Teaching the Unthinkable

Dr. Keren A. Fraiman

Rising antisemitism is impacting Jewish communities worldwide.

In this interview, Dr. Keren E. Fraiman discusses how Spertus Institute is helping support Jewish leaders and educators as they face the post-October 7 world.

Dr. Keren E. Fraiman, Spertus Institute’s Dean & Chief Academic Officer, is an expert in Israeli-Palestinian relations and conflict education. In the past few months, Dr. Fraiman, who also holds a faculty appointment as Professor of Israel Studies, has been speaking to organizations across the country to help Jewish educators understand the complexities of today’s rising antisemitism and use that deeper understanding in their work.


Spertus Institute’s Director of Academic Communications, Eve Becker, sat down with Dr. Fraiman to discuss how to navigate this moment and combat antisemitism in a post-October 7 world.

Q: What is the increased need to teach about antisemitism?

A: Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of antisemitic incidents. Even before October 7, an ADL poll found that six in ten Jewish Americans had experienced or witnessed antisemitism in the previous five years.

The increase after October 7 has been significant, sharpening our understanding of just how challenging this moment is and how pervasive antisemitism has become.

Q: How have your recent travels informed your perspective on teaching about antisemitism?

A: I am a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. Growing up, I understood the absolute worst of what could happen. But it didn’t feel like it was something that could happen now, in our generation.

As I’ve been traveling and speaking, there is not a single person who hasn’t been able to share an incident that they’ve experienced or that someone close to them has experienced. You can feel the collective angst. And it’s not about somebody else. It’s about the way we are experiencing antisemitism, either in our leadership roles, our community, or our personal lives.

Our community is in a moment of heightened attentiveness and high anxiety. We introduced a mental health module in our Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism (LCCA) program because we recognized that our leaders need to have opportunities for self-care and the space to name what they are feeling. It is extremely difficult for them, as well as for the people they’re leading. That has certainly sharpened since October 7.

Q: What is unique about the Spertus approach?

A: With LCCA, we created a program that was true to Spertus Institute’s values. We created a space that allows students from diverse perspectives to be in conversation with one another and to engage in complexity in a world that is increasingly polarized. They come out with important skills and tools, and they’re also grounded in deep academic learning that can be applied in their professional work.

There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for combating antisemitism. Instead, we allow the space for the critical exchange of ideas.

We dive into issues like: How do we define antisemitism? What does history tell us about antisemitism and its manifestations, and what can we learn from it? How do you engage with people who espouse antisemitic views? How do we develop alliances that are long-standing? What do we do when those alliances disappoint?

Spertus Institute is a convener. We bring history into conversation with the present and the future. Our programs include research and the latest writing. Students discuss theory, not just for its own sake, but also to examine how it impacts their work, how it changes their practice, and who they need to be in relationship with. People leave feeling empowered to do their jobs better.

Q: Why is there a need to expand the LCCA program to more audiences?

A: We wanted to start with executive directors and individuals in front-line roles addressing antisemitism in their communities. LCCA brings together theory and practice, because combating antisemitism is not a theoretical endeavor. For the initial LCCA cohorts, we sought to empower those who could have the greatest impact and could apply their learning quickly.

After October 7, there’s not a single Jewish communal professional who would say, “No, I haven’t had to deal with any antisemitism.” For that reason, we’re looking to expand LCCA.

There are additional audiences within the Jewish communal world, including lay leaders and educators working at every level. We are most used to seeing antisemitism on college campuses, but now we’re seeing antisemitism in high schools. We’re seeing it in elementary schools. There is a great need for serious, effective training throughout our communities.

We’re thinking about the next most urgent audience, and then the next, so our work has the greatest impact.

This year, as Spertus Institute marks its centennial, we have set a goal that reflects our organization’s strengths and a crucial Jewish community need. We seek to raise $1 million to expand our work training Jewish leaders and community professionals to combat antisemitism. Gifts of every size, large or small, make a significant difference.

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