Last September, Erez, a Jewish father living in San Francisco, took his son to his first day at a highly-praised, self-described “holistic” secular private school in the Bay Area. This September, he plans to drive straight past that school and bring his son to a Jewish one instead.

For Erez and many other Jewish Bay Area parents, the brutal Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel and the heartless reaction they saw from some segments of their local community left them disillusioned and feeling like outcasts. As concerning as that was, it was their children’s schools parroting the same shocking talking points that they felt was the last straw. Ultimately, this has precipitated a surge of new enrollments at Jewish schools in the area.

An Israeli-American father of two, Erez wrestled with the decision to move his elementary school-aged son out of his school. He already sent his younger son to Chabad-Lubavitch of Noe Valley’s Gan Noe Preschool, but for elementary education he had his older son enrolled in a high-end alternative private school in San Francisco. The school offers a quality education, teaches languages and visual arts, and even has its own small farm. When the school’s anti-Israel bias first began to show, he, his wife and fellow parents tried quietly working with the school to correct it.

Try as they might, the incidents kept getting worse. In one instance a teacher showed up to class sporting a keffiyeh. In another class, a teacher came to class with a card explaining genocide, directly implying that such was the nature of Israel’s defensive campaign in Gaza. Then came an email to all parents decrying “the ongoing genocide of Palestinians and Gaza being committed by the United States and Israel … .” The email explained that the “dearth of open conversation among whites at [school name] about what’s happening in Gaza serves to support and reenact white supremacy” and invited all white parents to an urgent meeting where they’d identify the “dynamics of white supremacist oppression” in their school community.

“We’d felt that the school had been moving away from our values for some time,” Erez said. “But now, it was clear that the school was taking a clear side, and they weren’t being neutral anymore.”

Across the bridge in Oakland, Rebecca grappled with the same conundrum. It was the eve of the fourth night of Chanukah when the young mother of two walked with her children towards the Lake Merritt Amphitheater in the city’s downtown to join Chabad of Oakland’s annual menorah-lighting ceremony. She was just entering the park, pushing her 3-year-old in a stroller, and her 6-year-old son, Jacob, walking in tow, when a man on a bicycle cut them off sharply. Hovering over them, he angrily shouted “Free Palestine!” and “Stop bombing children in Gaza!” before cycling off.

Rebecca froze. She remembers her son Jacob looking up at her with a scared and confused expression. Why someone would confront an American-Jewish mother and her two small children and demand that they stop a military campaign in the Middle East was something she could not understand.

Days later, the menorah they had lit that night in the park was found smashed and thrown into the lake, while the area where it stood was covered with antisemitic graffiti.

Left: Chabad of Oakland's Menorah stands proudly in downtown Oakland. Right: Remains of Chabad of Oakland's Menorah, after antisemetic vandalism, with "free Palestine'' written in Arabic. - Credit: Chabad of Oakland
Left: Chabad of Oakland's Menorah stands proudly in downtown Oakland. Right: Remains of Chabad of Oakland's Menorah, after antisemetic vandalism, with "free Palestine'' written in Arabic.
Credit: Chabad of Oakland

Concern Grows for Jewish Parents

After years trending downward, a noticeable spike in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. was registered in 2014, and has grown each year since. This worrisome trend came to a head in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks, when overt antisemitism appeared in the world’s largest cities and leading academic institutions with disturbing regularity. Of all the areas suffering from the newly-emboldened wave of antisemitism, northern California’s Bay Area has been among the worst.

In the immediate aftermath of Palestinian terrorists’ horrific rampage through southern Israel, posters of kidnapped Israeli hostages held in Gaza were torn down throughout the city of Oakland. At the same time, Jewish businesses in the city, including the local kosher supermarket, had their windows smashed. In November, a man and a woman were followed out of Chabad of Oakland after Friday-night prayer services and accosted with hateful slurs. Blatantly antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti has become a standard fixture in the city.

But aside from the escalation of antisemitism on the Bay Area’s streets, another front has experienced a pernicious emergence of anti-Jewish sentiment: local schools. A series of distinct events—both in the private schools and the public school systems—have left many Jewish parents alarmed about the environment that their kids are being instructed in. They are unsure if these schools can be trusted to educate their children without prejudicing them against the principles and issues dear to them as Jews. In the case of Erez’s child’s school, it promised to equip their students with “the tools to become free-thinking, moral human beings.” Would Jewish children in this environment be taught that a core part of their identity, namely their connection to the land of Israel, was immoral? And would they, on the other hand, be told that the perpetrators of mass murder of their fellow Jews in Israel were, in fact, the moral ones?

