Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: ADL, Sex-Ed in Orthodox high schools

Posted on Apr. 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Measuring Anti-Semitism
Rob Eshman dismisses the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) polling on anti-Semitic attitudes with one word — “junk” — and suggests that American Jews are deluding themselves about the level of anti-Semitism in society, which he would have us believe is virtually non-existent (“Again,” March 30). Yet the facts tell a far different story. 

Eshman may not agree with our methodology — and he has a right to his opinion — but it is irresponsible and misguided to suggest that we use our polling to stir up “fact-free hysteria” about a mythical anti-Semitism. In fact, through our periodic polling over the years we have found — and clearly reported — that anti-Semitism in the United States has dropped significantly, from 29 percent in 1964 to 15 percent today, and is nowhere near the levels we currently see in Europe.

Still, what continues is troubling. Our most recent poll of anti-Semitic attitudes in America, a national telephone survey of 1,754 adults conducted Oct. 12-23, 2011, found approximately 15 percent of Americans, or 35 million people, are infected with classical anti-Semitic beliefs. This represented an increase of 3 percent from the findings of a similar poll conducted in 2009.

These numbers are not pulled out of thin air, or based on junk science. In measuring anti-Semitic attitudes ADL relies on an index carefully developed in partnership with the University of California nearly 50 years ago. The index includes 11 questions that are used to gauge a wide range of anti-Semitic propensities. A respondent must agree with six or more of statements such as “Jews are more loyal to Israel than America,” “Jews stick together more than other Americans,” “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today,” and “Jews have a lot of irritating faults” in order to be deemed to have anti-Semitic propensities.

Recent events — among them the arrest of an avowed anti-Semite in the attempted firebombing of synagogues in New Jersey and the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti on a synagogue in Chicago — are all the more reason not to be complacent.

We should rely on careful analysis — not flip generalizations — to bring us toward a greater understanding of this phenomenon. This is not “hysteria,” but a sober analysis of a hatred that continues to persist — even in America.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League

Rob Eshman responds:
Abe Foxman is a personal hero of mine, and the ADL performs critical educational and watchdog tasks throughout the world.

That said, my quarrel with the ADL’s survey of anti-Semitic attitudes is that, as Mr. Foxman explains, the survey is 50 years old. As I stated in my editorial, some of the questions that the ADL considers negative no longer read as such. In a post- “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” world, in which a Jew won the vice presidential popular vote and Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz is the most trusted name in news, a world in which 82 percent of Americans believe Israel is “friendly” or an “ally ” (CNN Poll, May 2011), a world in which the vast majority of Americans report they would welcome a Jew into their family (Gallup, 2010), the ADL survey simply doesn’t pass the common sense test. It is due for an update.

If a reputable third-party survey finds American anti-Semitism at the levels the ADL claims, I would be happy to publish a full retraction and apology. If I’m right, I’ll settle for a nice lunch.

Sex Ed in Orthodox high schools
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz certainly displays an enthusiastically liberal, if naive, viewpoint in his essay “Sex Education in Orthodox High Schools” (March 30). He begins by denying the link between “learning” and then “doing” that scares many parents and educators about sex education. Much, though not all, of his subsequent pitch for sex education is defensive and survivalist — a tack taken by many educators in efforts to persuade resistant subpopulations of the value of it. That approach stresses the importance of biology and physical health and well-being pre-eminently. It tends to be more elliptical where social, psychological and moral matters are at issue. He argues that the classroom should be a safe and sacred place for sex education as he closes his piece.

He fails to see that resistance to sex education exists on many levels, not just the learning-equals-doing association, and not just with teen populations and their parents. The roots of that resistance cannot be detailed in a short note, but an example may stimulate more thought and discussion. I have approached local Orthodox rabbis with a proposal of evening lecture/discussion devoted to enhancing sexuality in marriage for adult audiences in private homes or synagogue facilities. Not one such offer ever materialized. Suffice it to say there are many forces that conspire against sex education in the Orthodox community, particularly if the program involves any sort of public conversation.

Doreen Seidler-Feller
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
via e-mail

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