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How students and teachers feel about AI in the Jewish classroom

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — ChatGPT. Google AI. Microsoft Azure. Scribe. Dall-E2 – all different names for generative artificial intelligence software that is forcing educators to examine how technology affects students’ lives. Jewish educators and rabbis are going a step further and looking at AI through a Jewish lens and considering its effects on the overall Jewish educational experiences.

“The Torah tells us that we’re made in the image of God, so how could AI or Chat GPT and that sort of realm reflect the divine image?” said Rabbi Erin Binder, a leader of the religious school and youth leader at Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, told JTA. “Because there’s no sense of God or spirituality or relationship or connection in the world of AI.”

This relationship between God and Jewish education is just part of the debate over whether AI belongs in Jewish learning institutions. Educators worry that students will use AI as a shortcut to real problem-solving, or that typing a prompt into a website will undermine the traditional face-to-face learning of the Jewish study hall. 

Generative artificial intelligence technology generates answers to questions by culling large sets of data, then creating a response — anything from an essay to a painting to an equation to a line of computer code — by learning from patterns and mimicking human-like responses. It’s become a resource for students who need to complete assignments — sometimes as a helpful research tool, and sometimes as a cheat. For Jewish educators who consider the student-teacher relationship as a key part of studying rabbinic literature, AI poses a disruption to Jewish culture and traditions.  

While Rockdale’s Binder has used AI to create summer merchandise logo ideas to place on sunglasses for her students, she does not trust it in a learning setting — especially when it comes to students’ preparing their b’mitvah and d’var Torah speeches. “I don’t know that it has a place in a learning setting for young people,” said Binder. “Because part of what we want them to do is to think creatively and to come to these ideas on their own.”

Student-teacher Noam Lahyna works with first- to third-graders at Adeth Israel Congregation’s religious school in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Noam Lahynai)

She has not yet spoken to her students about the use of AI in the synagogue setting. She trusts her students understand that AI can assist or inspire, but would not fulfill the purpose of their task to teach about the Torah.

This is not the view all students take, however. Maya Jaffee, a teen congregant at Rockdale Temple, sees how AI could be an extension of her Judaic education. The “pursuit of knowledge is what Judaism is all about,” Jaffee, 16, said. She hasn’t used AI yet but hasn’t ruled it out. “I think it would just help me deepen my Jewish identity, deepen in a powerful way,” she said. Jaffee is thinking about using AI to help her include more prayers in her day, as there are limited resources to support her that are not based in Christianity.

When JTA asked ChatGPT to create a prayer schedule, it provided five prayers that could be used throughout the day, including the times to say each prayer and the reason each prayer is said. The AI advised the user that observant Jews may follow different customs and more accurate information would be better found from a religious authority or a local synagogue. 

Other students believe that AI will have little impact specific to the Jewish community. Eden Kraus, 15, another teen congregant at Rockdale Temple, heard about AI being used in her synagogue when a teacher was absent and the substitute needed to make a last-minute lesson plan for their students. Kraus was not part of that classroom, but sees the value of AI as a tool for teachers. Otherwise, Kraus, who attends a public school, doesn’t feel any impact at her Jewish education since her religious school does not assign writing or homework.

School administrators across the United States have implemented changes in their classrooms to ensure students use AI with integrity, as well as safely. Rachel Lebwohl, technology director at The Leffell School, a Jewish day school in Hartsdale, New York, said her school created forms and policies for the 2023-24 school year, to set expectations and safety regulations for students using AI.

Students over 13 are asked to sign a Responsible Use Agreement statement that quotes a passage from the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.” The form says that academic excellence requires students to value their learning as well as their critical and creative thinking abilities. Under those terms, students will not use AI platforms for academic assignments without permission from teachers. It also states that if using AI in the classroom, students will fact-check all information they receive and understand that AIs are prone to errors and misinformation. 

Younger students are restricted from AI entirely.

