GREENFIELD — More than 40 people gathered this week to discuss how to battle anti-Semitism and how to be an ally to those who suffer from oppression, bullying and division.
As participants of the workshop Wednesday night at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew entered the room, facilitators Amy Leos-Urbel and Betsy Ames chanted over and over, “We will fill this world with love.”
On boards behind them they had written, “People are good,” “People get hurt (and hurt others in ways they have been hurt)” and “People can heal.”
Those were messages repeated throughout the workshop.
“We want to end all forms of oppression,” Leos-Urbel said. “We don’t want people hurting other people. All forms of oppression hurt everyone.”
Almost immediately, she broke participants into groups of two and asked them to “say what’s on your minds.”
And, they did.
One man — participants did not have to identify themselves — said that it’s very sad that the world has come to a place where a police officer has to sit outside a local synagogue during the recent high holidays services. He said he finds many people are reluctant to attend the synagogue or events, for fear of attacks or other hateful acts.
Throughout the workshop, Leos-Urbel and Ames would speak and then break participants into groups of two to discuss what they had just shared. After asking people to share some of their discussions with the entire group, Leos-Urbel said, “People shouldn’t be hurt because of religion or the color of their skin.”
She then launched into a brief history of anti-Semitism and oppression, before Ames talked about how people can become allies of those experiencing anti-Semitism, oppression and hate.
“We want things to go well for Jews,” she said. “We want them free of persecution. It limits our lives, as well as the victims.’”
Ames said everyone receives all sorts of messages every day and “they influence us and interfere with ending racism, anti-Semitism and more.”
She said there cannot be real change until those messages go away, and they can be found on TV, in movies and in cartoons.
“You need to start unpacking the messages you have received,” she said. “Take notice. Your caring matters.”
Ames said the best way to be an ally to anyone who is hurting is to educate yourself; learn how to interpret things you hear; stop blaming; head in the direction of the person who is suffering, instead of running in the opposite direction; and speak up, no matter how hard it might be.
“Don’t blame yourself or anyone else,” she said. “It puts you in a better position to take action if you don’t.”
And, she said, don’t let anyone be put in isolation, because it makes it too easy for them to then be victimized.
“Make room for people to be who they are, even if you don’t agree with everything they believe,” she said. “The best way to counteract anti-Semitism is to be connected, stand alongside people and don’t turn away.”
Ames said those who want to oppress others depend on those who could speak up being distracted by something else, so don’t let that happen.
Participants seemed to understand that they were not going to leave the workshop and drastically change anything, but it was a good start.
Leos-Urbel leads classes and workshops about anti-Semitism, classism, sexism, racism and other forms of oppression. She has worked with youth and families in a variety of settings, and she is the retired director of educational programs at the National Yiddish Book Center. She is also the author of a small book titled “Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern?”
Ames leads groups to help people free themselves from the effects of oppression. She is an ally in the work to end anti-Semitism.
Both women are members of Jews and Allies United to End Anti-Semitism, a group of people of all ages and from many different countries working together as Jews and non-Jews to end anti-Semitism.
The group helps Jews and their allies learn how anti-Semitism functions to divide people and derail efforts for social justice, understand when something is anti-Semitic, and work to end anti-Semitism and racism.
It also helps members interrupt anti-Semitism in their daily lives; recover from the effects of it; reach for strong alliances, including with Palestinians; and support other liberation movements, helping them include anti-Semitism as a key issue in their work.
To learn more about Jews and Allies, visit: jewsandallies.org.