July 15, 2022
Seattle is a progressive city. For many Jews in our region, this has generally been a good thing. On the whole, Jews are deeply engaged in social justice work— strengthening voting rights, supporting immigrants and refugees, ensuring access to healthcare, fighting poverty, and more. We do this as a way to live out our Jewish values, pursue justice, and strengthen our democracy.
But over the last decade or so when the conversation in our city has turned to the Middle East, more and more of us have felt othered and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because the narrative about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often one-sided, pointed, and blameful. Uncomfortable because we don’t feel understood as Jews and because antisemitism isn’t accepted as a legitimate “ism.” Uncomfortable because many of us can’t show up as our full selves—Jews who are both committed to the issue at hand— reproductive rights, for example—and also to Zionism, the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our ancestral and religious homeland. And lastly, uncomfortable because we might feel targeted but can’t articulate why and how effectively.
This came to a head last spring when antisemitic incidents surged across the globe in response to the violence between Israel and Hamas. At this time, the JCRC convened dozens of local Jewish leaders to learn about their experience and understand what support they needed. These included high school students attacked on social media for trying to counter misinformation that was being spread about the conflict, university professors ostracized by their peers for not supporting anti-Zionist resolutions, and legislators who were pressured to sign statements demonizing Israel.
What emerged from these gatherings was the clear need for our community to have a new way to build understanding of Jewish identity, antisemitism, and Israel among non-Jews.
In response, your Federation’s JCRC has begun a partnership with Project Shema, an independent, non-profit organization that provides training and support to help Jewish communities and our allies navigate discourse around Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the progressive world. Shema is named after the Hebrew word that means to “hear,” “listen,” or “understand.”
With Project Shema, over the next six months, we are offering three, intensive skill-building workshops that will help participants more comfortably navigate the complex landscape of antisemitism and discourse around Israel, and empower them to talk about their Jewish identity in a way that resonates more and is better understood by progressive audiences.
In addition, we invite all of you to save the date for a hybrid gathering on Monday, September 12: “Exploring the American Progressive Movement and Israel,” at which Project Shema Co-Founder and Director of Community and Civic Empowerment Zachary Shaffer will be our featured speaker. Zachary is a facilitator, educator, and organizer dedicated to providing social justice-centered antisemitism education.
Antisemitism is too big and too multifaceted a problem for any one organization or leader to address. It will take all of us, collaborating, and using both tried and true as well as new and innovative ways of combating antisemitism in order to make an impact. I’m excited for our JCRC to begin this partnership with Project Shema and offer our community a cutting-edge way to approach the dialogue around Israel and antisemitism in progressive spaces. I hope to see you on September 12!
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs