Gratz College launches ‘first-of-its-kind’ master’s degree in antisemitism studies

The online, multi-disciplinary program is designed to prepare educators, advocates and researchers on Jewish hatred

Liz Berger, a social worker and mother of three in Philadelphia, had been looking for a push to return to school. Having converted to Judaism in 2018, Berger knew she wanted to use her education to support Jewish individuals and families who have made the journey from interfaith to Jewish conversion, especially in understanding antisemitism and their relationship to Zionism. When antisemitism skyrocketed nationally in the wake of Oct. 7, Berger decided the time was now to learn more about how converts could be a “vast and untapped resource” in the fight against Jewish hate. She said a new program at Gratz College, a Jewish college in the Philadelphia suburb of Melrose Park, Pa., comes at the perfect time. 

Across the country, Bob Verissimo recently received a degree from Gratz College and is now going back for a second. A resident of Visalia in California’s Central Valley, an area with a tiny Jewish population, Verissimo said that “because of this, I feel a great responsibility to share the Jewish experience with as many people as I can, otherwise the residents here will only believe what they hear on television or through social media,” he continued. “With the massive upswing in antisemitism, especially the attacks of Oct. 7, I believe it is imperative to teach the world about the horrors of antisemitism in order to end this hate that has become endemic… If I were able to complete a second degree from Gratz, I feel that I would be a stronger ambassador for Gratz and the Jewish people as a whole.”

These are two of the newly accepted students of Gratz College’s online master’s degree in antisemitism studies program, a “first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary graduate program in the U.S.,” according to the Gratz website. With its first semester starting in the fall, the program will “prepare students for successful careers in Jewish community organizations, education, advocacy, government relations and public policy, among others,” the website says. 

The program, which will run entirely online, offers a 36-credit degree, and students can either take 11 courses and a final project or 10 courses and a thesis. Courses will build “foundational knowledge of antisemitism and racism,” according to the website, and students will choose two of three possible concentrations: research, teaching and advocacy. 

Courses will range from “Antisemitism & Applied Data Design: Surveys, Incident Reports, and Experiments” to “Confronting Modern Black-Jewish Relations: Mapping a Way Forward.” 

The antisemitism studies program will be led by Ayal Feinberg, the director of the Center for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights at Gratz. “When Israel is engaged in a conflict, significantly higher rates of antisemitic hate crimes are reported,” Feinberg told eJewishPhilanthropy. “This is deeply challenging to Jewish communities and we’ve seen in the case of Europe a complete reassessment of whether Jews can actually remain in their communities that they’ve called home.” 

Feinberg said he joined Gratz’s Holocaust center last year, leaving behind his prior work as a political science professor at Texas A&M because of “the feeling that Jewish studies needed to evolve.” 

“We needed to focus more specifically on concerns related to antisemitism,” he continued. “When you ask anyone in the Jewish studies world where they go to learn about antisemitism, the answer was that there was no existing program until we created one where one can really develop a curated expertise on being an antisemitism expert.” 

“Ayal’s vision was to scale from the Holocaust program and to build out something new in antisemitism studies,” Zev Eleff, the president of Gratz, told eJP. “It was approved by the faculty before Oct. 7 but sadly in the wake of Oct. 7 is an urgent need,” Eleff continued, noting that the program received dozens of inquiries even before officially opening registration. Three people have been enrolled so far. 

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro applauded the new program in a statement. “Gratz College is already renowned for its Holocaust and Genocide Studies programs, and I am encouraged the college is expanding upon that work with a new Master’s degree in Antisemitism Studies,” he said. “I wish the faculty, staff, and especially the inaugural class of Antisemitism Studies students, great success in their work.”