Upstanders: How Professor David Machlis of Adelphi University Is Standing Up Against Antisemitism…

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Upstanders: How Professor David Machlis of Adelphi University Is Standing Up Against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate

Social media is, indeed, a two-edged sword. When developed it was viewed as a fabulous innovation for transferring knowledge globally. Unfortunately, it also provides the vehicle for promoting hate by cowards globally. These platforms should not be a feeding ground for hate. They should be carefully monitored while still allowing for differences of opinion in a civil, respectful manner.

An upstander is the opposite of a bystander. A bystander is someone who stands by while others are being bullied, maligned, or mistreated. An upstander is someone who stands up to protect and advocate for the victim. We are sadly seeing a surge of hate, both online and in the real world. Many vulnerable minorities feel threatened and under attack. What measures are individuals, communities, and organizations taking to stand up against Antisemitism, Racism, Bigotry, and Hate? In this interview series, we are talking to activists, community leaders, and individuals who are Upstanders against hate, to share what they are doing and to inspire others to do the same. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing David Machlis.

Associate Professor of Finance and Economics David Machlis, PhD, is a respected and innovative producer and educator in all aspects of his professional life. In the classroom, his non-traditional and creative techniques garnered him Adelphi University’s Teaching Excellence Award. For his global humanitarian efforts, he was the first recipient of Adelphi’s President’s Humanitarian Award.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1942, and lived there through the 5th grade. I went to a boys-only Orthodox Yeshiva. Even in these early years, I distinctly remember using my organizational skills to plan sports activities, both at school and in my community.

I was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers baseball fan and went to the last game played by the Brooklyn Dodgers in Ebbets Field in 1957.

I distinctly remember being very proud when, at the age of four or five, my father was elected to the presidency of the Young Israel synagogue in our community. I also remember the Friday evening educational program that he organized and the carnival that he created that generated substantial funds to satisfy the synagogue’s mortgage. These events inspired me to become an Upstander myself. Being the dynamic person I am is attributed to observing my father’s dynamic leadership, it motivated me to pursue the work I do today.

In the sixth grade, we moved to Far Rockaway, Queens, and a new world opened up for me. My new school was a co-ed Modern Orthodox Jewish day school. The transition to being comfortable in this environment was far from immediate, and I certainly felt like an outsider because the school attracted many students that lived in large, private homes while we lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment on the fringe of the town.

I attended Baruch College of the City University of NY. Going from small classes and an homogeneous environment to lecture hall learning in a diverse environment was another significant transition. In my very first days of college I decided that I wanted a career as a professor.

Upon completing my BA degree, I received a National Defense Education Act Fellowship to study for my PhD in Economics. This fellowship provided me with a full free ride (tuition plus a generous stipend) and was intended for individuals committed to a career in higher education. Living in the graduate dormitory was my first major encounter and 24/7 interaction with people from very diverse backgrounds globally. In fact, my roommate, who became a very dear friend, was from Puerto Rico.

Can you share a personal story of how you experienced or encountered antisemitism, racism, bigotry, or hate? How did that experience shape your perception and actions moving forward?

I did not directly encounter antisemitism growing up but, yet, was aware that it existed. Although the schools I attended required covering your head (wearing a kippah), I never walked to school exposing my Jewishness–I would either be bareheaded or don baseball cap, due to the awareness of antisemitism.

Can you describe how you or your organization is helping to stand up against hate? What inspired you to take up this cause?

Since the mid-1970’s, I have designed numerous projects at Adelphi University that have benefited minority communities and demonstrate my commitment to living life as an upstander.

As Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Adelphi and Director of the Urban Center of the 1970’s, I developed and directed a program for ultra-Orthodox Jewish students who would not normally, at that time, have access to higher education. The program was designed to enable them to adhere to their religious observance while earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Adelphi. At the outset, the program had separate classes for men and women. As the program advanced, men and women were in the classroom together with a big divider separating the male and female participants.

At the same Urban Center, I organized a program for Jewish-Russian immigrants. In Russia, they were called Jews, and when they came to America, they were referred to as Russians and were somewhat isolated in their communities; they believed that they would be abandoning their Jewish identity.

The Adelphi Urban Center program in accounting and computer science was funded by state and federal grants and required an English as a Second Language component. To keep them connected to their heritage, we featured readings about Jewish topics including the Sabbath and holidays.

These programs resulted in my being appointed to a three-year term to the (U.S.) President’s Council on Bi-Lingual Education in 1982.

The Two Museum’s Program

Earlier this year (2023), I helped to establish Adelphi’s Two Museums Program (TMP), which brought Black students, Jewish students and campus leaders to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

The mission of the program was for these students, viewing together each other’s difficult past, to unite and work together in combating antisemitism, racism and all forms of hatred and intolerance. The subtitle of TMP was “UNITED WE STAND.”