 “One thing about Jewish education is that you have a beit midrash kind of concept and you have one-on-one learning. And I think that is human-to-human at its best,” said The Leffell School’s Lebwohl. Beit midrash, or study hall, emphasizes learning classic texts in pairs and group settings. “I would never want to see that become diluted because there is technology out there that looks and feels like it is equivalent,” she said.

However, education professional Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath sees the potential of AI to enhance Jewish education. As senior director of Knowledge, Ideas and Learning at the New York-based Jewish Education Project, she encourages educators to embrace AI. The connection between the two was the focus of last spring’s Jewish Futures Conference, which she runs. 

Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath at the Jewish Futures Conference last spring, which focused on AI in Jewish education. (Courtesy)

“I think we’re at a really exciting moment where Jewish education is seeing all the possibilities that AI can offer,” she said. She suggests teachers explore how AIs could help teachers run their classrooms more efficiently. 

Vinokor-Meinrath leans into the teaching moments AI can provide. When she asked an AI graphics generator to show her a Jewish woman, it provided her with a stereotypical image of a woman with curly brown hair and a large nose. She considers this a chance to talk about the powers of stereotypes and how current algorithms, often based on real-world biases, see Jewish women, and what could be done to change the way AI perceives and provides images about the Jewish community. 

“When we think about how technology is learning the ways of the world and what it means to look Jewish and to be Jewish, what do we have to do to be able to think critically when we use it and not just take what an artificial intelligence says Jewish looks like at face value?” Vinokor-Meinrath said.

Student-teacher Noam Lahynai, 15, has not seen the effects of AI during her work with first- to third-graders at Adeth Israel Congregation’s religious school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Due to their age, they have limited access to the internet. However, Lahynai has told her students about the expectation that they not use online tools such as Google on their Hebrew assignments; this rule extends into using AIs. She sees AI as a tool to enhance current learning and understanding, but not as an exclusive tool for learning. “I think that people should think about it as a tool to help expand understanding,” she said, while remaining aware that “it might not give all the information and everything that they need.”

Lahynai’s students have not used AIs in her class, however she has seen a camp peer relying on AIs to create his b’nai mitzvah speech. Last June, while at camp, Lahynai and other campers noticed that a b’nai mitzvah speech by a fellow camper sounded impersonal. Later when the camper was questioned by peers, he confessed to using AI to create his speech. Camp administrators and staff did not give any form of repercussion to the camper.

Lahynai saw this moment as impersonal and lazy, feeling that the camper had been disrespectful for turning to AI to write his speech. “He didn’t take the time to think about the meaning behind it,” she says. “He kind of like disrespected the whole thing.”

Despite the potential for abuse, Vinokor-Meinrath remains upbeat about the effects the technology will have on the Jewish educational community. “So much of what Jewish education looks like today was designed for a previous generation that we’ve in some ways been able to adapt and update,” she said. “When we think about the Jewish future, we’re really trying to plan for tomorrow’s learners today. And I think AI is a tremendous way to think about tomorrow, today.” 


The post How students and teachers feel about AI in the Jewish classroom appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities

An American flag waves outside the US Department of Justice Building in Washington, US, Dec. 2, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US federal authorities have charged, and a grand jury has indicted, a foreign national with planning a mass casualty attack against Jews and other minorities in New York on New Year’s Eve.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York reported that a grand jury indicted Georgian national Michail Chkhikvishvili with soliciting hate crimes and acts of mass violence.

Chkhikvishvili is reportedly the leader of a group called the “Maniac Murder Cult,” a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group.

Specifically, he was recruiting people to carry out arson and bombing attacks — as well as attacks aimed at Jewish and other minority children, according to US officials.

The US Attorney’s Office explained that the “planned New Year’s Eve attack involved Santa Claus handing out poisoned candy to racial minorities as well as distributing poisoned candy to Jewish children in Brooklyn.”

There were more than 450,000 Jews who lived in Brooklyn as of May 2024. Many neighborhoods are known to be predominantly Hasidic.

Authorities found out about the plot when Chkhikvishvili solicited an undercover law enforcement official to be involved in the attack.

