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UNC introduces its first class to focus on anti-Semitism


Max Lazar, a Jewish Ph.D. candidate in history and a program associate at UNC sits at the desk in his office in Hamilton Hall on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. Lazar is wary of listing Jews as a racial group amid the Trump administration's new interpretation of Judaism. 

From December attacks on a New York synagogue to hateful posters in Davis Library, anti-Semitism remains relevant in the modern world — and on UNC's campus. 

One new course in the College of Arts & Sciences examines how to respond to anti-Semitism. 

JWST 390: “Confronting Anti-Semitism”, a one-credit hour course, takes a broad look at anti-Semitism in history, the contemporary world and at UNC. Meeting once weekly and featuring various guest speakers, the course examines how anti-Semitism relates to other forms of racism, and equips students with the necessary strategies to combat anti-Semitism in their own communities. 

“One of the most important messages of the class is that this is only the start to a much larger conversation,” Ruth von Bernuth, director of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, said. “We hope that this conversation can then go beyond the classroom and that students can learn techniques that allow them to look really closely into incidences of anti-Semitism that we may still see today.”  

The idea for the course came from a student, Sam Zahn, a sophomore political science and history major who realized that there weren’t any courses offered specifically focusing on anti-Semitism. He brought up the idea to the College of Arts & Sciences and its Countering Hate initiative last semester.

Zahn and Max Lazar, a graduate student in the history department, worked to develop the course within just a few weeks. Students were able to enroll for the first time this spring semester.  

“We are really looking at how anti-Jewish sentiments come up at different times throughout history, and the common themes we can see in different areas around the world,” Lazar said. “We end the course with a round table discussion in April, in which we discuss the ways we can lookout for this issue in our own lives, and even within UNC’s campus.”  

The class quickly gained popularity, and what started as a fear of not enough student enrollment rapidly turned into a fear of not enough classroom space, Lazar said.

Zahn, who is currently enrolled in the course, said he likes how the class is so unique.

“I really like that the class pulls from so many departments, mainly because anti-Semitism really does manifest itself in so many different ways," Zahn said. "I’m really glad that the course is able to reflect that.” 

The course meets every Monday. Students hear from guest speakers who teach a variety of subjects and come from several different departments within the University. 

Lazar said the course examines over 2,000 years of history, from medieval times to current day, and takes a thematic approach, creating connections between different forms of racism and turning knowledge into action.  

"At the end of the class, it will be interesting to see the prior knowledge that people had coming into the class versus what they were able to gain over the course of the semester," Zahn said.

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