Friday, January 14, 2022

Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz (left) and Professor Motier Haskins (right) standing side by side at Hillel House in front of a row of books
Rabbi Esther and Professor Mo

The School of Social Work’s Discrimination, Oppression, and Diversity (SW:3847) undergraduate course, affectionately referred to in the School as “DOD” and taught by Instructional Track Lecturer Motier Haskins, explores theoretical and historical perspectives on a variety of social justice issues. 

One component of the course is a unit introducing Anti-Semitism, during which students explore the long history of hatred and discrimination against Jewish people and how anti-Judaism was transformed throughout history into Anti-Semitism. Learning about the development of Anti-Semitism helps our students recognize and understand the impact of stereotypes and myths that persist today and cause harm to Jewish people.

For the past three years, Esther Hugenholtz, Rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation in Coralville, has partnered with Professor Haskins during this unit to deliver impactful lectures on Judaism and Anti-Semitism to University of Iowa Social Work students.

It’s an approach that Haskins believes emphasizes the immediacy and ongoing reality of Anti-Semitism, and makes it more memorable and personal to students.

“In my opinion,” he says, “The key to combating Anti-Semitism is understanding Judaism. He says, “Students must learn the reality of the American Jewish experience, the history of Anti-Semitism, and how we can bring communities together to confront this form of bigotry.”

Rabbi Hugenholtz was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She completed her rabbinical training at Leo Baeck College in London, UK and was ordained a rabbi in 2013. Since moving to Iowa City / Coralville, she has become a powerful force in the community, both on campus and beyond. In addition to leading Agudas Achim, she volunteers and leads many interfaith dialogues where participants from many different religions enter in cooperative, constructive, and positive interactions.

Last October, Haskins took his most recent DOD class, a group of forty-two undergraduate students, on a field trip to Iowa Hillel, the nonprofit Jewish student center located close to campus, where Rabbi Hugenholtz delivered her powerful annual lecture on Anti-Semitism. Some of them (Samantha Roy, Lacie Teal, Emily Benamatti, Erin Harmon, and Jay King) are pictured here at Iowa Hillel.

Professor Haskins says, “This annual excursion gives students a considerably clearer view of the faith and culture of Jewish people and their current and historical challenges than they would get from simply reading a chapter in a book or watching a video about Judaism and Anti-Semitism.” And they get a chance to learn about Hillel House—a rich community resource that helps UI students connect with each other and learn about Judaism, whether or not they are Jewish themselves.

Hugenholtz values the experience, too, saying, “I learn from the students each year, and giving this lecture has become such a treat. I really treasure my relationship with Professor Haskins and the School of Social Work.” 

A group of five UI Social Work students, all women, posing in and around colorful chairs at Hillel House, Fall 2021
Rabbi Hugenholtz at left end and Motier Haskins at right end with 5 women students between them, standing in front of a row of books at Hillel House