May 2, 2022

Shining a Light on Antisemitism in NWA

Antisemitism has never gone away, bringing hatred and violence to Jews throughout history and leaching into other prejudices into the present day, several Northwest Arkansas Jewish community members and experts said in recent weeks.

But remembering these harms and building community, both among Jews and across faiths, can blunt antisemitism’s power and foster a sense of belonging among all people, they added.

“Judaism has always been a community,” despite its relatively small size in Arkansas, said Toby Klein, a member of Temple Shalom in Fayetteville who’s pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Arkansas.

Klein and others discussed Judaism and antisemitism at multiple recent events in NWA, including the Shine A Light on Antisemitism virtual panel on Nov. 29 and a celebration to bring awareness to the multiple ways light is uplifted across faith and spiritual communities Dec. 4 at The Jones Center in Springdale. Both were organized by EngageNWA and were a part of Shine A Light, a national initiative to spotlight modern-day antisemitism, including anti-Zionism. Shine A Light draws inspiration from the story of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, to champion the message that one small light can dispel darkness and hatred.

EngageNWA received a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to activate a project in partnership with the national initiative Shine A Light, to build the NWA community’s understanding and awareness of Jews, Judaism and antisemitism, the connections with religious and racial bias more broadly and the importance of focusing on these topics to create a more inclusive and welcoming region.

The events came as antisemitism has drawn heightened attention around the country, following anti-Jewish comments from some political figures and celebrities. But antisemitism goes back centuries, culminating in the murder of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany in what many Jews simply call the Shoah – “the catastrophe” in Hebrew.
Lesly Culp, interim director of education and outreach at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, during the panel said educating students about such events and their impact on the present builds a greater sense of civic responsibility. Students also respond to intolerance more strongly, she said.

Klein praised Arkansas leaders for requiring Holocaust education in public schools between fifth and 12th grade. The bill creating that requirement passed in 2021 with support from the NWA Council as well as Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other communities, she said.

Antisemitism and atrocities like the Holocaust are grave and horrific topics to discuss, but we can’t turn away, Mia Bingaman, an undergraduate student at the university, said at a separate panel discussion there earlier this month.

“It is a heavy thing to think about, but it needs to happen,” she said.

The Shoah Foundation offers testimonies from Holocaust survivors, tutorials and other free resources for educators at its website.