Shoa activist reflects on roots of genocide

Shoa activist reflects on roots of genocide

At a summer seminar, Barbara Wind develops lessons on prejudice

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Barbara Wind, foreground, takes part in a session on existential threats to Israel from its neighbors, conducted by Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.
Barbara Wind, foreground, takes part in a session on existential threats to Israel from its neighbors, conducted by Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

Barbara Wind spends a lot of her time thinking about anti-Semitism. As director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, she works to ensure that the Shoa is remembered and supports efforts to prevent another one. She works with survivors, with high school students, on college campuses, with teachers, with writers, with curators, and with partners from other persecuted groups, most recently Armenians. 

For two weeks this summer, she thought about it in a new way, at the inaugural Summer Institute for the Development of Curriculum in Anti-Semitism Studies, held in England at Oxford University, July 26-Aug. 8.

Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, the conference was designed as a first step toward creating a new academic discipline, the study of contemporary anti-Semitism, at universities around the world. 

Most of the 24 participants were university professors, from all over Europe and North America, including the Czech Republic, China, Greece, Poland, Brazil, and the United States. Discussions were held on contemporary anti-Semitism, including how it applies to their various disciplines and how to combat it on campus. Participants were required to create and present syllabi at the end of the conference. The participating professors are expected to teach a course from their syllabi in the spring.

Because she is not a professor, Wind told NJJN, she was at first reluctant to apply, but was convinced by ISGAP founder and director Dr. Charles Asher Small to join the program.

She ended up creating two syllabi — one on the arts and anti-Semitism and one focusing on anti-Semitism, past and present — with hopes that they will be adopted or at least considered by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. The commission provides assistance and advice to the public and private schools that are mandated to teach about the Holocaust and genocide. 

Wind said she is not sure the commission will be likely to accept either of her syllabi. From her perspective, studying anti-Semitism “is not very pc…. [G]etting the mandate to teach the Holocaust passed was not easy, and that was during a less contentious political climate,” she said. 

Additionally, “There has been an increase on pressure to teach to the test and that has cut down on time to teach a subject that is not tested.”

Wind said she also plans to present her syllabi to colleagues on university campuses, where most NJ Holocaust study centers are based, and is considering teaching as an adjunct. 

“In my experience, whenever Holocaust courses are offered by schools, they’re oversubscribed.” Whenever the council, which is based on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, “goes into schools or they come here, teachers and administrators are amazed that no one sleeps, no one talks, no one texts [during the lessons]. And since the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are inextricably bound, a course on the latter should, I think, be of interest to undergraduates and educators taking graduate courses.”

But mostly, Wind said, having attended the conference and developing her course outlines will help her continue to do what she does through the council, a department of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

“I’ve always spoken out against anti-Semitism to schools,” she said. “I weave it into the Holocaust narrative. After all, that was the basis of the Final Solution. It’s always part and parcel of what we do.” 

However, she added, her approach is shifting. “I think I’m going to be more open about it because of the rise in anti-Semitism.”

She was dismayed to learn at the conference that while professors who feel secure in their jobs and are protected by tenure can speak out on the issue, others are afraid of the repercussions. 

“One professor at NYU said she can’t touch the subject of anti-Semitism or BDS,” the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. “It’s hard to imagine a professor at NYU who feels marginalized because she is Israeli and anti-BDS,” said Wind. “That’s very, very sad. It brings back the knowledge of what happened in 1930s Germany when Jewish professors were among the first to be fired.”

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