By: guest blogger Emily Schneider
Like many Americans, but especially Jewish Americans, I am still in a state of shock following the slaughter of 11 people, with six more injured, while worshipping in a Pittsburgh synagogue. (Four of the injured were courageous first responders to the incident.) Perhaps my reaction was misplaced, given the overwhelming inundation of hateful words and actions which have been seemingly encouraged by the presidency of Donald Trump and the subsequent empowerment of white supremacist, anti-LGBTQ, and specifically anti-Semitic groups. After the deadly attack on an African-American church in Charleston and the domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, it is clear that the safety of many targeted groups is in peril in our country. At least, when I logged on to my computer after the Sabbath was over, and turned on cable news, I saw thorough and even passionate coverage of this latest atrocity, and witnessed the sincere and heartfelt empathy of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, people of color, neighbors of the victims or simply fellow citizens. Yet the response of the community in which I am active, advocates and professionals in children’s literature, has been relatively silent.
The reason I consider this absence of response on the part of librarians, journalists, and bloggers in the field to be related to intellectual freedom is that I find it difficult to believe that so few of them recognize the dangers of antisemitism. In a recent interview on NPR, George Selim of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that antisemitic incidents in our country have increased 60% in 2017 over the previous year, and that such incidents taking place in K-12 classrooms have increased by 90%. It is difficult to think of a more relevant statistic for discussion among teachers, librarians, authors, and journalists. Some of the most energetic and outspoken leaders in the promotion of diversity in children’s books and education have ignored the event, or preferred to understand it as merely one example of xenophobia, not as an attack on Jews. Yet the murderer singled out Jews as enemies of our country, using the language of Nazi propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s.
A notable exception to this trend is Kitty Flynn’s excellent piece on The Horn Book, mourning the loss of life in Pittsburgh and offering a list of resources for learning about antisemitism and Jewish life. The appearance of this article in a leading journal about children’s literature confirmed that an attack on Jews in a house of worship is indeed an urgent matter and merits both thought and action when we talk to our kids. Perhaps it has become not unthinkable, but uncomfortable, to talk about hatred of Jews, even among people who are highly articulate about attacks, both violent and subtle, on other groups.
School Library Journal has articles almost every day about the most effective ways to promote inclusive and open learning through the acquisition and distribution of books that represent everyone’s experience. Yet relatively few of their articles seem to take seriously the need to include Jewish readers, including the experience of feeling marginalized or even threatened. Even more positive components of Jewish life may be ignored, as in a recent piece about books about autumn holidays that totally omitted Jewish ones, among the most religiously important in our calendar. So far, they have posted nothing about the need to engage with the issue of anti-Semitism in their interactions with the public.
Even more troubling is the virtual absence of Jewish concerns on ALSC’s blog. When I searched under “Jewish,” as well as “antisemitism,” to check if I had missed any past blog entries that would concede the existence of Jews as readers, I came up with nothing but some incidental references to characters and a discussion about holiday decorations in libraries. A parallel search of “Islam” at did produce some recommendations for books that would make Muslim children feel welcome and understood.
Diversity is not a zero-sum game. The Pittsburgh murderer’s obsession with HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), is not a surprise. This organization has been helping to settle and acclimate immigrants to our country, Jewish and non-Jewish, since 1881. They continue to be one of the most committed and competent advocates for immigrants today, including from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. HIAS has even published a book for children about the refugee crisis.
If librarians and other advocates for an inclusive and activist approach to literacy are afraid to discuss antisemitism as a deep-rooted and dangerous blight on society, one that is both related to other forms of hatred, and also uniquely menacing to the Jewish people, we have a problem that needs to be addressed. I feel sure there must be more people in the fields of library science, writing, and publishing for children, who know that this issue demands a strong and unambiguous response. Expressions of concern, compassion, and support in the aftermath of the killing in Pittsburgh would be a good place to start.
Emily Schneider is a writer and educator in New York City who blogs about children’s literature at imaginaryelevators.blog.