He “sought to recruit others to commit violent attacks and killings in furtherance of his Neo-Nazi ideologies,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to find and prosecute those who threaten the safety and freedoms of all members of our community, including members of minority communities, no matter where in the world these criminals might be hiding.”

FBI New York Acting Assistant Director Christie Curtis lauded law enforcement for stopping the attack before it could ever take place.

“The swift disruption of this individual, accused of allegedly plotting violent attacks in New York, sends a clear message: we will use every resource in our power to ensure the safety of the American people,” she said. “The men and women who work on this task force day in and day out exemplify true service to our community, demonstrating unwavering commitment in thwarting those who seek to harm our citizens and our way of life.”

The plot comes amid a wave of antisemitic attacks that ramped up in America and around the world after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, amid the ensuing war in Gaza.

Earlier this month, an observant Jew was sucker punched and beaten in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC. The alleged attacker subsequently expressed his motive, saying “They’re [the Jews] the cause of all our wars,” and “We know who you are! We know the lies that you’ve told, that you have stolen the place of the true children of Israel.”

He was charged with assault and a hate crime.

In December, the FBI said there had been a 60 percent spike in antisemitic hate crime investigations since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war. Then, in April, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the probes into antisemitic crimes tripled in the months following Oct. 7.

“Between Oct. 7 and Jan. 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before Oct. 7,” he explained.

Last year, the FBI found that 63 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the US were directed against Jews.

The post Alleged Neo-Nazi Indicted for Plot to Carry Out New Year’s Eve Mass Casualty Attack Against Jews, Other Minorities first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

US lawmakers are preparing to release later this year a trove of new “bombshell” information revealing the extent to which antisemitism has been allowed to flourish on university campuses across the country, according to a high-ranking Republican.

US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke with political pundit and podcast host Megyn Kelly about the efforts of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to investigate surging antisemitism, including anti-Jewish bias, on college campuses. While reminiscing over last December’s congressional hearing with the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in which each campus leader proclaimed that calls for a genocide of Jews may not violate school rules depending on “the context” — Stefanik revealed that the committee has obtained new documents shedding light on anti-Jewish hate at elite universities.

“This is pervasive in higher-ed. We have worked on this investigation, and if you think the hearing was bad, Megyn, we’re going to have to talk about all the documents that have been turned over because of our subpoena,” Stefanik said. “We’ll put out a report later this year. That’s even more bombshell material in there. It’s a disgrace what’s happening at these universities.”

Antisemitism has exploded at universities since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, amid the ensuing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Over the past several months, the committee has rigorously investigated antisemitism at America’s most prestigious universities. The panel recently unearthed and exposed text message exchanges between Columbia University deans which revealed the campus leaders mocking Jewish students as “privileged.” The lawmakers also alleged, based on their investigation, that Harvard University has engaged in a “pattern of inaction” in response to campus antisemitism.

Stefanik spoke to Kelly at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans are gathering this week to nominate their 2024 presidential candidate. The issue of campus antisemitism has been a key issue highlighted at the RNC.

On Wednesday night, Shabbos Kestenbaum, a recent Harvard graduate suing his alma mater over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students, took the RNC main stage and delivered an impassioned speech on campus antisemitism. Kestenbaum said that the surge of unchecked antisemitism on Harvard’s campus in the months following Oct. 7 left him disillusioned with progressives, prompting his move to the political right. 

“After Oct. 7, the world finally saw what I and so many Jewish students across this country experienced almost every day,” he told the RNC crowd. 

“My problem with Harvard is not its liberalism, but its illiberalism. Too often, students at Harvard are taught not how to think, but what to think. I found myself immersed in a culture that is anti-Western, that is anti American, and that is antisemitic,” Kestenbaum said. 

