On the most recent episode of Podcast Against Antisemitism, Rabbi Emily Reitsma-Jurman, a rabbi at the West London Synagogue of British Jews, discussed the “daunting but important” task of teaching prospective converts to Judaism about antisemitism.
Rabbi Emily said that teaching converts about antisemitism was a “huge challenge”, owing to the fact that she needed to fulfill her obligation of warning them about Jew-hatred without quelling their enthusiasm surrounding their newfound religion. “We know we have that responsibility,” she said, “but we try to do it in such a way that it’s balanced out with all of the positives that they’ll get from living a religiously, culturally, wonderfully Jewish life.”
Rabbi Emily also stressed the importance of teaching the history of antisemitism whilst also “checking in” with her students emotionally in order to better equip them on how to handle real-life antisemitism. “Sometimes it’s obvious antisemitism, sometimes its much less obvious. Or, it’s a weird feeling that they get when they’re in a situation, and so we try to keep having those conversations with them as they’re going through the process of learning
“To catch them up with all that history is daunting, but important.”
Rabbi Emily also noted that many of her students felt “caught off guard” at the video footage that surfaced last May of a convoy of cars driving through a Jewish neighbourhood shouting “F*** the Jews…rape their daughters” through megaphones. “Everyone had seen it and shared it, and suddenly I found myself with conversion students who were saying ‘I don’t know what to do when I see this, and I don’t know how to feel when I see this,’ and it struck me that up until that point, I had been very good at teaching a sort of academic form of antisemitism. ‘This is what makes up antisemitism, this is how we can recognise it.’ What I hadn’t done was help them deal with the emotional side of it.
“So, what do you do when you feel unsafe? What do you do when you feel insecure? What do you do when something is happening in front of you? Where do you go to report it? And also sitting with them in the sadness that that’s what we need to do. They have a real sense of grief, I think, a lot of the time when they learn about this. But they’re so excited about being Jewish, they’re so enthusiastic about it, and now we have to deal with some of the issues that come around that.”
Rabbi Emily added: “I’m not going to solve antisemitism with my students, but I can help them express their feelings and help them to know that there are safe places to go.”
Podcast Against Antisemitism, produced by Campaign Against Antisemitism, talks to a different guest about antisemitism each week. It streams every Thursday and is available through all major podcast apps and YouTube. You can also subscribe to have new episodes sent straight to your inbox. Previous guests have included comedian David Baddiel, The Sunday Telegraph columnist Zoe Strimpel and actor Eddie Marsan.