Above: Equipped with information and training from ADL, Norwegian college students Yuval Regev, left, and Tali Preminger discussed anti-Semitism, bigotry and anti-Israel bias with more than 2,600 Norwegian students last year.
Tali Preminger and Yuval Regev are college students on a mission—ADL’s mission.
These Norwegian Jews spent the 2016-17 academic year traveling their country talking to more than 2,600 students about what it’s like to be Jewish in Norway. The purpose: to counter anti-Semitism, bigotry and anti-Israel bias among their peers. In early 2016, ADL anti-bias educators trained them for this work at our offices in New York, Washington, DC, Boston and Israel. Recently ADL Skyped with Tali and Yuval to find out how the year went.
Tali said she learned that, “Anti-Semitism in Norway is mainly about ignorance,” But it’s a common undercurrent, especially among students.
“The word ‘Jew’ is used as a curse (word) so frequently that one study says more than 60% of high school students have heard it,” Yuval said. “The student using the curse often claims it’s a ‘joke,’ while the Jewish target may not even recognize it as anti-Semitism.”
Tali and Yuval had their work cut out for them.
The education they offered sometimes began at hello. “Most Norwegian students think all Jews look like Orthodox men with payos (sidelocks) ,” Tali said. “They were very surprised to meet us and see that we’re young, we look like them and speak perfect Norwegian.”
Tali and Yuval turned this into a teachable moment by saying everyone makes generalizations about others, but the boxes we put people in don’t reflect reality and can be harmful stereotypes.
They steered the discussion to different kinds of bigotry and elicited the view that diversity is a strength. They pointed out why using identity as a curse word is so offensive. More pointedly, “We asked them to think about how using ‘Jew’ as a curse might contribute to anti-Semitic acts,” Tali said. “And we told them, when someone turns your identity into a curse, it’s not a joke anymore.”
Deconstructing implicit anti-Semitism, and empowering Jewish students to respond to it, came up recently in workshops Tali and Yuval conducted for Jewish junior high and high school students in collaboration with the NoHateSpeechMovement Norway chapter. The day after the workshops, one participant e-mailed Yuval to say he’d already used what he learned to deal with an offensive discussion on Facebook.
“We would not have been capable of planning and executing a workshop like this without our ADL experience,” Tali said.
What was the most effective advice or information they got from ADL? Yuval and Tali agreed: it was ADL’s mission statement, “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and secure justice and fair treatment to all,” displayed on the wall of our New York City headquarters.
“Anti-Semitism damages not only Jews, but society,” Tali said. “And that goes for all types of discrimination. If we want to fight anti-Semitism, we have to challenge both.”
ADL is currently training students from across Europe to conduct similar workshops in their countries. The program, now called First Responders, is co-sponsored by the European Jewish Congress and the Jewish community of Oslo.