The social work profession has overlooked the topic of Jews as a cultural-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism. Yet, current accreditation standards mandate that social work programs educate students about the differences among ethnic, racial, and cultural groups. This article traces the history of the Jews and the dynamics of anti-Semitism. The author suggests that this content be incorporated into the social work curricula at the micro practice level. Students should explore their own ethnic identities and religious backgrounds. This self-exploration will enable them to be open to new information and to be aware of misinformation about other groups. At the macro practice level, role plays would help students practice their responses to anti-Semitic incidents and would sensitize them to the feelings of members of oppressed groups. Overall, the profession needs to research this content and work to eliminate anti-Semitism.

In the aftermath of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the field of social work began to pay much more attention to concerns and issues of ethnic minority groups in the United States. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) made ethnic minorities (people of color) and diversity issues its top concern in 1970, and the subsequent decade saw a rapid increase in programming, teaching, and writing in this area (Lum, 1986). The publication of Norton’s (1978) influential book The Dual Perspective by CSWE provided an impetus for schools of social work to incorporate knowledge about ethnic minorities in their curricula.

THE STEVEN SOIFER is an Assistant Professor, at the University of Washington.

The author would like to thank the following people for their helpful comments on various drafts of this manuscript: Naomi Almeleh, Michael Austin, David Gil, Lorraine Guti€rrez, Vanessa Hodges, Rona Levy, Hy Resnick, Roger Roffman, Steve Rose, Virginia Senechal, Pauline Stewart, Dick Weatherley, and Stanley Wenocur.

the notion that ethnic minorities essentially lived in two different worlds —one defined by the dominant culture in society, the other by the minority group’s own culture—and that these two worlds were not always in harmony, was a useful concept for social workers.

Not until the early 1980s did the profession really begin to address the practice implications of the increased attention to ethnic minorities in social work. Devore and Schlesinger (1981), in their classic book Ethnic-Sensitive Social Work Practice, discussed what they called different “layers of understanding” to inform and guide the practice of social work in ethnic communities, Jenkins (1981), in The Ethnic Dilemma in Social Services, asked “the question of how, where, and when ethnic factors should be incorporated in service delivery” (p. ix). Furthermore, Green (1982) argued in his Cultural Awareness in the Human Services that “social services can and should be provided to people in ways which are

Journal of Social Work Education, Vol. 27, No, 2 (Spring/Summer 1991).
@ by the Council on Social Work Education, Inc.

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culturally acceptable to them and which enhance their sense of ethnic group participation and power” (p. 4).

Social work should be landed for addressing the issue of racism and cultural diversity within the profession, Despite the profession’s increased attention to ethnic minorities and their concerns, however, Jews as a cultural-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism have received little attention in the social work literature or in schools of social work during the past 3 decades. To distinguish between the term “ethnic minorities,” as is currently used in social work, and the designation “Jews,” the author has coined the term “cultural-religious minority group.” Even though Jews are an ethnic minority group in the United States, to refer to them as an ethnic minority group would generate confusion, Yet, the current CSWE accreditation standards require that social work programs educate students regarding “racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity” (CSWE, 1988, p. 18). Moreover, the GSWE Curriculum Policy Statement strongly suggests that social work educators include content on “special populations,” including religious and cultural minorities (CSWE, 1988, p. 125).

A literature search using the Abstract for Social Workers (1965-1977) and Social Work Research && Abstracts (1977-1990) indicates that no articles on the topic of anti-Semitism were published in social work journals during those years. A National Association of Social Workers computerized literature search verified these results. Before 1965, one social work journal (the Jewish Social Service Quarterly, a forerunner of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service) published several articles on the topic of anti-Semitism in one issue shortly after World War II ‘Braverman, 1946; Fredman, 1946; HenAry, 1946; Rappoport, 1946; Rosenbaum,146; Scalter, 1946). There is scant literature about Jews as a culturally religious minority group published in other social work journals, Although one social work journal, the Journal of Jewish “communal Service, publishes articles exclusively on Jewish issues, the articles are specifically aimed at social workers practicing in the Jewish community rather
than social work students, educators, and practitioners in general.

