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Congregation Beth Israel, Chabad of Forsyth begin course on how to beat antisemitism
Outsmarting Antisemitism
Rabbi Levi Mentz of Congregation Beth Israel speaks to the crowd at the first session of a four-part Outsmarting Antisemitism course. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Community members gathered at the Cumming Recreation Center on Wednesday, Oct. 27, for the first of a four-part course on how to beat antisemitism in the U.S. with positivity and pride.

Hosted by Congregation Beth Israel and Chabad of Forsyth, the course is free to any interested residents, and leaders from throughout Forsyth County came out Wednesday to show support for the course.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden and Board of Commissioners Chair Cindy Jones Mills gave opening remarks before the beginning of the session.

“When Rabbi Levi [Mentz] invited me to attend tonight, it was a very easy: Yes,’” Bearden said. “Yes, we want to outsmart antisemitism. We want all children, all families, to feel a part of the Forsyth County Schools family. And we can make that happen when we all come together, regardless of what we believe, regardless of what we look like or where we came from.”

FCS has worked closely with Mentz, of Congregation Beth Israel, and plans to make the course available to the county’s high school students.

“My staff and I stand ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder with all of you to ensure we do outsmart antisemitism,” Bearden said.

Beginning her remarks, Mills spoke about her time growing up in Forsyth County, having the opportunity to watch as the community grew and changed over more than 50 years. Now, she said it feels like a mostly loving county.

In the past few years, attacks targeted toward Jewish citizens have been on the rise in other areas of the U.S., spreading fear throughout the nation.

“After the Holocaust, the world united and said, ‘Never again,’” Mills said. “But somehow, here we are today where assault, harassment and vandalism against the Jewish community remains at historic levels in the U.S.”

After the opening remarks, Mentz began the course, explaining that the rise in antisemitism in the U.S. and what to do about it will be part of the focus of the four sessions. In his first lesson,  he addressed how Jewish community members should react in the face of such hatred.

To do that, he said it is important to look back at how Jewish communities have dealt with hate in the past as they faced forced conversion, persecution and extermination. Through all this turmoil, Menz said the Jewish nation managed to live on and thrive.

“What is the secret?” Mentz asked. “Yes, today is 2021, but today we find the greatest growth and height of antisemitism in this country than there ever was on this soil. We need to get the answer now.”

Before delving into learning how to outsmart antisemitism, Mentz said those in the Jewish community first need to look within themselves and ask how they can react to hatred intentionally.

“If we’re not focused, if we don’t have clarity, if we are not aligned emotionally and intellectually and psychologically in our personal reaction towards this reality of antisemitism, there’s nowhere to go,” Mentz said.

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Outsmarting Antisemitism
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley gives opening remarks before the beginning of the course. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

He referred back to the day three years ago when a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed 11 people and wounded another six during Shabbat morning services.

The event marked the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the U.S.

Mentz said he remembers that day clearly. The head of their security committee knocked on his door that morning, asking if he had seen the news, and when he explained what happened, he couldn’t believe it.

“You have to remember, I was born and raised in the country,” Mentz said. “My parents were born and raised in this country. To think that a gunman would come into a synagogue in America — unheard of. And of course, what was my natural reaction? I was filled with so much anger …. But then, of course, my natural reaction was fear.”

Filled with fear and anxiety, he called others on the security committee to ask what they should do. Others in the community questioned if they should come to synagogue the next day. They asked, “What if it happens again?”

Mentz said that reaction only hinders the community from their faith.

“The way I personally reacted — was that the right reaction?” Mentz questioned. “I know it’s natural, so I’m not going to beat myself up for it. But is that where I should be? …. Where are we for ourselves when these experiences happen?”

Through the course session, Mentz explored more of these questions with the group and spoke further on how that reaction and definition of Judaism has an impact on the Jewish community in the U.S.

Going into the next three course sessions, Mentz said they will explore similar questions and look further into the “absurdity of antisemitism” and how the community can combat it.

The next session is at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Cumming Recreation and Parks, 437 Pilgrim Mill Road, Cumming, GA 30028

 For more information, visit Jewishforsyth.org/together.