Kestenbaum implored the crowd to support the presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Sadly the far-left wing tide of antisemitism is rising,” Kestenbaum said. “But tonight, tonight we fight back. I am proud to support President Trump’s policies to expel foreign students who violate our laws, harass our Jewish classmates, and desecrate our freedoms … let’s elect a president who recognizes that although Harvard and the Ivy Leagues have long abandoned the United States of America, the Jewish people never will.”

Anti-Israel protests have ravaged college campuses across the United States in the months following Oct. 7. Students at prominent universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and MIT have participated in demonstrations chanting slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” Progressive student organizations have also openly banned “Zionists,” forcing Jewish students to choose between supporting Israel and maintaining their social network. Campus demonstrators have also openly cheered Hamas and in some cases threatened or committed violence against Jewish students.

Jewish donors and alumni have condemned university administrators over their unwillingness to shut down demonstrations. As a result, many of them have pulled funding and vowed not to allow their children to enroll at their alma maters.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots NFL team, has ceased donating to Columbia University, citing “virulent hate” against Jews on campus.  Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation from the University of Pennsylvania. The MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance urged Jewish graduates and allies to protest campus antisemitism by lowering their annual donation amount to $1.

The post RNC Spotlights Campus Antisemitism as Elise Stefanik Teases ‘Bombshell’ Findings From US Congressional Probe first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations

Pro-Hamas demonstrators at Columbia University in New York City, US, April 29, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

StandWithUs (SWU), a Jewish civil rights group based in California, is imploring the US Justice Department to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing a hostile environment at the school in which pro-Hamas demonstrators who have harassed and assaulted Jewish students continuously evade justice by concealing their identities.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

The most obvious parallel between their conduct and the KKK’s, StandWithUs noted, is an inveterate shrouding of their members’ faces with masks and keffiyehs, the traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians that has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

Additionally, the groups — which also include Within Our Lifetime (WOL), Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid, Columbia School of Social Work 4 Palestine (CSSW4P), and Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FJP) — have proclaimed their intention to purge Columbia’s campus of Zionists, a category which includes an overwhelming majority of Jews in the US and around the world. Their rhetoric, StandWithUs added, is unlike any uttered in the US since demonstrations against school integration in the 1950s.

“We hope the Department of Justice (DOJ) will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said on Wednesday. “Columbia President Shafik’s concession that Columbia is a hostile environment for Jewish students in violation of Title VI reflects a critical need for the current administration to take decisive action at Columbia.”

Lerman added, “We urge the DOJ to investigate the school’s failure to prevent groups and individuals on its campus from joining forces and depriving Jewish students of their civil rights, a failure that runs afoul of the KKK laws.”

SWU’s letter — sent to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department on Wednesday — comes amid an ongoing lawsuit the organization’s Legal Center for Justice (SCLJ) filed against Columbia University in February over its alleged failure to prevent and respond to an explosion of anti-Jewish hate incidents which have occurred on the campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, an event the protesters cheered and defended as an act of decolonization inspired by the ideas of far-left political philosophers such as Frantz Fanon.

SWU amended its complaint against Columbia in June, adding 45 students as plaintiffs and over “230 pages of allegations.” Meanwhile, the accusations which surfaced following the group’s first filing have already stained Columbia’s reputation.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” Columbia protesters chanted on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct but never facing consequences for doing so, the complaint alleges. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

The protesters later reinforced their rhetoric with violence, the complaint adds. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another allegedly attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen. Following the incidents, pleas for help went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held its demonstrations.

The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were purportedly forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, who took office in July 2023, recently attempted to assuage concerns that Columbia has become a sanctuary for antisemites after it was revealed that five high-level administrators participated in a group-chat in which ideas that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” were exchanged. She fired none of the administrators, however, which has led to calls for her to resign from office.

“We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination [sic] training for faculty and staff this fall, with related training for students under the auspices of university life,” Shafik said in statement. “Columbia’s leadership team recognizes this as an important moment to implement changes that will build a stronger institution as a result. I know that you all share this commitment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Pro-Israel Group Calls on US Justice Department to Apply ‘KKK Laws’ to Pro-Hamas Demonstrations first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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