Some articles or book chapters have attempted to address the effects of antiSemitism on clients or tried to explain how the different ethnic patterns, religious values, or historical experiences of Jews have affected or affected individual and family dynamics (Danieli, 1981; Farber, Mindel, & Lazerwitz, 1988; Herz & Rosen, 1982; Siegel, 1986; Zuk, 1978). However, some of this literature perpetuates certain simplistic or unsubstantiated stereotypes about Jews and Jewish families. Moreover, some of the literature even appears anti-Semitic in nature. For example, one article in Psychoanalytic Review argued that Jews themselves contributed to the problem of anti-Semitism, thereby blaming the victims for the problem (Schoenfeld, 1966).

The lack of content on Jews -as a cultural-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism is not unique to the field of social work. Beck (1988), for example, described how she has had to address the issue in the field of women’s studies. For the most part, according to Beck, either the issues of Jewish women and anti-Semitism are ignored, thus making them invisible and nonexistent, or Jewish women are negatively portrayed, thereby fueling anti-Semitic stereotypes. Beck stated, “Jewish invisibility is a symptom of anti-Semitism as surely as lesbian invisibility is a symptom of homophobia” (p. 96). In response to the lack of recognition of Jewish women in this area, Jewish feminists have begun to create a vibrant literature detailing Jewish women’s experiences (Beck, 1982; Bulkin, 1988; Kaye/Kantrowitz, 1990; Kaye/Kantrowitz & Klepfisz, 1986b).

This article provides an overview of the history of Jews and the dynamics of anti-Semitism. It describes ways of incorporating this content into the social work curricula at the micro and macro practice levels. Moreover, the article identifies research directions for the profession.

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Jewish history spans approximately 6,000 years; the Jewish calendar currently reads 5752. There are slightly more than 13 million Jews worldwide; approximately 6 million live in the United States. Jews have diverse cultures, depending on their country of origin, but are bound together by a common history and a common religion known as Judaism (though certainly not all Jews practice or even subscribe to its ancient tenets), These similarities help form what is recognized as Jewish identity, transmitted by family and local Jewish communities throughout the generations. A common misconception is that Jews are a race, yet there are Jews of all races and many nationalities. Because the genetic pool is diverse, there are no distinguishing biological characteristics of Jews (Farber et al., 1988; Levey & Greenhall, 1983; Ruah Hadashah, 1980).

Although traditional Jewish law recognizes individuals as Jewish if their mothers are Jewish, matrilineal heritage has recently been challenged by one branch of Judaism. Several years ago, the Reform branch of Judaism acknowledged patrilineal descent, primarily because so many Reform-affiliated Jewish men (and women) were intermarrying. Thus, a child born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother would be considered Jewish. Both Conservative and Orthodox Jews do not acknowledge patrilineal descent and excoriated the Reform branch for taking this step. It is important to realize that no one is “born” Jewish; rather, it is a culturally and religiously acquired identity. From family and community, children learn about Jewish culture or religion. Individuals can affirm their Judaism at any age. Although the religion does not proselytize, anyone can follow the time-consuming process of conversion (Ruah Hadashah, 1980).

The history of the Jewish people is long and fills volumes (Baron, 1975; Finkelstein, 1949; Goodman, 1911; Grayzel, 1968; Johnson, 1987; Kaplan, 1967; Laqueur, 1972; Roth, 1948; Sachar, 1976, 1977; Schwarz, 1956; Seltzer, 1981). Heilman (1982) gave a good overview of the sociological characteristics of U.S. Jews. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve into the complete history of the Jews or their sociological characteristics, but a brief overview provides a foundation for understanding the dynamics of antisemitism.

