OPINION: Antisemitism at the Sydney Jewish Museum


When my child headed to the Sydney Jewish Museum on a recent school excursion, I expected an interesting learning experience that would lead to a deeper understanding of a period in our history that we’d talked about after reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

But an incident where students used offensive language towards museum staff posed bigger questions for our school and the broader community:

Are these history lessons of the past, or a reminder that Neo-Nazism continues to bubble away not so far beneath the surface in the present day?

I thought this museum trip would expose my child to history lessons from the past. Instead, they were exposed to the all-too-real horror that Neo-Nazism is still alive and unwell.

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Sydney Jewish Museum was founded in 1992 by a collective of Sydney-based survivors of The Holocaust, “to share their memories, commemorate the six million Jewish people who were murdered and provide important messages to future generations”.

The museum’s SJM Kids program encourages children aged three to 12 from all ethnicities and backgrounds to learn about Jewish culture and heritage. Visiting school groups are offered primary and high school options that include a presentation by a volunteer Holocaust survivor, which is when this trip went awry.

What started as ambivalence and students feigning sleep during the survivor’s presentation reportedly progressed to boisterous behaviour and offensive language that lasted for the rest of the museum tour. Museum staff were understandably offended by these actions and now my child’s high school is banned from future visits.

As a local mum, I was disheartened to hear this at all, let alone in relation to our laidback northern beaches community. But I learned, anecdotally, that my reaction was in the minority.

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RELATED: Antisemitic Bullying Is On The Rise In Australian Schools

The sentiment was, generally, that kids are entitled to free speech (a perspective that was ultimately challenged with disciplinary repercussions) and this has been an eye-opener for those of us who considered the local demographic to be more progressive.

In our home, it’s got us talking more openly about the normalcy of racist, antisemitic and homophobic groups within the school cohort.

As parents, we tell ourselves that the future of the planet is in good hands. That we’re putting in the work to raise the next generation to be more self-aware, more conscious of their impact on the environment, and more understanding and informed of important issues, such as acceptance, sexuality, gender fluidity and united communities.

At the same time, we’re grappling with the far-reaching online influences of the far right and the Andrew Tate phenomenon – and an incident like this really hits home.

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How do we as parents fight a fight we’re not actually invited to, as the seriously flawed battle for ‘integrity’ and ‘self-expression’ plays out at school?

I believe the answer lies in getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. With our kids, with our friends, and with our wider online communities. Calling out the behaviour we’re shocked by, asking pointed questions about opinions delivered as factual information, and leading by example as we endeavour to raise critical thinkers who can confidently hold their own when challenging problematic behaviours and beliefs.

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By Charlie
Charlie Writes is a Sydney based, London born, Caribbean writer, interviewer and poet. A colourful 27 year career has taken Charlie from typing poems on the spot on her 1970’s typerwiter named June, to donning a hard hat as a roving reporter in the construction industry. All while living out her favourite quote that the greatest adventures begin with a simple conversation.