When the rabbi at Jonathan’s synagogue asked which young people in the room had faced antisemitism at their school, every single child raised their hand.
Determined to ensure others do not suffer the same fate in the future, the Cheshire teenager persuaded his secondary school to introduce lessons about contemporary Jew-hate.
And following the school’s success in reducing antisemitic bullying, a petition started by the 14-year-old calling on the government to make such education mandatory across Britain has now received over 4,000 signatures.
Jonathan, who did not want his full name to be published, told the JC that as a pupil at Brine Leas Academy he had faced regular antisemitic taunts from other children.
“There was lots of Nazi stuff in general,” he said. “People telling me I should be in gas chambers.”
For his friends at Birmingham Progressive Synagogue the bullying had been similar, with people attacking Israel and referencing Adolf Hitler.
While some people were “malicious,” he said, most of those abusing him “didn’t realise the impact of this stuff.”
In the spring of 2023, convinced that their attitudes could be changed, Jonathan approached his teachers with a suggestion that the school educate pupils about contemporary antisemitism alongside the Shoah.
“We learn about the Holocaust, but we don’t hear about how people are still aligning with that ideology and using those symbols now,” he said. “Also we don’t learn about how many Jews get affected by antisemitism today.”
The class focused on teaching pupils about what it means to use Nazi symbols in the modern world and how Jew-hate is rising across the world.
After every person in Year 9 at Brine Leas took the class following their Holocaust education, Jonathan said, the results were positive.
“Since I worked with school to start educating people there’s been a lot less antisemitism,” he claimed.
One friend who had previously abused him even apologised after the lesson.
A petition launched by Jonathan calling for the antisemitism education to be rolled out nationwide has now attracted thousands of signatures and support from high-profile Jewish figures including actress Tracey Ann-Oberman.
“No one should have to face discrimination because of their religion, and education is key to ensuring that discrimination is stopped,” it reads.
“While there have been initiatives to include Holocaust education in the curriculum, it is important to recognise that antisemitism extends beyond the Holocaust and requires a more thorough approach.”
The government’s advisor on antisemitism, Lord John Mann, has previously endorsed such a plan.
While teaching about the Holocaust is mandatory for UK schools, broader education on Jew-hatred is not.
In a report published last year, Lord Mann wrote: “The growing spread of antisemitism among young people should be a matter of deep concern to all of us, not least because it is often leading to hate crime and violence against members of the Jewish community, including schoolchildren.”
According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society, antisemitic incidents at UK schools rose from 60 in 2017 to 164 in 2022.
Brine Leas Academy did not respond to a request for comment.