What Wisconsin’s Jewish Community Wishes Everyone Knew

By Christina Lorey

December 13, 2022

An old kind of hate has been increasingly visible lately. From former President Trump’s dinner with an outspoken Holocaust denier to Ye’s repeated, relentless tirades against the Jewish community, antisemitism is back front & center.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 was the highest year on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism and violence directed against Jews. The watchdog group has tracked these incidents since 1979, and it says 2022 will look a lot like last year. More than 25% of all reported attacks occur on college campuses.

We sat down with one of the state’s most visible Jewish leaders, UW-Hillel CEO Greg Steinberger, to discuss the concerning rise in violence, the biggest misconceptions about his faith, and what he wish everyone knew– and would do.

Last year one alarming poll revealed that 22 of millennials <em>have never heard of<em> the Holocaust Another showed that two thirds of Americans under the age of 40 <em>do not know<em> six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust And a third proved that half <em>cant name<em> a single concentration camp<br><br><strong>The GOOD NEWS<strong> Wisconsin has a plan to ensure those numbers change<br><br>The <strong>Holocaust Education Bill<strong> <a rel=noreferrer noopener href=httpslegiswisconsingovassembly78subecknewspress releasesholocaust education bill passes state assembly target= blank>passed during the last legislative session<a> requires public schools cover the Holocaust and other genocides at least <strong>once<strong> in grades 5 to 8 and <strong>again<strong> in grades 9 to 12

UpNorthNews Editor Christina Lorey: Have you noticed a rise in antisemitic attacks at the University of Wisconsin?

UW-Hillel CEO Greg Steinberger: Antisemitic incidents on campus have been on the rise since the beginning of 2022. While incidents involving celebrities get a lot of attention, we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of antisemitism, as well as all other forms of racism and bigotry that are also on the rise. Unfortunately, we get many painful messages.

What are some the biggest misconceptions about the Jewish community?

A huge misconception is that Jews are monolithic. Jews are diverse in terms of race, religious observance, socio-economic status, and political affiliation.

Another is that Jewish identity is a purely religious identity. The best way to describe Jewish identity is as an ethno-religion and a peoplehood. Some Jews only identify with the culture, not religious belief. 

Lastly is that Jews have outsized power and wealth. This idea has roots in old conspiracy theories that have resurfaced throughout history, particularly during times of social upheaval (like the recent pandemic and economic instability). 

What do you wish everyone knew about the Jewish community?

Jewish holidays fall on different dates every year, according to a lunar calendar. Some of our most important holidays, like the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement (Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur) take place in the fall, and Passover takes place in the spring.

If there are Jews in your school or workplace, it’s helpful to avoid scheduling tests, mandatory meetings, and other significant events on Jewish holidays. If scheduling conflicts can’t be avoided, accommodations should be provided to make up for the missed event. 

What part of being of the Jewish community makes you the most proud?

I’m proud of our commitment to Jewish [and universal] values, such as tzdakah (charity), tikkun olam (repairing the world), and b’tzelem elohim, (the idea that all human beings are created in the image of God).

What can non-Jewish people do for support?

Learn to recognize antisemitic stereotypes, biases, and conspiracy theories, and speak up when you hear prejudice or bias against any group of people. 

Report all antisemitic incidents, including swastikas or other graffiti. If there’s a safety concern, call local law enforcement. Also report it to the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation here.

When <strong>Otto Feller<strong> first arrived in Milwaukee in 1965 he had just $10 to his name<br><br>58 years later the 100 year old is now one of Wisconsins oldest living Holocaust survivors Otto experienced the horrors of WWII <a rel=noreferrer noopener href=httpswwwjewishchronicleorg20220628otto feller turned 100 honored as a holocaust survivor target= blank>firsthand<a> as a teenager at a forced labor camp in Romania Not long before then he was banned from going to school because he was Jewish<br><br>After he was freed from the labor camp Otto asked a Jewish organization to help reunite he and his wife with his mother and sister who had moved to America They did and the rest is history <br><br><em>Otto and his wife have been married for 72 years<em><br><em>The Holocaust survivor will celebrate his 101st birthday on June 22nd<em>


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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