Antisemitic Incidents Highlight Flaws in History Curriculum


Allison Hunter Korn

There is limited education around antisemitism in history classes.

Madeline Nohrnberg and Alma Barak

According to data from the Jewish Heritage Club, since 2016, antisemitic incidents have occurred at CRLS during every year of in-person learning. This year is no exception. 

On October 4th, 2022, a swastika was found in a classroom on the second floor of the Rindge building. A swastika is an antisemitic emblem used by the Nazis during WWII, in which six million Jews were murdered. After this hurtful graffiti was found, CRLS principal Mr. Damon Smith sent a schoolwide email, portraying a narrative of a community that comes together to heal when harmful events happen. “As the physical and mental wellbeing of our students is of highest priority,” he wrote, “we take matters of this nature very seriously.” This exact sentence has been found in four other emails sent by Mr. Smith, all detailing similar incidents.

The verbatim copy-and-paste format seems disingenuous and inauthentic.

Many don’t find these emails to be a sufficient response, and the verbatim copy-and-paste format seems disingenuous and inauthentic. Instead, most believe that education is a better first step. Without it, ignorance breeds hatred, and hate creates harm.

Mr. Benjamin Cohen, a ninth-grade World History teacher, agrees, “I’ve definitely been surprised at how few students have any background knowledge about the Holocaust,” he says to the Register Forum. “We need to talk about [antisemitism], and I fear that we haven’t, and that’s a problem.”

Out of 205 survey responses from CRLS students, nearly 40% have not received any education on Jewish history or antisemitism during high school. Over 20% have not been taught at all. 

 Those who were educated mainly feel CPS curriculum isn’t sufficient, as it only focuses on the Holocaust. This approach erases centuries of antisemitism before WWII and fails to mention the Jewish hate that continues to this day.

 According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in 2021, antisemitic attacks were up 61% in K-12 schools across the United States and lack of education is partially to blame. 

At CRLS, more than 70% of 50 Jewish students surveyed have seen or experienced antisemitism, making our school part of this growing trend of hate.

Clara Engels, a CRLS sophomore, has dealt with antisemitism throughout her education at Cambridge Public Schools. She tells the Register Forum, “By middle school, I had people saluting Hitler to my face, and suggesting that I should ‘go back to Poland and die in the Holocaust.’” A history unit that neglects present-day antisemitism erases Engels’ story and leaves many students entirely ignorant about modern-day Jewish hate. 

The recent antisemitic graffiti has alerted many administrators to the problems rooted in our education system. CRLS History Dean Tanya Milner says that “we were not and we have not been proactive” about antisemitism. Many students believe this is the leading cause of current hate in our community. 

In an effort to rebuild students’ trust, the school is taking many initiatives to address antisemitism head-on. These include recently financing a trip to an ADL conference about Jewish hate and creating a new structure for teaching Jewish history. 

Still, many students are hurting.“We don’t learn enough,” says Judith Epstein, a senior and co-president of the Jewish Heritage Club. “And in four years, when everyone graduates, it will happen again.”

This article also appears in our November 2022 print edition.