The most significant event among the spate of concerning incidents in the Bay Area’s schools took place in the Oakland Union School District (OUSD). It was an episode that caused a forceful local uproar and garnered national media attention. The controversy revolved around an unsanctioned Teach-In led by the Oakland teachers’ union that was held in defiance of the District’s directives. It was an instructional event for children from the ages of kindergarten through high school, vilifying Israel and minimizing Hamas terrorism through malignant and misrepresented characterizations of the Holy Land, Oct. 7 and the current war in Gaza.

Rattling the Jewish community, it left parents questioning whether Oakland’s public schools were safe for their children and reconsidering how they should be educating their children in a place that suddenly seemed intent on denigrating them.

The Oakland Jewish community gathers to reinstate their menorah after vandals destroyed the original one erected in the park. - Credit: Chabad of Oakland
The Oakland Jewish community gathers to reinstate their menorah after vandals destroyed the original one erected in the park.
Credit: Chabad of Oakland

A Harmful Curriculum

“As soon as we found out, we were very worried.” Rebecca told “The school said it [the teach-in] wasn’t authorized, but the teachers didn’t care. They got lawyers and said the district couldn’t fire them because they had ‘academic freedom.’”

Rebecca and a band of Jewish parents began to fight against bringing a lesson into the classroom that would provide a distorted view of Israel to students and alienate thousands of Jewish kids from their peers. They found themselves up against an ineffectual school administration and a program being conducted in a way that made it difficult to stop.

“We expressed our concerns to the district and pointed out that the teachers were going against school policy by holding this teach-in,” Rebecca said. “We begged them to do something, but the administration just shrugged their shoulders.”

Despite their best efforts, the teach-in continued as scheduled, being held over Zoom with elementary schools and high-schools throughout Oakland participating.

“Everything was done over Zoom, and the group claimed that they had 150 classrooms join in,” Rebecca said. “They did things in a covert way so that it’s hard to measure how much damage was caused.”

Jewish parents in Oakland began looking into alternative options for schooling. Rebecca began the process of transferring her son to the nearby Piedmont’s public school system, and after much coordination, Jewish parents began the process of transferring their children out of the Oakland Union School District.

Students at the Gan Noe Preschool in Noe Valley, Calif., benefit from a curriculum infused with Jewish values. - Credit: Chabad Noe Preschool
Students at the Gan Noe Preschool in Noe Valley, Calif., benefit from a curriculum infused with Jewish values.
Credit: Chabad Noe Preschool

A Turn to Jewish Programs

“It’s been very hard for the Jewish community here in Oakland,” Rabbi Dovid Labkowski, director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Oakland told “There’s much antisemitism, and people are feeling a shift. The situation in the public schools has made a lot of parents rethink their educational priorities.”

Labkowski is seeing the trend of parents finding new importance in Jewish education firsthand. Chabad’s Hebrew School of the Arts, directed by his wife, Shulamis, has seen a 25 percent increase in registration over the last six months. Labkowski also reports that other Jewish schools in the area are experiencing similar upticks in enrollment.

Lisa is a Northern California resident who signed her son up for Chabad’s Hebrew school after seeing an effusion of antisemitism in her community and hateful indoctrination taking place in the public schools.

“I’ve always thought I knew the value of Jewish education,” she said. “But after seeing everything going on here, I’ve felt I need to do as much as possible to make sure my children are getting an education that makes them knowledgeable and proud of who they are.”

Erez agrees. When attempts to work with the school and initiate some change failed, he and other Jewish families stepped back to reevaluate their approach to their children’s education.

“When I stopped to think about the situation in front of me, I saw that I had two choices,” Erez said. “On one side I had a school that was pushing views that I thought were harmful, untrue and at odds with how I wanted my son to be raised, and on the other, there were excellent Jewish schools that could give my son a first-rate education, and impart the values and traditions that are aligned with who we are.”

In preparation for the following school year, Erez began to make arrangements to transfer his son to a San Francisco Jewish private school. The school accommodated him and other Jewish families looking to move their children despite the registration deadline having passed.

“We didn’t always appreciate how important it was to send our children to Jewish schools as we thought we could supplement their Judaism at home just fine,” Erez said. “Now, looking back, I ask myself how I missed this. How did I not see how important this was earlier?”

A silver lining that Rabbi Labkowski sees in the Bay Area’s tough recent climate is how it has spurred Jews to connect more strongly with their Jewish communities. Alex, a mother and San Francisco resident, spoke about how her involvement in Judaism prior to Oct. 7 was sparse and how she thought that antisemitism was something of the past. Now, she says she is more involved in her local synagogue, making a point to attend Jewish events, and hosts Shabbat dinners for her friends and neighbors.

As the school year wraps up, a considerable number of Jewish parents of the Bay Area are dropping their kids off at non-Jewish schools for the last time. Arrangements for transferring to Jewish schools are already well underway, and with it, a new regard and appreciation for the importance of Jewish education.

“We have to remember that our connection to Judaism is not automatic,” Lisa said. “We need to get closer to our Jewish institutions if we want to have any chance of staying strong.”