As the designer and developer of the program, I felt it was essential to create “boots on the ground” at Adelphi and other universities to combat tensions that exist on college campuses nationally. Students were told that they all have a platform and by being selected for the program, they are committing themselves to use that platform to make the world a better place for all humankind.

In developing the TMP, it is my belief that the Holocaust is not just a Jewish issue nor is racism just a Black issue. It is essential that we learn from the past so that a more tolerant and just society will emerge.

A participant in the TMP said, “In the past two days, I had the opportunity to embark on a journey that has changed my life. Over the last few years, there has been a resurgence in tribalism. Through this resurgence, we have seen an increase in racism, antisemitism and other forms of bigotry towards certain religions and ethnicities. In order to bridge the divides, it is vital to bring these groups together. Germany already had many problems before Hitler came to power. He blamed these problems on the Jews, which caused one of the deadliest genocides in human history. The Two Museums Program helped me understand the struggles of different people in this country, and how to bring these people together.”

Another participant said, “This program greatly expanded my capacity to love and influenced a drive to fight against hatred. Having the opportunity to visit the two museums helped me understand the destruction that ignorance can bring to a group of people. If there’s one thing I took away from TMP, it’s to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Inside Higher Ed story about TMP

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your work as an Upstander?

I had the opportunity of organizing the visit of Oprah Winfrey and Nobel Laureate Professor Elie Wiesel to Auschwitz in January 2006.

Picking up Professor Wiesel at the airport on the day prior to Oprah’s arrival and spending nine consecutive hours with him was truly inspiring. Spending the next day with Oprah and Professor Wiesel at Auschwitz was a powerful experience as I realized that months later, potentially millions of viewers would be watching the program about her day at Auschwitz, expanding the education about the Holocaust on a grand scale.

Here is footage from that visit.

Could you share an inspiring story that demonstrates the impact your efforts have had on an individual or community?

In 2011, I decided to bring WWII concentration camp liberators on the 2012 March of the Living program commemorating Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day. Why bring camp liberators? What a great way to expand knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities!

One of the research studies carried out by the Anti-Defamation League globally indicated that 54% of respondents said they heard of the Holocaust. That, perhaps, sounds good, but 32% of the 54% said that the Holocaust was greatly exaggerated or didn’t exist.

The Liberators Program was reported in newspapers globally. The 16 liberators, ranging in age from 88–95, provided an incontrovertible and everlasting testament to the truth.

As an Upstander, I must say that it was definitely challenging to recruit the liberators. All the liberators came to Poland for five days and wore their army uniforms. They were treated as heroes by the 10,000 March of the Living participants. Amusingly, I asked them all to bring someone with them so they wouldn’t be alone at night. I intended this to be a child or grandchild. Some brought their spouse, and one even brought a fiancée — giving us more senior people to be concerned about!

We had a physician with us for the entire program and an ambulance accompanied us throughout the five-day program.

In your opinion, why do you think there has been such a surge of antisemitism, racism, bigotry, & hate, recently?

I don’t think there is one thing that is to blame for this surge. There are a lot of contributing factors that could be adding to the level of hate, racism and antisemitism we are seeing, including social media/internet and the ability to be anonymous behind a keyboard. When people don’t have to be face to face, they may feel emboldened to be hateful toward others without having to feel their emotional reaction — which can lead to being desensitized and having a lack empathy for others. There is also the spreading of misinformation that can lead people to not believe certain historical events, including the Holocaust, took place. That is why education and the sharing of facts, on a large scale, is so important in combating this.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Education is essential for addressing the level of hate we are seeing expressed in the world today. Whether it is in an academic setting, a documentary, a novel, or the political space, education about these groups, their histories and the challenges they are facing helps to build awareness which hopefully then results in global understanding and empathy for all people. Empathy is important. Having empathy for the struggles of all people, putting ourselves in their shoes and recognizing their hardships can help to bridge the gap. Also, having productive conversations with all groups of people. We have to learn from one another, talk about and acknowledge our differences and find common ground.

What are your “5 Things Everyone Can Do To Be An Upstander”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . It is important as an upstander to take risks. The Liberators Program is definitely an example of risk-taking. How would one, in a short period of time, find liberators? To many, the risk of failure would discourage one from creating this vital program.

2 . To be an upstander one must be a creative thinker. I received a call from a renowned Holocaust scholar, representing a major museum, as to my reaching-out to El Al Israel Airlines and obtaining a free ticket for Justice Gabriel Bach, the Deputy Prosecutor of Eichmann, for his trip to the United States. The caller, aware that the March of the Living deals with El Al, thought, incorrectly, that I was the contact. The next day, I responded that, if necessary, I would pay for Justice Bach’s ticket if I could have one night with Justice Bach on his visit to the United States. This took place in 2017 when Justice Bach, a former Supreme Court Justice for 15 years, was the last living prosecutor of the famous trial. It turned out that Justice Bach couldn’t make the trip but this resulted in my connecting and developing a warm relationship with him.

