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue and reach broader masses, I think it's very exciting.

Interviewer: What would you personally like to see from politicians and school ministries?. What could really help?

Kogan: I am a great friend of education. I am in favor of as much training as possible to show the teachers on the one hand: Jews are not only the victims from the Shoah. There is a thriving, exciting Jewish culture before and after World War II. There are vibrant Jewish communities with quite a lot of young, exciting people doing exciting culture.

On the other hand: How do I recognize anti-Semitism?? How do I intervene? How can I support students so that they also dare to say, "I'm Jewish".

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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