Approximately 6,000 years ago, the ancient Hebrews had their own nation in part of what is now the Middle East. The Jews had developed a unique religion, characterized by the belief in monotheism, or one God. In B.C.E. (before the common era) 721, the northern half of the ancient Hebrew empire, Israel, was conquered by the Assyrians, while in B.C.E. 586, the southern half, Judea, fell under Babylonian control. Those Hebrews under Babylonian domination were released 70 years later, at which time they returned to the land and reconstructed their temple in Jerusalem. The Jews lived in relative tranquility for more than 500 years. Then, in C.E. (common era) 70, the Romans captured Jerusalem and the rest of the Hebrew kingdom and those Jews who did not stay in the conquered kingdom fled into the diaspora (dispersion), where they lived for approximately 2,000 years (Ruah Hadashah, 1980). Not until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 did the Jews once again have a nation-state.

Anti-Semitism has a long history, predating the diaspora, and going back to ancient Greece. Throughout the centuries into modern times, anti-Semitism has permeated civilizations. This Christian- and occasionally Islamic-based anti-Semitism, to a lesser or greater degree, appeared in the Roman Empire; the Byzantine Empire; the Ottoman Empire; on the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal); in the Mediterranean countries (Italy and Morocco); in the European countries (especially Poland, Rumania, France, Germany, and Russia}; and various Arab countries (especially Syria). Jewish history is filled with brutal oppression, ranging from restrictive laws that forced Jews to live in ghettos to extensive pogroms and mass extermination. In different eras, the governments of various Arab countries,

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Spain, Poland, France, and Germany acted as a haven for the Jews, only then to turn around and persecute, attack, murder, or expel their Jewish populations (Johnson, 1987). Given the cyclical nature of anti-Semitism over the past 1,000 years or so, it is hard to view it as a series of random events. As a consequence, Jews are rarely able to feel safe and secure in a host country, regardless of how benevolent it appears to be or how good times seem for Jews (Ruah Hadashah, 1980).

Myths and stereotypes exist about Jews that feed into anti-Semitism and the cyclical nature of the oppression (Ruah Hadashah, 1980). Before the Enlightenment, Jews were portrayed as the killers of Christ, which allowed the ruling class to have a particular country to scapegoat the Jews and fuel the flames of persecution and killings whenever their regime was threatened by economically or politically hard times (Levey & Greenhall, 1983). This myth is being perpetuated; there is at least one recently documented case of an Italian Roman Catholic church spreading “blood libel” against the Jews (Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1989). After the Enlightenment, prejudice against the Jews took on a racial ideology, the false belief that Jews were a race rather than a distinct cultural-religious group (Arendt, 1979). In Nazi Germany, the horrible culmination of this racist ideology was the destruction of most of European Jewry, when more than 6 million Jews {almost one-third of the worldwide Jewish population at the ume) and three million other “undesirables” (e.g., gypsies, gays/lesbians, and leftists) were killed in the Holocaust (Johnson, 1987).

In the United States, anti-Semitism has a long history, though, for the most part, it has been relatively sporadic and mild in comparison with that of other countries. Upon the founding of this country, the Constitution gave every white, male citizen full religious, political, and civil rights. Yet, this was not true of various states’ constitutions. In Maryland, for example, it was not until 1826 that the so-called “Jew bill” passed, finally allowing Jews to run for elective office (American Jewish Historical Society, n.d.).

During 20th-century U.S. history, the tide of anti-Semitic prejudice has ebbed and flowed. The Leo Frank case early this century is one virulent example. In 1913, Frank, the owner of a pencil factory in Georgia, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl, a crime he never committed (Perlmutter & Perlmutter, 1982). He was then mob lynched 2 years later. Frank was only officially exonerated for the crime in 1985 (B. Rind, personal communication, September 17, 1990). In the 1930s, Father Coughlin, who headed the Union for Social Justice, broadcast anti-Semitic diatribes over the radio that were heard by millions of Americans. Among other things, Coughlin blamed the Jews for the Great Depression. At the time, it is estimated that approximately 25% of the nation embraced Coughlin’s political ideology (Quinley & Glock, 1979).

