“ All real living is meeting.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou
Antisemitism does not grow in a vacuum. It thrives in echo chambers and environments that are closed to the voices, background, and dispositions of the Other. The following exercises are designed to prompt both discomfort and deep thinking about identity in relation to self and others, with the ultimate goal to consider the forces that help antisemitism thrive and those that combat it. The authentic work begins inside.
Exercise #1: The Challenge of Stereotypes
“Yes, stereotypes are a real time-saver!,” joked Wallace Rickard in an article of that same title in The Onion. You don’t have to think with sophistication and nuance because stereotypes slot people neatly into boxes for you. But, as research published in Stanford University’s Stanford Business attests, stereotypes can negatively influence both perception and action.
Stereotypes come in more than one flavor and can be perpetuated by members of the very group that is victimized by them. People are often willing to internalize and act based on negative stereotypes of their own group, while ignoring positive stereotypes often associated with their group. Rate how you responded to the following five-task challenge:
- List negative stereotypes associated with Jews.
- Count the number of stereotypes on your list.
- List positive stereotypes associated with Jews.
- Count the number of stereotypes on this list.
- Continue with your second list until the positive stereotypes exceed the negative ones.
Questions to process this exercise:
- How much have you internalized negative stereotypes about Jews?
- Why do we often internalize the negative more than the positive?
- Can you think of a time when a perception of Jewish stereotyping influenced your behavior?
- Looking at both lists having completed the exercise, what did you learn about yourself?
- What, if anything, proved challenging about this exercise?
- Apply this exercise to another group identity and compare and contrast the lists you’ve created.
Exercise #2: Step Forward, Step Back
(Adapted from Trainingforchange.org)
This exercise begins with a group of people standing in the center of a room. It is to be led by one moderator who does not move and asks the questions of the group. The exercise is to be done in silence. At the end, the exercise should be processed while all participants are still standing in place, having looked around the room and seen where each is in relation to the other.
- If you are a U.S. citizen, take a step forward.
- If you were brought up in a working-class family, take a step backward.
- If you grew up middle or upper class, take a step forward.
- If you have lived in America for over ten years, take a step forward.
- If you are female, take a step backward.
- If you have been bullied, take a step backward.
- If you have been a victim of antisemitism, take a step backward.
- If you are Christian, take a step forward.
- If you are Muslim, take a step backward.
- If you are Jewish, take a step backward.
- If you are Hindu, take a step backward.
- If the breadwinner in your family was ever unemployed while you were a child, take a step backward.
- If you went to sleep-away camp as a child, take a step forward.
- If you are under 21 years old or over 60, take a step backward.
- If you are able-bodied, take a step forward.
- If you have any physical disability, take a step backward.
- If you are gay, take a step backward.
- If you are transgender, take a step backward.
- If you have travelled outside the U.S., take a step forward.
- If you attended a private liberal arts college or an Ivy League university, take a step forward.
- If you or members of your family have been on welfare, take a step backward.
- If you are the first member of your family to have a college degree, take a step forward.
Processing the exercise: While the group is still standing, the moderator should ask the person who has taken the most steps backward how he or she feels and what it was like to do this exercise. The moderator should then do the same for the person who has taken the most steps forward. The moderator can then ask this of anyone else in the group and discuss areas of discomfort or discovery. Groups tend to think of themselves as fair and equal in the moment, not always understanding the challenges or privileges of individual members of the group.
Exercise #3: Seven Categories of “Otherness”
The moderator should hand out a piece of paper with the following identity categories to each participant and ask them to fill out the first category in each pair quietly. Once completed, participants should reflect on the experiences they had when a particular aspect of their identity has been called into question related to the second category and write that down. For example: a woman may write down female as a gender category and then share an incident of misogyny under the sexism category. Upon completion, ask participants to partner with the person he or she knows least well in the group and give each participant in the pair two uninterrupted minutes to share their categories. After the four minutes are up, invite the group to come together again and ask participants to share what they learned from listening to a partner.
Exercise #4: The Jewish Discomfort Zone
The moderator hands out an index card and pen to each participant in a group. Participants are given one timed minute to write an environment or activity in which they feel completely comfortable and natural expressing Jewish identity. The moderator then invites participants to share their personal comfort zones with others and freely ask questions of others in the room. The moderator then asks participants to turn the index card over and, in one timed minute, write about an environment or activity where one feels very uncomfortable as a Jew. The moderator then invites participants to discuss answers and share observations.
The moderator then invites the group to reflect on patterns that surfaced among the answers about comfort and discomfort and may wish to list them on a board. Looking at the list, the moderator may conclude the exercise with one or all of the following questions:
- What did you learn about yourself through the writing and processing of this exercise?
- What did you learn about others?
- What would it take for your discomfort zone to become more comfortable?