On my future trips to Israel, I had the honor of meeting Justice Bach in his Jerusalem home and in December 2018, the March of the Living, together with Rutgers University, had a major historic program, to an overflow audience, in a Jerusalem theater. Attorneys viewing the program online were able to earn continuing legal education credits.

3 . A successful upstander will be skilled in developing well-connected synergistic partnerships. In 1993, the leadership of the International March of the Living accepted my suggestion that it is essential that the program goes way beyond just enrolling Jewish high school students for participating in the annual trips to Poland commemorating Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I recommended at a June 1993 meeting, bringing state Commissioners of Education and heads of state Boards of Education to the 1994 March of the Living Program. Why this recommendation? I had read that in California, in history textbooks, the Holocaust was a footnote and that in a survey of high school students, 60% were not aware of the Holocaust. Bringing these important education decision-makers on a five-day immersive educational experience would, hopefully, change their attitudes as to what is taught in their schools. The trip began with a full-day seminar in Washington, D.C. with a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum before departing for Warsaw, Poland

My persuasive presentation motivated the leaders of the March to commit to funding the program. That was, of course, just the start. How does one in a short period of time locate these important people and motivate them to participate in the program? I had never met a State Commissioner of Education (the Chief Educator of the State).

I was fortunate that within a few months I developed a partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Education, whose incoming President was a hidden child and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). In November 1993, I was invited to make a presentation at the annual CCSSO Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The synergistic partnership was developed that day, and this was the first group of influential decision-maker participants on the March of the Living.

4 . To be successful as an upstander one must cultivate relationships with people from very diverse backgrounds.

Approximately 25 years ago, I developed a relationship with an Evangelical Christian group that was based in Oswiecim, Poland, the city where Auschwitz was located. I had met the head of the Ministry and learned of their dedication to providing food and medical care to needy survivors in Poland and nearby countries.

To me, it was extremely meaningful and inspiring that these Polish Christians, based in the vicinity of the Auschwitz death camp, would be committed to improving the quality of life of survivors of the Holocaust. I developed a strong bond with these upstanders and facilitated their participation in the annual March of the Living program.

In January 2006, when I organized the visit of Oprah and Professor Wiesel to Auschwitz, there was approximately four inches of snow on the infamous train tracks at the entrance to the Birkenau death camp. How would Oprah’s camera crew film the tracks? A phone call to my Evangelical Christian friends/partners was the solution. They brought a group of their followers to shovel the snow off the tracks!

The same Evangelical Christians, in 2022, were involved in arranging busloads of people that were desperately exiting Ukraine in the early stages of the war and provided them food and shelter in Oswiecim. When I asked them to bring 12 Ukrainians to lead the 2022 March, they, of course, responded instantly. RELATIONSHIPS are crucial in succeeding as an upstander.

5 . An upstander must not be afraid to fail.

In 1998, I suggested to the March of the Living leadership that we develop a program earmarked for college students from very diverse backgrounds. Up until this time, non-Jewish students had not participated in the March. A major question was why would students from very diverse backgrounds participate in the March and would we be able to generate substantial funds to provide generous scholarships to the participants?

I believe a statement in the March of Remembrance and Hope brochure (name of the new program) describes why the program was successful in partnering with colleges, universities, and groups globally in generating substantial scholarship funds:

“The March of Remembrance and Hope is a dynamic educational leadership program. Its purpose is to teach students of different religious and ethnic backgrounds about the dangers of intolerance through the study of the Holocaust, and to promote better relations among people of diverse cultures.”

“The March of Remembrance and Hope bring together in Poland hundreds of college and university students in order to demonstrate the horrors of the Holocaust and the necessity of each of us doing our part to create a world in which religious and ethnic diversity are cause for celebration rather than discrimination.”

The colleges and universities participating in the program had a faculty member preparing the cohort of students for the program the semester prior to the trip. In the inaugural program, approximately 400 students from several dozen colleges participated in the program.

Prior to flying to Poland, a 24-hour seminar was held at a Newark, New Jersey, airport hotel with educator sessions led by top scholars and educators who accompanied the participants on the educational mission. The success of the program was apparent at that seminar as it was most inspiring to see the beautiful blending of students from very diverse backgrounds. Anecdotally, 20 of the approximate 400 participants opted for Kosher food, of which the majority were Muslim students.

David Machlis speaking at an Adelphi University commencement ceremony

How do/can you handle the emotional toll that comes with being an Upstander?

At the forefront of producing and developing dozens of programs over almost 50 years, the emotional tensions become normalized and the overwhelming striving to succeed in making the world a better place for all humankind is at the forefront.