In the 1960s, The Survey Research Center of the University of California at Berkeley conducted a 5-year study of anti-Semitism in the United States (Selznick & Steinberg, 1969). The researchers concluded that “anti-Semitism is widespread and pervasive, but not in a dangerous form” (p. 184). The authors argued that “lack of education” was the primary reason why more than one-third of the American populace harbored anti-Semitic opinions (p. 185). They reported that many Americans accepted or would do nothing to stop discrimination against Jews in social clubs, “Political anti-Semitism” was identified among one-third of those surveyed, because they indicated they would vote for an anti-Semitic candidate, The authors concluded “that cultural resources for fascism are widespread in American society” and “given a crisis situation and [authoritarian] political leadership, they (the cultural resources) constitute a potential threat to the democratic order” (p. 185). However, findings by Weil (1985) would seem to indicate that the long history of liberalism in the United States, at least among the better-educated in society, might prevent such an outcome.

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Although Rosenfield (1982) showed that anti-Semitism in the United States seemed to be on the decline between the 1960s and the early 1980s (though certain stereotypes stubbornly persisted even then), it is the view of this author and others that antiSemitism has been on the rise in this country since the time of that study. During the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, signs of a resurgence in anti-Semitism (as well as many other negative “isms”) have surfaced. One report has extensively documented the links between the “Eastern European emigre fascist network with direct ties to former Nazi collaborators” and the Republican party through its National Republican Heritage Groups (Nationalities) Council, an “ethnic out-reach program” (Bellant, 1988).

During the past decade, the number of far-right and neo-Nazi groups in the United States also has increased. In a recent publication, 30 major groups were identified, with approximately one-half of them founded in the 1980s (Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith [ADL], 1988a). Although the actual memberships in these groups are small, many more people are exposed to their anti-Semitic, racist philosophies through a myriad of publications (ADL, 1988b).

In 1986, a Louis Harris poll indicated that anti-Semitism was on the rise in several farm belt states hit hard by drought and bad economic times (Coates, 1986). In Lowa and Nebraska, 28% of those polled believed “that a Jewish-inspired conspiracy of international bankers under the auspices of the Trilateral Commission is deliberately causing the farm crisis” (Coates, 1986, p. 6}. In response to these results, Harris said, “It must be pointed out that any phenomenon that affects over one in four residents must be viewed as a mass phenomenon, even if it is not massive” (Coates, 1986, p.6). The Center for Democratic Renewal estimated that there were between 2,000 to 5,000 far-right-wing activists with up to 10 times as many followers operating in the Great Plains and Midwestern states in the mid-1980s (Zeskind, 1985).

Also in the mid-1980s, a new phenomenon appeared—the neo-Nazi Skinheads, or “Skins.” Although not all Skins are violent right-wingers, many are drawn to neo-Nazism and groups such as the Reverend Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations, a group that espouses racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic rhetoric, and engages in violent actions toward these groups. Although there were only 300 “Skins” in 1986, by the beginning of 1990, approximately 5,000 had organized into dozens of gangs in 30 states (ADL, 1988c; Stern,1990). In 1988, “41 anti-Semitic incidents in at least 15 states were [sic] either claimed by or attributed to Skinhead elements” (ADL, 1989, p. 4). From 1988 to 1989, there was a 180% increase in neo-Nazi anti-Semitic acts: 118 reported incidents in 24 states, or 8% of the total anti-Semitic incidents that year (ADL, 1990).

An ADL report of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States shows almost 13,000 cases from 1980 to 1990. In this time period, there were over 8200 incidents of vandalism and more serious acts of violence, such as bombings, arson, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries. During the same time, there were more than 4500 incidents of harassment, including physical assaults, against Jews. (One of these was the murder of Denver talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 by violent, anti-Semitic far-right activists.) Although there was a gradual decline in the total number of anti-Semitic incidents during the early 1980s and a leveling off in the mid-1980s, the number of total incidents began to increase again in 1987, reaching an all-time high in 1990 (ADL, 1991). Because underreporting tends to be a problem, the actual number of anti-Semitic incidents could be much higher.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of these incidents is the increase in anti-Semitism on college campuses. In 1988, there were 54 reports from 38 college campuses, including “spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans such as ‘Kill the Kikes’ and ‘Zionazi racists’…on the wall of the Jewish Student Center at SUNY Binghamton” and the spray-painting of swastikas and the phrase

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“Hitler is God” at the Jewish Student Union at Memphis State University (ADL, 1989). JAP-baiting (i.e, Jewish American Princess-baiting) has become a popular pastime among some students at several East Coast universities, including the notorious incident “at Syracuse University basketball games [where] the pep band would point at certain women who stood up and chanted . . . ‘JAP, JAP, JAP” (Atkin & Rich, 1988, p. 4). In 1989, 6% of incidents were reported on more than 50 campuses, or 5% of the total U.S. incidents reported that year (ADL, 1990). Finally, in 1990 there were 95 reported cases on over 50 campuses, a 36% increase over 1989 figures (ADL, 1991). Even social work schools are not immune from anti-Semitic incidents, During the 1988-1989 academic year at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, several swastikas were spray painted on the school’s outdoor signs. In the 1989-1990 academic year, another swastika was scrawled in one of the bathrooms at the school.


Jews are an oppressed group in U.S. society and around the world (Brown, 1991; Bulkin, 1988; Kaye/Kantrowitz & Klepfisz, 1986a; Klepfisz, 1982; Ruah Hadashah, 1980). Jewish oppression or anti-Semitism shares characteristics with other forms of oppression. ‘The underlying dynamics of all oppressions are the same, although each may manifest itself in unique ways. One concept of oppression, based on the work of Paulo Freire (1988), is that people belonging to group A are in a dominant position with respect to people belonging to group B; thus, As have the power to hinder or prevent Bs from reaching their self-potential.

Jews have been and continue to be oppressed individually and as a people because of others’ reactions to their culture and religion. Various myths, stereotypes, and traditions perpetuate Jewish oppression in many countries. In the United States, for example, such myths include beliefs that Jews control the news media, that Jews are the major wealth holders, that Jewish money controls politics, and that Israel through the all-powerful American-Israel Public Affairs Committee can get anything it wants from Congress. These myths, stereotypes, and traditions act as the vessel for the economic and political oppression of Jews. Anti-Semitism is latent in many, if not most, countries, where the ruling elite or other groups use it to incite the general population against Jews and other vulnerable groups {Ruah Hadashah, 1980). The recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe (both East and West) and the * Soviet Union gives credence to this viewpoint (“Desecration of Jewish graves,” 1990; Mathews, Nordland, & Bogie, 1990; “Survey shows anti-Semitism,” 1990; “Swastikas painted on buildings,” 1990).

Jews as a group tend to occupy middle and upper-middle-class positions in U.S. society and are the second most affluent religious group in this country, following the Episcopalians (Shepard, 1984). Not all Episcopalians are necessarily wealthy; likewise, there are also poor Jews (Heilman, 1982). Many elderly Jews, single Jewish people, and recent Jewish immigrants to the United States are poor or working class. For the most part, Jews do not occupy ruling-class positions in U.S. society (Zweigenhaft, 1980). Historically, Jews have filled certain occupational roles and have almost always been excluded from the real circles of power wherever they have lived (Ruah Hadashah, 1980).

The internalized form of Jewish oppression occurs when Jews come 0 believe the attitudes, messages, misinformation, and stereotypes about Jews. It is not uncommon for some Jews to perceive themselves as ugly, weak, complaining, pushy, caring too much about money, or being smarter than others, They may also exhibit feelings of powerlessness or attack other Jews for exhibiting supposed stereotypical behaviors (Ruah Hadashah, 1980). These manifestations of internalized Jewish oppression are not surprising, because this is the way oppressive societies have viewed Jews for several millennia (Brown, 1991).

In addition to suffering from anti-Semitism, many Jews are also subject to other forms of oppression.

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Jewish women are often the targets of sexism as well as anti-Semitism, and Falasha or Ethiopian Jews are often the targets of racism and classic as well as anti-Semitism. Older Jews are often subjected to ageism and classism as well as anti-Semitism. Jews with disabilities often have to live with “ableism” and classism along with anti-Semitism. Thus, the stereotype of the “rich” Jew misrepresents the difficult lives of the many Jews who deal with multiple oppressions.


Infusing Content Into Human Behavior and the Social Environment Courses

In keeping with the person-in-environment perspective, it is crucial to understand Jewish issues in the context of Jews’ minority status and past and present anti-Semitism. From an ecological perspective, especially the life span model, information on the wide array of experiences of Jews in the United States and knowledge of various Jewish institutions is helpful.

Jews in the United States live as a minority group in a Christian majority culture, composing slightly more than 2% of this country’s population. Jews are about 0.2% of the world population. Because the U.S. census does not ask people questions about their religious background, there is no accurate data on Jews as a cultural-religious minority group in the United States. Although little is known about the actual demographic distribution of Jews (especially in rural areas), their occupations, their income, and their educational levels, various survey data (often by local Jewish federations) helps to fill in the gaps. However, this information is not always reliable, and cannot be easily compared with census data. Given these circumstances, Jews face cultural oppression by a dominant non-Jewish majority. Consequently, social workers should know about Jewish holidays, rituals, and life passage experiences. Except in areas with large Jewish populations, the general populace is unfamiliar with the major Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year); Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); and Passover (the celebration of the Jewish exodus from Egypt). The Jewish Sabbath, which begins Friday at sundown and ends 24 hours later, is a day of rest for some Jews, even those who are not especially observant (Waskow, 1982; Wouk, 1959). It is also helpful to know about naming ceremonies; bris (circumcision ritual); and shivah (mourning observance). Having knowledge about life passage experiences such as the Bar Mitzvah or Bas Mitzvah (celebrating the passage into adulthood for 13-year-old boys and girls) and about Jewish weddings is useful, too (Siegel, Strassfield, & Strassfield, 1973; Strassfield & Strassfield, 1976, 1980).

Acknowledging the impact of the Holocaust on Jews is extremely important. Many Jews in the United States lost relatives in the Holocaust. This event, more than any in Jewish history has had a profound effect on Jewish people around the world. In some way, it forms the backdrop of all modern-day Jewish experience, acting as a lens through which many events are filtered. Rosenbloom (1983) explained well how the Holocaust experience has important lessons for social workers, including doing work with other populations who have experienced genocide.

Human Behavior and the Social Environment (HBSE) courses, through lectures and texts such as Devore and Schlesinger (1987), should include examples of Jewish life cycle events such as holidays, rituals, and life passage experiences. If possible, a section on the Jewish experience based on the life span model should be incorporated into HBSE courses. Jewish content could be incorporated following the methods of infusing content on gay men and lesbians that have been described by Newman (1989). Bibliographies of relevant readings, filmographies, sample lecture packets, and even seed grants to

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faculty interested in developing course content are additional ways to help social work educators infuse this content into curricula.

Infusing Content Inte Practice Courses

Micro Practice. For those who will engage in micro practice, understanding the Jewish experience is essential for effective work with Jewish clients. Direct practitioners need to develop a sensitivity to the concerns and issues of Jewish clients. Questions a culturally sensitive social worker might ask include: Is the Jewish client a recent immigrant? If not, how many generations has his or her family been in the United States? Is he or she an Ashkenazic (European/Soviet) Jew; Sephardic (Iberian peninsula or Mediterranean) Jew; or Mizrachi (Arab) Jew? Does he or she have a religious affiliation (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist), or is he or she unaffiliated or a secular, nonreligious Jew? Has the Jewish client ever experienced discrimination or persecution because of his or her religion? Is he or she a Holocaust survivor or refugee of the Holocaust, or a child of a survivor? Answers to these questions will greatly aid in understanding particular Jews’ life experiences.

