Using modern tools to study an ancient hatred

With its new free online course, Yad Vashem is offering a comprehensive examination of 2,000 years of antisemitism.

Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology (photo credit: Courtesy)
Battling antisemitism with 21st century technology
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘As a scholar of the Holocaust, I never imagined we would have to address the issues of antisemitism in our time,” says Alvin H. Rosenfeld, professor of Jewish studies, and founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University in Bloomington.
More than seven decades after the Holocaust, the study of antisemitism remains relevant. Today, renewed challenges and questions regarding Holocaust revisionism and antisemitic sentiment are being faced across the globe.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center is “charged with disseminating historically accurate information on the Holocaust,” states Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.
“As part of our commitment to strengthening Jewish continuity, we are also resolved to addressing issues related to antisemitism, xenophobia and racism through Yad Vashem’s efforts to educate humanity toward a more responsible and tolerant existence.”
It is quite appropriate, then, that Rosenfeld is one of 50 internationally renowned scholars participating in Yad Vashem’s new comprehensive online free course, “Antisemitism: From its Origins to the Present.” Other prominent intellectuals and historians include Prof. Irwin Cotler, EMET prizewinner Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Prof. Anthony Julius, Prof. Dina Porat, Dr. Juliane Wetzel and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
The six-week course investigates over 2,000 years of history, explaining how antisemitism has manifested itself through various eras of the past – including, of course, its ultimate articulation during the Shoah – and its new forms to be grappled with in the contemporary world.
In creating this innovative learning opportunity, Yad Vashem has partnered with FutureLearn, the leading British social learning platform, to provide a course that analyzes the history of antisemitism as well as examines its current nature and expressions.
With an onslaught of anti-Jewish themes prevalent in today’s social media, antisemitism is currently entering the private sphere of millions of individuals, and acts and rhetoric targeting Jews are still prevalent. Yet, for a phenomenon that is so widespread, its boundaries and expressions often come into debate.
There remains a tendency to connect the study of antisemitism and the Holocaust, as they are interrelated. However, in-depth understanding of each of these topics requires individual and separate examination. This is especially true when it comes to delving into the Holocaust and how it changed the course of history.
“Holocaust education and the study of contemporary antisemitism have become – in many contexts and for many purposes – interlinked,” explains Dr. Naama Shik, director of the E-Learning Department at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.
“Effective educational activity about the one involves and requires knowledge and tools regarding the other. It is for this reason that we have developed this groundbreaking and essential course.”
Shik continues, “There is a deep and critical need to deal with modern-day antisemitism to know how to cope with it. Our goal is to present tools to better understand this phenomenon, with the knowledge necessary to identify it.”
This is especially true when antisemitic expressions are not always easily identifiable.
“Antisemitism in our time is sometimes hard to identify. With this course we explain the phenomenon of antisemitism, its origins and how to spot it when it occurs,” Shik adds. “Antisemitism can easily be camouflaged, which is what makes it so insidious.”
The study of antisemitism has become even more complex in the contemporary world, especially in the wake of World War II and the creation of the State of Israel.
“Israel is perceived by many to be the collective Jew, and as such the boundaries between legitimate criticism of a government’s policy and antisemitism are in danger of being blurred.”
The course, funded in part through the generosity of the Philigence Foundation, Geneva, is Yad Vashem’s first solo foray into the massive open online course arena, following “The Holocaust – An Introduction,” produced with Tel Aviv University in 2016.
Mark Lester, director of Partnerships Development at Future- Learn, commented, “Yad Vashem is a hugely important organization with an unparalleled reputation in Holocaust education, and therefore we’re delighted to support this new course on antisemitism on our platform. The subject matter of this course should be a priority for all people who seek to understand and want to address the worrying rise of antisemitic attitudes around the world. Only by understanding where antisemitism has stemmed from and how to identify it in modern culture can we begin combating its proliferation.”
Every year, Yad Vashem works with hundreds of educators from nearly 60 countries in ongoing efforts to train them to teach the Holocaust. In recent years, the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem has fielded many requests from educators around the world for pedagogical tools that can help them teach effectively about antisemitism. As such, this course was designed to meet their needs, but Yad Vashem believes that the course is relevant to the wider public.
The course, now open for registration, will begin March 19. To register, visit
This article was written in cooperation with Yad Vashem.