The fatal shooting at the American Holocaust Museum and Memorial briefly shined a spotlight on the prevalence of anti-Semitism in corners of the United States. But in the United Kingdom, government officials and private individuals have for months been grappling with a rise in anti-Jewish sentiment, searching for ways to combat a phenomenon that has refused to go away.

Last week, Oxford University faculty and graduate students gathered at the David Slager Chabad-Lubavitch Centre for a symposium on anti-Semitism hosted by the Oxford Chabad Society.

The symposium, which featured presentations by five panelists from a range of academic disciplines, explored the origins and history of anti-Semitism in an effort to understand its prevalence in today’s world.

“There has been a rise in anti-Semitism here, and it has caused a lot of problems for Anglo Jewry, especially on campus,” said Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, pointing to parliamentary reports on the subject. “It is important that all Jewish organizations work to combat it.”

By viewing anti-Semitism as rooted in a historically, baseless hatred of Jews, the conference sought to separate it from world events, such as the conflict in the Middle East, that have seemingly spurred an increase in anti-Semitic attacks throughout Europe.

Convinced that the phenomenon could be effectively fought once fully understood, Eli and Freida Brackman turned to some of Oxford’s leading academics, representing the fields of history, arts, philosophy and law, to plan the symposium.

The first member of the panel to speak was Brian Klug, a lecturer in philosophy at Oxford who contributed to the 2006 British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, and an honorary fellow of the Parks Institute for the Study of Jewish-non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton. Peter Claus, a professor of History at Oxford’s Pembroke College, addressed the subject of British fascism before and during World War II, drawing comparisons with the anti-Semitism of both European far-right parties and far-left factions today.

One of the more controversial topics examined at the three-hour symposium was how to approach literature and other great works of art produced by authors known to be anti-Semitic in their views.

“The panel was very illuminating,” offered law student Ruvi Ziegler.

Living Ethically

Just days before, the Chabad Society hosted Baroness Susan Greenfield, one of the United Kingdom’s most well-known scientists, for a traditional Shabbat dinner and a discussion on the “quest for identity in the 21st century.”

Greenfield, who serves as director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford, expressed concern over the widespread addiction to computer games and other sources of “instant gratification.” She asserted that such outlets numb people, especially youth, to the concept of consequences, and that they’ve led to an increase in youth violence.

Turning the topic over to her audience, she encouraged the more than 90 students present at the dinner to forge an identity based on values deeper than career-driven success or material wealth. Charging them to infuse their lives with meaning, the baroness praised organizations like the Chabad Society for encouraging students to think about ethics and living with integrity.