Often, a lack of information about Jewish vulnerability to negative stereotyping and anti-Semitism can prevent therapists from understanding the larger social context of the Jewish clients’ problems. For example, Siegel (1986) described how anti-Semitism and sexism can work together to cause Jewish women to have negative images of themselves. Beck (1991) analyzed how JAP-baiting can have a devastating impact on Jewish women clients, and Kaye/Kantrowitz (1991) discussed how therapists can sensitize themselves to the particular concerns of Jewish women and truly help empower their clients.

Internalized oppression can affect Jews in other ways, too. Because of the historical oppression and attempts at genocide against the Jewish people, most, if not all Jews, have learned to function and survive despite oppression, terror, and other abusive conditions. Thus, although many Jews appear to be doing well, often they are living with fear. Some Jews try to assimilate and pass as non-Jews. By being “invisible,” they hope to escape in the event of another Holocaust. It 1s difficult for Jews to feel safe and trust others, especially non-Jews (Brown, 1991). For those who are survivors or children of survivors of the Holocaust, these feelings are even more pronounced (Epstein, 1988).

Jewish families have their strengths and weaknesses, just like all families. Several authors (Farber et al, 1988; Herz & Rosen, 1982; Zuk, 1978) have discussed the supposed characteristics of Jewish families. On the one hand, Jewish family values and culture are described as encouraging closeness; loyalty; flexible roles; learning and achievement; and an outward, even activist, approach toward the world. On the other hand, Jewish families are also portrayed as transmitting negative values such as suffering, hypochondriasis, verbal fighting, and overly strong maternal involvement in child-rearing. There are several problems with these characterizations, First, they are based on little, if any, empirical evidence, Second, other ethnic families exhibit some of these same characteristics; thus, these family traits are not particularly “Jewish.” Third, citing these characteristics as typical of Jewish families (or of families in any ethnic group) perpetuates stereotypes that may simply be false. In accordance with the views of Gelfand and Fandetti (1986), we must avoid the trap of “reductionism and unwarranted generalizations”(p.543).

Interreligious marriage is an increasingly common phenomenon in the United States and certainly affects Jews. According to the Chicago-based National Opinion Research- Center, currently 23% of Jews intermarry, compared with 22% of Protestants and 40% of Roman Catholics (Campbell, 1990). Interfaith marriages are strongly discouraged by religious Jews, and when they happen, may cause much family friction between inlaws. Interfaith couples may face problems if and when children come into

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the family (Campbell, 1990), and may seek therapy at that time.

Herz and Rosen (1982) have reported that Jews, when faced with individual, marital, or family problems, are generally open to and more likely to seek counseling than other religious-ethnic groups because it fits well with their culture and values, According to the authors, insight therapies rather than behavioral or goal-oriented therapies seem to work best, because much emphasis is placed on verbal expression in Jewish culture. However, these conclusions are based on studies either from the early 1960s or on Herz and Rosen’s own experiences as psychodynamic-oriented therapists.

Regarding work with Holocaust survivors and their children, there has been increasing literature in that area in the past decade. One author (Danieli, 1981) has written about four different Holocaust family archetypes (victim, fighter, numb, and survivor) and how they have affected their adaptational styles. Meadow (1982) has described the use of client-focused interviews for group work with children of Holocaust survivors. Also, over the past 10 to 15 years, a number of self-help groups for children of survivors have been organized, many of them following Silverman’s (1980) model.

Social work practice courses should include intervention strategies that will be successful with Jewish clients. In addition to learning about Jewish experience, students must examine their own potentially anti-Semitic attitudes. Such a sensitive subject needs to be approached thoughtfully. The first step should be to have students explore their own ethnic identities and religious backgrounds so that they will understand their own dominant and subordinate positions in society. Having explored their own social identities, it will be easier for them to see the real gaps in their knowledge and experience with others different from themselves, and be open to new information and unlearning misinformation they have acquired about other groups (Sherover-Marcuse, n.d.)

