Battling isolation: the impact of antisemitism on teens
OpinionGuest columnist

Battling isolation: the impact of antisemitism on teens

As they witness acts of hatred and bigotry directed toward their community, they grapple with feelings of anger, confusion and alienation.

Photo by dragana991/
Photo by dragana991/

In spring 2022, I participated in a panel where the opening question was “What keeps you up at night?”

I described a Venn diagram made up of the following different sets: Israel, social media, cancel culture and, of course, antisemitism. In the center of the Venn diagram, these four sets of topics would be intersected by “loneliness.”

When thinking about the way our teens experience the world, it is this loneliness, which impacts their mental health and well-being, that continues to keep me up at night. The recent dramatic increase in the number of antisemitic incidents our teens are experiencing should raise many concerns about their well-being.

Antisemitism, the same age-old scourge that continues to plague us across the globe, in our social media feeds and in our schools, impacts today’s teens in profound and troubling ways. As if being a teen isn’t hard enough, as young Jews navigate their formative years, the insidious nature of antisemitism adds a layer of complexity to their already challenging experiences. The survey conducted by BBYO in early 2024 indicates the harshest reality for North American teens: Antisemitism is directly shaping their identities.

The prevalence of antisemitism undermines the sense of safety and security that teens feel in their communities and schools. Every instance of hateful rhetoric or discriminatory behavior chips away at their trust in the social fabric, leaving them feeling vulnerable and marginalized.

Whether it manifests as bullying in school hallways (61% have experienced in-person discrimination) or hateful comments on social media platforms (46% have experienced online discrimination) the fear of being targeted for their Jewish identity looms large in the minds of Jewish teens, robbing them of the carefree adolescence that should be their birthright. The data further indicates that 74% of teens have seen more discrimination in school or during extracurricular activities since Oct. 7, and 55% are more concerned about attending school since the start of the war.

Worse yet, 45% of teens have not reported in-person antisemitic incidents that they have experienced or witnessed. The impact of antisemitism extends beyond individual experiences to affect the collective psyche of Jewish teens.

As they witness acts of hatred and bigotry directed toward their community, they grapple with feelings of anger, confusion and alienation. Instead of focusing on personal growth and self-discovery, they are forced to confront the harsh realities of prejudice and intolerance, often feeling isolated in their struggle to make sense of the world around them. It is then no surprise that 54% of teens who responded to BBYO’s survey say that their mental health has gotten worse since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Before Oct. 7, when BBYO supported educational programs about antisemitism, it was with an eye toward “recognizing and responding” to any antisemitism teens may face. Since Oct. 7, BBYO’s teens are also asking for educational programs to help them “cope with antisemitism.”

Although as a society we recognize the urgent need to address the root causes of antisemitism and create a culture of inclusivity and acceptance for all, our teens pay attention to history: our endless fight to dismantle the toxic ideologies that fuel antisemitism have yet to be successful. And, as they look toward their future, 64% of respondents indicated that antisemitism on college campuses is an extremely or very important factor in their decision of where to attend college.

The impact of antisemitism on today’s teens cannot be overstated. It undermines their sense of security, erodes their collective identity and inflicts lasting harm on their mental well-being.

As a Jewish community, we must stand united in our condemnation of antisemitism and continue to work tirelessly to create a world where every teen can thrive free from the shadow of hatred and bigotry. Their future literally depends on it. PJC

Liron Lipinsky is the vice president of enrichment strategy for BBYO. She lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh.

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