We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2023 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2023.
Michael Igel is Board Chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum.
2022 was a rough year for Jews in America. Antisemitic incidents of all kinds continued their grim rise: Flyers, blaming Jews, dropped on lawns nationwide, universities discriminating against Jewish students, and celebrities trumpeting tired conspiracies all made reading the news an uncomfortable activity.
Our own community was not exempt from this trend. We had to deal with flyer drops across Tampa Bay, Nazi flags waved along main roads, and a disturbingly large population that doesn’t know about, or even denies, the Nation of Islam’s ongoing antisemitism.
It’s up to all of us to make 2023 better.
As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who leads an institution dedicated to the memory of history’s greatest antisemitic crime, antisemitism doesn’t shock me. It’s an ancient, global problem driven by ignorance, resentment and centuries of disinformation, and we will not see its end in our lifetimes.
But as the Talmud teaches, your ability to complete a task should not impair your determination to work at it. The Florida Holocaust Museum and I are dedicated to helping Tampa Bay be a community of Upstanders who can both recognize and oppose antisemitism in all its forms.
As any long-term goal does, this process starts with education. Many people don’t know a single Jew, and evidence has revealed that Americans know disturbingly little about the Holocaust, especially Millennials and Gen Z. If you’re unfamiliar with the ongoing history of antisemitism, it’s easy to make fighting it a low priority.
Thankfully, the state of Florida mandates that every child be taught about the Holocaust. I’m proud to chair the Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education, which sets statewide standards on how that mandate is implemented – but Holocaust education shouldn’t be limited to children.
Unfortunately, many corporate diversity training programs continue to neglect antisemitism. Sometimes it’s an oversight born of ignorance, but some omit antisemitism intentionally in a damaging and misguided effort to impose a false hierarchy of bigotry.
To close that gap, the Florida Holocaust Museum provides workplace antisemitism training to organizations around Tampa Bay and beyond. Participating organizations tell us our program changes how employees look at the issue; some people hold antisemitic beliefs unknowingly, and the training gives them the tools to examine their convictions in a more informed way.
All our education efforts, no matter the students’ age, aim to create a community of Upstanders who will not sit silently in the face of antisemitism or any other form of dehumanization. The Holocaust teaches us the lethal peril of silence but also provides shining examples of those who did the right thing in the face of unimaginable evil.
Visitors and supporters often ask what they can do to help oppose antisemitism. Some feel helpless amid the hatred; some non-Jews even wonder if it’s appropriate to get involved. The good news is that if you’re asking the question, you’re already thinking the right way. As with any struggle for social justice, opposing antisemitism starts with a willingness to defend our common humanity.
I am alive because Upstanders protected my grandparents from the Nazis, refusing to give them up even under torture. The power of their example inspires us to challenge people: don’t let your friend off the hook for that antisemitic remark. Don’t let people characterize antisemitism as a less serious form of racism.
This fight isn’t an event; it’s a process of small positive acts. Every time you stand up, every friend you educate makes the struggle a bit easier.
2023 will mark a year of expanded activities in support of our mission. Please join us to continue the momentum.
Together, we can make 2023 a more welcoming, positive, and safer year for our entire community.