Macro Practice. Future macro practitioners also would benefit from knowledge concerning Jews as a minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism, Knowledge about Jewish vulnerability to stereotyping and Christian cultural dominance or anti-Semitism in its various forms would be useful for supervisors, administrators, and community organizers.

Supervisors and administrators in organizational and institutional settings need to be ready to deal with such issues as an employee’s request to take off from work on a Jewish holiday. Could such a request affect the employee’s promotion or his or her job security? Is there an agency policy dealing with this situation? It is important to remember that this is not even an issue for most non-Jewish employees because they (and Jews) automatically are granted leave for major Christian holidays, however, there is often little or no recognition of equally important Jewish holidays, with the exception of a few cities with large Jewish populations. Public school systems in cities with significant Jewish populations (e.g., New York City) have dealt with the issue by turning major Jewish holidays into school holidays for everyone.

Supervisors and administrators need to pay attention to various situations. For example, they should avoid scheduling meetings on major Jewish holidays. Moreover, they should make a conscious effort to have holiday parties rather than parties celebrating the holiday of any one particular religion, Such efforts are greatly appreciated by Jewish employees as well as other non-Christians.

Community organizers should be aware of the size of the Jewish constituency in their neighborhoods. If there are Jews living in a particular neighborhood, community meetings should not be scheduled on major Jewish holidays. Sensitivity to where community meetings are held may also be important; church basements may alienate potential Jewish members. Synagogues as well as church groups should be approached in building community coalitions. Efforts to raise money for various projects should include synagogues in the area.

Supervisors, administrators, and community organizers should be prepared to handle anti-Semitism

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incidents in the course of their work. When these incidents occur in the workplace or the community, they provide excellent opportunities for macro practitioners to deal firmly with them and to educate their employees, clients, or colleagues. An active stance is essential. Strong statements by supervisors, administrators, and community organizers that are anti-Semitic (as well as racist, sexist, and homophobic) behaviors are highly offensive and will have a positive effect on the institution or organization. To ignore or write off such incidents as mere “pranks” may only make the situation worse, because it may encourage the perpetrators to escalate their activities or entice others to follow suit.

To prepare macro practice social work students to deal with anti-Semitic situations, it is necessary to give them experience handling such scenarios. Role plays in the classroom is one way for students to practice their responses. Alternating roles will both sensitive students to what it is like being a member of an oppressed group and allow them to experience the responsibility for dealing with the problem as a professional.


To ensure the full exploration of diversity issues and to encourage ethnic-sensitive practice, social work students, educators, and practitioners need information about Jews as a cultural-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism. Such a step only can enhance social work education in the United States.

A social work research agenda on the topic of Jews as an ethnic-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism also is necessary. The profession needs 10 ascertain what social work students currently know about Jews and anti-Semitism. One starting point would be to look at current social work curricula and see what content, if any, is included on these topics. Furthermore, the current level of social work educators’ knowledge about Jews as a minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism is worth examining.

As social workers endeavor to end all forms of oppression, they must also make a concerted effort to eliminate anti-Semitism. Jews and non-Jews alike stand to benefit from such efforts. When knowledge about Jews as a cultural-religious minority group and the problem of anti-Semitism is infused into social work curricula, the profession will be better able to fulfill its commitment to social justice.


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Accepted 2/91.

Address Correspondence to: Steven Soifer, University of Washington, School of Social Work, JH-30, 4101 15th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98195.

1 Comment

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  1. 1
    angelina alex

    As an educator, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this article. It’s essential to incorporate content about Jews and anti-Semitism into curricula to ensure that students develop a nuanced understanding of these complex issues. By doing so, we can work towards building a more tolerant and inclusive society.

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