There is a new foundation in the Boston Jewish landscape aimed at fighting antisemitism. The establishment of the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism was announced in June 2019 after Robert Kraft, chair and CEO of the Kraft Group, was awarded the Genesis Prize in Jerusalem.
Winners, or laureates, as they are referred to, are honored for the ways they “inspire Jewish pride and strengthen the bond between Israel and the Diaspora.” Previous recipients have included Natalie Portman, Itzhak Perlman and Michael Douglas. In addition to the $1 million Genesis Prize award, Kraft also used $20 million of his own money to start the foundation.
This past fall, Dr. Rachel Fish became the founding executive director of the Kraft family’s new foundation. In her new role, Fish brings a wealth of experience and a deep commitment to fighting antisemitism. Before assuming her new position, she was the senior advisor and resident scholar of Jewish/Israel philanthropy at The Paul E. Singer Foundation in New York City. At the Singer Foundation, Fish was tasked with developing “a strategic approach for the foundation’s giving and worked directly with practitioners to implement their missions and initiatives.”
Fish’s resume also includes her time as the executive director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. While there, she coordinated educational workshops about Israel as a modern nation-state for public high school educators. At Brandeis, she also taught at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. Fish also earned her Ph.D. in Brandeis’ Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department. She has twice been cited on The Forward 50 list lauding influential American Jewish change-makers.
While the foundation is still hiring staff and starting to create content, Fish spoke to JewishBoston about the goal to be present “in digital spaces where so many young people are in terms of their engagement of the world.” She noted that the foundation is aiming to create material for a target audience of 13- to 35-year-olds. Many of them, she noted, get their news from curated algorithms. “This age group is on platforms, many of which have a lot of antisemitic content,” she said. “We are specifically focused on creating digital content for these different platforms and the younger audience they attract.”
As the foundation rolls out its digital outreach, Fish noted that the first manifestations of antisemitism often appear online before they become mainstream. This is especially true in times of economic turmoil or even in the current pandemic. “It will always fall first at the feet of the Jews,” she said. “We in the Jewish community, who are especially involved in addressing antisemitism, have to be prepared to speak to it.”
Another distinctive piece of the foundation’s work is to capture the attention of those in “the middle” of the large 13- to 35-year-old demographic. “We’re not focusing on the people who are the detractors or the haters,” Fish said. “We’re not interested in trying to change their opinions or perspectives. And we are also not focused on the individuals who tend to be part of the Jewish community—people who want or need more knowledge to bolster their education. There are a lot of organizations that do that work. We’re trying to reach the folks in the middle who we refer to as ‘the don’t knows’—Jews and even those who aren’t Jewish. That doesn’t mean that the Jewish community won’t leverage what we create, but they are not our primary audience. It is these folks in the middle, which makes us a bit unique in that we have a very different starting point.”
Fish said the foundation’s creative in-house team is currently developing appropriate content for the specific audience of “don’t knows.” She envisions this newly created content will appear in static posts, videos using photography, and other various elements “to raise awareness and sensitize individuals that antisemitism ought to be as socially unacceptable in the 21st century as other forms of hatred.”
In addition to her expertise on antisemitism, Fish’s personal background comes into play in her work and outlook. She grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, a small town in the Smoky Mountain’s foothills. A beautiful and friendly place to grow up, Fish noted that the Jewish community there is tiny. “You learn at a young age what it means to be different because you have to be able to articulate that difference over things like why you’re missing school for the High Holidays or why you don’t always feel comfortable singing Christmas carols with the school choir,” she said. “When you grow up in the Northeast, you don’t necessarily have to explain those things.”
Fish added that there is also a sense of “collective identity” in the Jewish community in which she was raised. “It’s a different identity formation experience when you realize that if you don’t go to shul, someone may not be able to say Kaddish,” she said. “There’s a sense at a very young age that you have a responsibility to something much bigger than yourself.”
Fish is concerned about the increase in antisemitism in recent years. “What we see happening in politics in Europe tends to have a very hard-right bent in some European sovereignties,” she said. “But we also see in America that we have both hard-right and hard-left manifestations of antisemitism.” She said radical Islamism is also part of the antisemitic equation. All of these pieces, she observed, “come to one unifying point of agreement, and that is around their dislike of either Jews, Judaism or the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Those are pretty much the only things that unify these groups.”
Fish expects that in the coming months, she will have more to report on the foundation’s content and outreach efforts. However, even in this early stage, she is determined to send the message that “we have to help the broader communities in which we live to understand that when antisemitism rears its head, it’s actually the fraying of democracy. And that it is only a matter of time before others are marginalized and see forms of hatred enacted toward them.”