By now, anyone reading Jewish news has seen the Anti-Defamation League’s “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents,” reporting the number of hate and bias incidents that occurred nationally over the year.
For many, the report has become a useful statistic or numbers they’ve grown numb to, but for Andrea Heymann, associate regional director of ADL Philadelphia, the report is the culmination of a year of work.
“I am our point person for managing and responding to every bias or hate incident that gets reported to us,” she said.
Liaising between local, state and federal officials, Heymann, 33, also collects and investigates data from law enforcement. She oversees ADL’s leadership division, which includes the associated board and Glass Leadership Institute for young professionals.
Heymann can see antisemitism and other forms of hate beyond just the numbers, observing the bigger picture on the future of discrimination in the U.S.
“The most frightening thing that I’ve noticed in the past six months is how intense and vile the rhetoric I’ve seen in K to 12 schools, in the past six months specifically,” she said.
Heymann has heard of instances of physical attacks on Jewish children in middle schools, students throwing paper airplanes with swastikas drawn on them and mimicking rapper Ye’s (formerly Kanye West’s) antisemitic comments.
Schools are now the hotbeds of antisemitic activity but, according to Heymann, they can also lay the foundation to combat hate.
“Education is by far the best remedy” to antisemitism and other -isms, Heymann said. ADL has a host of educational opportunities, including providing diversity, equity and inclusion materials for workplace leaders. But Heymann is interested in what goes on in the classroom.
Heymann lives in Head House Square and has lived in the Philadelphia area most of her life. She was raised in a Conservative Jewish household in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, attending a South Jersey Jewish day school, before attending Goucher College to study history and women’s studies and Stockton University to get her master’s degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. Before joining the ADL, she was the assistant director of the Jewish Graduate Student Network. Jewish education was at the heart of all she did professionally.
But teaching the Holocaust must be done thoughtfully to be effective, Heymann argued. Jewish educators haven’t always gotten it right, she believes.
Back in the 1990s, her day school taught the Holocaust in a way that represented the times.
“Every year, when Yom HaShoah happened, they would dim the lights in the entire school,” she recalled. “Everybody would have to wear a yellow zachor sticker with a Jewish star. And on the walls, they would have the now-famous black-and-white photographs documented by Russian and American soldiers of people after liberating Auschwitz.”
From kindergarten through eighth grade, Heymann was haunted by the efforts.
“I had no context. I just remember being really scared by that,” she said.
Thirty years ago, role-play activities to teach the Holocaust were common, as were showing images and primary sources that answered the “what,” as opposed to the “why” of the Holocaust. By showing young people disturbing images of the Shoah, they would have an emotional connection to the curriculum, Heymann posited, but this form of education risked having the opposite effect.
“Sometimes, if you cross an emotional line with someone, it touches them and it scares them and makes them turn around and run the other way,” she said.
That approach has changed. Heymann recalls recently going to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and seeing graphic images hidden behind a drape for audiences to view voluntarily. Other exhibits feature sensitive content at eye level for adults, not children, to view.
Today, age-appropriate Holocaust education materials are ubiquitous, with the Disney+ series “A Small Light” about Anne Frank, told from the perspective of the woman who helped hide her. Holocaust educators feature art created by children in Theresienstadt to teach about the concentration camp.
But with a large push for Holocaust education amid the rise in antisemitism, there’s still risk in how stories of the Shoah are told. It’s important that even in times of rising hate, antisemitism doesn’t become the dominant narrative of the Jewish people, painting Jews as solely victims of white supremacy.
“We sometimes forget that antisemitism shouldn’t define a Jewish person or the Jewish community as a whole, but there’s so much more to the Jewish community than just the problem of antisemitism,” Heymann said.
Heymann proposes teaching about what makes Judaism great, so non-Jews can garner respect for Jewish people.
“When I’ve been in conversation, whether it’s a school administrator or clergy or whoever, it’s been really important to also acknowledge and talk about Jewish joy,” she said