Bid on a Chat With Mayim Bialik, