Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Beyond the Pale - Teaching about antisemitism

I teach World History. Each year I teach the Holocaust in the spring. Each spring students ask the same question: “Why did people start disliking Jews all of a sudden?” For many of my students they don’t know much about Jewish history except for the Holocaust and what they might learn about Jews from the time of the death of Jesus in Church.

I start each fall in World History teaching about the Middle Ages. We cover the basics including the plague. A couple of years ago we watched a video in class about the plague and it mentioned how Jews were often blamed for the plague (accused of poisoning water supplies) and massacred by Christians. My students were shocked and could not understand why the Christians would act in such a way.

I found a website that focused on the history of Judaism. It is called “Beyond the Pale: The History of Jews in Russia.”

Inside this exhibit there is a section called The Middle Ages. There are many images that will prompt discussions and also straight, to the point text that is easy to comprehend. Topics include the First Crusades, Anti-Jewish Myths, Patterns of Discrimination, Usury, The Jewish Community, and Expulsion and the Black Death.

In the past I have had students work their way through the website independently and then we will discuss many of the imagines and issues in class. I have attached a worksheet that I have used with students before.

I feel that to better understand the Holocaust students really need a better understanding of Jewish history in Europe. I like this website because it already addresses many of the issues talked about during most Middle Ages units so it isn’t hard to integrate it into the curriculum.It gives students a greater understanding and background knowledge when studying the Holocaust.

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