Brandon Schorsch breaks down the history of hate in 90 minutes. He calls it Antisemitism 101.

He's been getting many more requests to give that talk lately — in high schools, churches, synagogues and government offices across the state.

"In personal and professional capacities, a lot more people are asking, 'What's going on?'" said Schorsch, the combating hate organizer for St. Paul nonprofit Jewish Community Action (JCA).

During the past few months, antisemitism has been flaring in Minnesota and throughout the country. In November, Donald Trump sat down to dinner with a notorious antisemitic white nationalist. Recent social media posts and shares by public figures like Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) and Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving have been fueling headlines. And earlier this year, Minnesotans in several metro communities found antisemitic flyers in their front yards.

Antisemitic incidents reported to the national Anti-Defamation League hit an all-time high in 2021, with an average of more than seven reports of assault, harassment or vandalism each day, according to its latest audit.

Schorsch is one of several Minnesotans working to counter the tide of hate against Jewish people.

He's the lead organizer for JCA's "combating hate" campaign — started three years ago to use education to fight antisemitism and white nationalism. Since then, he's given his training, which is free, to about 50 groups. He's also part of a coalition pushing to reform the state's hate crime laws and make it easier to report incidents.

"My job involves keeping track of these online movements that spill over into the real world," he said. "When it comes to what JCA does, it [means] really keeping a cool head."

Incidents of bias

Earlier this month, Laura Zelle and Sami Rahamim of the nonprofit Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) led an antisemitism "lunch and learn" at the Minneapolis co-working space ModernWell.

ModernWell had been hosting regular conversations about race for several years, said founder Julie Burton. Recently, she realized it was time to bring antisemitism to the table.

"As a Jewish woman who cares deeply about the Jewish community, and all the communities, I felt that it was my responsibility to bring this to discussion," Burton said. "It just feels like it's kind of swirling out of control right now."

In this region, JCRC is the official Jewish community liaison with law enforcement, and responds to antisemitic incidents reported on its website. Rahamim, the group's director of communications and community affairs, travels the tri-state area to meet with people who report incidents of bias, hatred or bigotry. Last month, Rahamim was contacted after a Jewish middle schooler in Minnesota received a disturbing message which included "this is why Kanye doesn't like you."

The organization also has staffers who work with law enforcement and focus on community security. Zelle, the organization's Holocaust education director, runs programs to train educators and often gets involved when there's a report involving a school.

"There's a core group of us at the JCRC that educate about antisemitism. And we've done it for five minutes. We've done it for two and a half hours. To corporations, teachers, you name it," said Zelle. "We feel that it's important to unpack it for people."

Zelle said antisemitism has moved out of the fringe for some Americans. "Unfortunately, the groups that promote either neo-Nazism, the great replacement theory — these core antisemitic thoughts have been normalized. They've come into more mainstream media," she said.

But in their hourlong presentation, she and Rahamim don't focus only on prejudice and discrimination. They also celebrate what it means to be Jewish, and the Jewish people, in Minnesota and around the world.

"We talk about this a lot, that there's more joy than oy," Zelle said.

Antisemitism like a virus

Along with antiracist facilitators Dawn Johnson and Chaz Sandifer from Let Go Let Flow, ModernWell's Burton also hosted a recent conversation on the "history of and present dynamic between Black and Jewish people" with Rafael Lev Forbush, who founded the Multiracial Jewish Association of Minnesota.

Forbush started his group in 2020 in order to increase visibility and share the perspectives of the nearly 2,000 Minnesotans who, like himself, are Jews of color. This month, they threw their first in-person Hanukkah party.

"The folks that I deal with on a day-to-day basis are dealing with both racism and antisemitism. It's the only part of our community that deals with both," he said.

Forbush said discussions and workshops can help to counter hate — as long as attendees come to listen, not debate. And he knows it's not a one-and-done lesson. "When you have this conversation again, you're more educated," he said, "you have more in-depth insight on that topic."

For his part, Rahamim compares antisemitism to a virus — one spread by myths, tropes and the false idea that Jewish people have extraordinary influence and conspire to harm society.

He invites people to "try and boost our immune system by educating ourselves, gaining awareness of, what is the hate out there? Where does it come from? How does it operate? Collectively we will become stronger and healthier as a result of that," he said.