Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill that promotes Holocaust education throughout New York’s schools into law at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City on Wednesday.
The law was sponsored by state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), introduced to the Senate in 2021 and unanimously passed by the Senate in May. It permits the state’s commissioner of education to analyze what school districts throughout the state are offering Holocaust instruction.
Section 801 of the state’s education law mandates the teaching of citizenship, patriotism and human rights issues “with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide” in schools. It also requires a report on the findings of the study by January.
Hochul said that New Yorkers are united in their remembrance of the historic tragedy and that requiring schools to educate students on it is the best way to honor those directly impacted by it.
“These are individuals who have endured unspeakable tragedy but nonetheless have persevered to build lives of meaning and purpose right here in New York,” Hochul said. “We owe it to them, their families, and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust to honor their memories and ensure future generations understand the horrors of this era.”
Kaplan said she and other co-sponsors of the legislation have “fought tirelessly” to have the bill signed into law and thanked Hochul for doing so.
“With antisemitism on the rise, and Holocaust misinformation exploding around the world, it’s never been more important that we learn the lessons of the Holocaust, and ensure our next generation knows about our history, no matter how dark or difficult the conversation may be,” Kaplan said.
The Holocaust is one of three tragedies mentioned by name in the law and mandated to be taught, with the other two being slavery and the mass starvation in Ireland from 1845 to 1850.
Kaplan said that a recent study by the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany revealed that 58% of New Yorkers aged 18 to 39 cannot name a single concentration camp, that 19% believe that Jews caused the Holocaust and that 28% believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated. In each of these three metrics, New York had the worst score of any state in the country.
Recent findings published by the Anti-Defamation League found that antisemitic attacks throughout Long Island increased by 23% percent last year, with 32 incidents reported throughout Nassau County.
The local increase of antisemitic incidents reflects a larger statewide trend. A total of 416 antisemitic incidents were reported throughout New York in 2021, a 24% increase from 2020, according to statistics.
Statistics showed New York’s rise in antisemitic incidents last year accounted for 15% of such incidents throughout the entire country in 2021. New York’s statistics were comprised of 183 harassment incidents, 182 vandalism incidents and 161 incidents involving swastikas.
Scott Richman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League New York/New Jersey, said the rise in antisemitic instances should be a cause of concern for everyone, not just those within the Jewish community.
“The fact that these incidents included an unprecedented number of vicious assaults – frequently targeting visibly Jewish individuals on the streets of New York, including young children, is incredibly disturbing,” Richman said in a statement.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, stressed the importance of understanding history to effectively combat racism, intolerance and other forms of hate in the United States during a virtual forum with Blank Slate Media earlier this year.
“If we want to address racism and hate, we need to make sure we understand where we’re coming from, so we know where we’re going,” Greenblatt said.
Social media, he said, plays a large role in fueling the fire that projects antisemitism and other forms of hate onto different individuals and groups. Algorithms on sites such as Facebook that are engineered to “drive clicks,” he said, result in the amplification of hatred.
“Social media is a superspreader of extremism and intolerance, from Facebook, to Twitter, to TikTok,” Greenblatt said. “The level of antipathy that it enables and how it amplifies the worst voices, algorithmically elevates them.”
The North Shore has seen a fair share of antisemitic and anti-Asian instances and subsequent demonstrations condemning those actions over the past two years, including a hijacking of a torah study event held via Zoom, vandalism on a local high school’s website and swastikas spray-painted on the outer walls of various structures.