Antisemitism and intolerance in Edina’s past and present: The experience of Jewish residents
December 19, 2022
Edina has a long history of antisemitism. Restrictive covenants barred Jews from buying property in the suburb up until the 1960s; according to professors Charles Gallagher and Cameron Lippard from La Salle University and Appalachian State University, residents at the time were proud that Edina had “not one Negro and not one Jew.” This followed a state-wide trend: Minneapolis was regarded as one of the most antisemitic cities in the country in the 1950s, according to MPR News. Jews were routinely discriminated against, denied housing and job opportunities.
Beyond the impact of historical discrimination, numerous antisemitic attacks have occurred in Edina within the past few years. In 2019, Concord Elementary School was vandalized with a swastika, one prominent example of the dozens of antisemitic vandalism incidents that are reported to the police every year. In March of this year, an antisemitic video featuring an Edina High School student doing the Nazi salute while classmates laughed along was widely shared on social media. In July, antisemitic flyers alleging that Jews control the media were found in Edina and several neighboring communities.
Antisemitism is now on the rise in Edina and the rest of the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents such as vandalism, harassment, and violence reached a record high in 2021. 2022 is set to outpace that record.
Antisemitism in Edina Public Schools: “No one really takes it seriously”
Antisemitism is frequently experienced by Edina Public School students. Since moving to Edina in middle school, freshman Samantha Kushins has experienced antisemitic attacks directed at both her and her friends. “Somebody attempted to rip off my Star of David necklace while fighting over a doughnut that they wanted. So they decided to bring religion into it, which made me feel uncomfortable,” Kushins said. While learning about the Holocaust, somebody told her friend that she and other Jewish people should burn in hell. “There’s something I also find very funny about that because personally, my sect of Judaism doesn’t believe in hell. We believe that everyone goes to heaven because everybody’s good at heart. So I mean, it makes me laugh when people say things like that. It’s like, well, that’s not really culturally correct,” Kushins said.
Junior Lilly Atar describes antisemitism as a prevalent part of her life since she was young. As a middle schooler at Edina, Atar witnessed a student go on a rant about his admiration for Hitler. “I was disgusted that no one really did anything,” she said. She noted frequently seeing kids making Nazi salutes, Nazi-related jokes, and drawing swastikas “all over the place.” “No one really takes [antisemitism] seriously,” she said.
Nazi rhetoric is noted as a frequent issue by many Jewish students. “Middle schoolers would tell a lot of Nazi jokes,” junior Viveca Karch said. “There are people who think the Holocaust was fake and say, ‘It was a super long time ago, why do we keep learning it?’”
Asher Kaufman, an eighth grader at South View Middle School, has also noticed that antisemitism often takes the form of humor. “There have been some issues [of antisemitism] at my school. A lot of kids find it pretty lighthearted. I’m not wanting to take things too seriously,” he said. “But at a certain point, you got to realize, hey, maybe doing that kind of stuff is appropriating the millions who died in the Holocaust. I think at a certain point, people should really grow up.”
This year, EPS changed district policy to address antisemitism and discrimination more directly. Following the antisemitic video featuring EHS students, EHS Principle Andrew Beaton and EPS officials crafted district policy 506, explicitly prohibiting racism, religious-based discrimination, xenophobia, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination. “I would not say that, as a whole, antisemitism is a problem at this high school. But I do know that antisemitism exists, and we have had students that have displayed ignorance about religious intolerance. And they’ve been disciplined for that,” Beaton said.
Exclusion in the broader community
But antisemitism isn’t just an issue at EPS. It affects the broader Edina community as well. Dr. Ellen J. Kennedy, founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide and member of the Edina Human Rights and Relations Commission, noted that many instances of antisemitic graffiti in Edina have gone unpunished. “There’s a sense that [antisemitism] will be tolerated by the community. Now, I say ‘tolerated by the community,’ knowing that there are many efforts within the city structure itself in various organizations to address these overt manifestations of antisemitism,” she said. “But antisemitism is normalized. And it’s being normalized everywhere.”
Kennedy moved to Edina thirty years ago. She was hesitant about moving into the Edina community because of its history of antisemitism, most notably having aforementioned restrictive covenants which excluded Jews from the community.
On Kennedy’s first day in the city, her young daughter went home from a playdate in tears after another child told her she would go to hell because Jews don’t believe in Jesus. Since then, Kennedy has experienced numerous less-overt instances of antisemitism. “In groups that I belong to that are under the framework of the city in some way, there is almost always, from most people, an unspoken assumption that everyone is Christian, that Christian holidays are the ones that are observed. The word ‘church’ is always used in reference to faith-based institutions. A meeting of an organization of which I’m a member of was scheduled for Rosh Hashanah,” Kennedy said.
Adrienne Berman, an Edina mom, similarly took issue with the fact that Edition: Edina, a monthly newsletter published by the City of Edina and distributed to homes and businesses in Edina, included Kwanzaa and Christmas in this month’s publication but not Hanukkah. “I was thrilled that they had Kwanzaa in there, but really disappointed and frustrated and hurt that Hanukkah wasn’t there. We’ve lived in Edina for about nine years—we moved here from Canada—and it was just surprising and shocking to me over these nine years how little people know or hear about Jewish holidays and traditions,” Berman said.
Berman decided to go to City Hall and speak to the receptionist about the newsletter. “She was very apologetic, and said that it was absolutely a mistake, but it was missing. And she mentioned that there are 15 to 20 people who proofread Edition: Edina. It was shocking to me that that many people missed it, so I sort of said to her casually, ‘Maybe you need a Jewish person as part of that group,’” she said.
Berman posted the issue on Facebook and the post gained enough attention that the City of Edina Twitter and Instagram issued an apology and correction. “I think [incidents like these] start with blissful ignorance. 60 years ago, Jews weren’t allowed to buy houses in Edina, so it could be that people didn’t grow up with [Jewish people]. That being said… I think at this point in 2022 if you’re not checking multicultural holidays on Google, I feel like at that point it’s a choice that people are making to say, ‘Oh, it’s fine,’” Berman said.
Kennedy notes that the subtle moments of exclusion she has felt have left a lasting impression on her. “Over the course of a lifetime, over the course of my 30 years living in Edina, these unintentional slights begin to create a sense of otherness for me. I say unintentional, because nobody would say ‘I really mean to exclude her’…But it’s the mindset of a Christian, heterosexual, and often somewhat misogynist view of the world,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also received personal threats for being an outspoken Jew who writes on antisemitism. She once received an anonymous, threatening email with the subject line “We see you, Jew.” “I’m always very upfront about being a Jew, and in this climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult. One might even say increasingly dangerous,” Kennedy said.
Addressing the root causes: social media, scapegoating, and ignorance
Kennedy’s comment rings true at a time when antisemitism is widely being espoused by high-profile celebrities. Hip-hop artist Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has garnered attention for claiming he “like[s] Hitler” on Alex Jones’ podcast and posting a swastika inside of a Star of David. NBA player Kyrie Irving was suspended from the Nets for posting a link to an antisemitic film that alleges that Jews worship Satan.
Harlan Brand, a building substitute at EHS, wore a jersey of Ama’re Stoudemire, a retired NBA player who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel, during his interview to “counter the recent antisemitism of Kyrie Irving.”
Last March, Brand spoke about antisemitism at a student-organized walkout in the wake of the antisemitic video being shared on social media. He believes one of the most important aspects of combating Jewish hate is recognizing that it can come from all sides of the political aisle. “Everybody focuses in on Charlottesville, not that they shouldn’t, or the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, not that they shouldn’t, but there’s also examples of left-wing antisemitism, most recently and most obviously Kyrie Irving and Kanye West. And Ilhan Omar has said things that are clearly antisemitic,” he said.
Brand recalled receiving an antisemitic flier from Omar’s campaign, a U.S. House of Representatives congress member whose district includes parts of Edina. The flier criticized “big political donors,” all of whom had Jewish names. “I’m not rich and I’m Jewish,” Brand said. “I think [progressive Democrats] have been responsible for a lot of antisemitism and that doesn’t get looked at very critically.”
Kennedy, who has written on the origins of antisemitism, explained how hatred stems from scapegoating minority groups. “Many people feel a sense of threat when their own world shifts a little bit…And one of the ways that people feel they regain control is to blame the change on someone else,” she said. She traces this cycle of blame back to the Holocaust. “We certainly saw that in the most horrific way during the Holocaust, where Jews were and remain such a small percent of the population, and yet they were blamed for losing World War I, they were blamed for everything,” she said. “And that same situation is occurring today. Jews have been blamed for COVID, for the climate crisis, for the economic challenges that people feel, for job losses,” she said. “Many of the people who harbor these beliefs have never met a Jew.”
Brand’s overall message on antisemitism is this: “Antisemitism is a disease like the flu or COVID. It’s not limited to one segment or another segment of society. You have to look at it that way and fight it that way.”
Berman also notes the importance of taking action against antisemitism. “If, as a community, we’re looking to become more inclusive and actually make that a lived experience and not just verbal promises, I think there needs to be some active work on the part of leadership, whether that’s in the schools, or the city, or the sports to really make that happen. We can’t just respond when something negative happens and say that’s no good. There needs to be education and intersection,” she said.
Nevertheless, Berman feels it is important to emphasize the progress that has occurred within the community. “My experience in Edina as a Jewish person does have positive elements as well. I have made wonderful friends here who are very culturally aware and savvy, and we trade our cultures and our traditions, and there’s great growth, education, and learning. Tolerance and acceptance all comes from that kind of exposure,” she said.
This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on Dec. 19.