Senate passes bill to promote Holocaust education throughout New York schools

Senate passes bill to promote Holocaust education throughout New York schools
A bill aimed at promoting Holocaust education throughout New York's schools was passed by the state Senate on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the office of state Sen. Anna Kaplan)

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday which authorizes the state to conduct a survey of Holocaust education in New York’s schools.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), 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.

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.

The bill requires a report on the findings of the study by the first January after the bill becomes a law. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her consideration, Kaplan said in a press release.

“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.

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.

Kaplan said the statistics were “deeply disturbing” but something that did not surprise her.

“We need to stop this cycle,” Kaplan said. “And I think education is one of the key factors how we could do this.”

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, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told MSNBC that the data is “very damning” and that the record number of incidents tracked by the organization last year was “shocking.”

“We’re in this moment where offenses across the board are on the rise,” Greenblatt said. “We saw 167% increase in antisemitic assaults in 2021…Make no mistake that neither [political] party has a monopoly on morality.”

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. 

In October, Great Neck North High School held a forum organized by community leaders Lori Beth Schwartz and Judy Liman which discussed ways to combat antisemitism through education.

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