I could also relate this question to my outstanding success in the classroom. Indeed, there is nervousness at the beginning of each semester and an amount of tension prior to each class. It is this amount of tension or emotion that draws me to succeed. In each and every class and each and every production and new program as an upstander I strive to be the very best.

Referencing letters that were written on my behalf, and appropriate in illustrating my commitment to striving to be the very best in all my activities both in the classroom and beyond, is a 2007 letter signed by a group of students nominating me for the Teaching Excellence Award that stated:

“He takes time to make all students feel valued, as though he has a

class of one.”

Without a doubt, I strive to be a humanitarian and an upstander on an individual, personal level in the classroom.

Another letter signed by 17 faculty in 2018 nominating me for the Teaching Excellence Award stated:

“David makes the rest of us seem like mere mortals in the

classroom. Indeed, he is a model to which many of us aspire.

Of course, try as we might, we will never be quite like him. There

is, of course, only one David Machlis.”

Similar accolades from leading globally recognized Holocaust scholars as to the impact of my programs separates me from the emotional toll of producing these experiences.

If you were in charge of the major social media companies, what would you do to address the hate on the platforms? Could you share specific strategies or policies that you believe would be effective in addressing hate on social media platforms?

Social media is, indeed, a two-edged sword. When developed it was viewed as a fabulous innovation for transferring knowledge globally. Unfortunately, it also provides the vehicle for promoting hate by cowards globally. These platforms should not be a feeding ground for hate. They should be carefully monitored while still allowing for differences of opinion in a civil, respectful manner.

How would you answer someone who says: “Hate speech is permitted under the US constitution. Why are you so worried about permitted, and legal speech?”

Free speech as provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution should not permit speech that promotes hatred, racism, antisemitism and violence. For example, denying the Holocaust creates a tremendous emotional toll on survivors of the most state-sanctioned murder in the history of the world and should not be protected by the First Amendment.

Without a doubt, the evil rhetoric on social media has certainly contributed to the significant rise in antisemitism and racism and, indeed, hate-based violence and shootings that we read about far too often.

Are you optimistic that we can solve this problem in the United States? Can you please explain what you mean?

I am, at most, cautiously optimistic that we can make strides to reduce the hate that we are experiencing in society today. President Biden has created an ambassador-level position to fight antisemitism. Congress in July of this year re-established the Bi-Partisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish relations. New York State Governor Hochul just announced a plan to combat antisemitism by establishing the New York State Anti-Hate Education Center.

The Two Museums Program initiative to combat antisemitism and racism began many months prior to measures referred to in this response.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an Upstander but doesn’t know where to start?

I would recommend that individuals who aspire to be an upstander look at the numerous organizations involved in fighting all forms of hatred and learn about their activities and, perhaps, volunteer to work with one of these entities. In addition, think outside the box. Be creative and do not fear failure.

In what ways can education be leveraged to combat antisemitism, racism, bigotry, and hate?

All the programs described in this document were based on using education to combat all forms of hatred. A program not mentioned in this document brought deans of Schools of Education and Law Schools for a five-day program in Krakow, Poland, during the March of the Living, which was preceded by a full-day seminar at Rutgers University Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience.

The Two Museums Program, my current initiative, is an intense educational experience in which we are developing a three-credit course linked to this trip. It will also include an asynchronous component of videotaped lectures of leading educators in the relevant fields.

We also are planning, in partnership with a major Virginia university, to establish a base for the program in Arlington. There are approximately 10,000 interns each semester from colleges all over the U.S. and globally that serve as interns in Congress and the White House. These interns tend to be activists and future leaders in society and are appropriate targets for the Two Museums program.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Shoot for the sky.”

“Strive to succeed where others have never been.”

“Remember the past to ensure the future.”

“Moving from dream to implementation.”

All of these, I believe, are evident in examples provided in this document.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team. I was a very successful high school basket coach in Israel and was actually offered a professional coaching position in Israel while on sabbatical from Adelphi University. He is someone who, I believe, admires creative concepts and is noted for his philanthropy. But most importantly, he is someone who takes a stand when antisemitism is promoted by athletes and rappers.

After Kyrie Irving promoted an antisemitic film on his Twitter account and at first refused to apologize for the tweet, Cuban, in contrast to most of the league’s Jewish team owners who did not comment on the scandal and the Jewish commissioner who did not meet with Irving for about two weeks after his tweet, said the eight-time All-Star was “not educated about the impact” of his online platform. When you’re a celebrity, you can’t do that, because you have a platform and Cuban said Irving has ‘a lot to learn.’ “ Cuban more harshly criticized Kanye West over his repeated antisemitic statements last fall, calling the rapper’s words “abhorrent.”

How can our readers further follow your work online? — to follow news/updates about my Two Museums Program — International March of the Living

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your important work!

Upstanders: How Professor David Machlis of Adelphi University Is Standing Up Against Antisemitism… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.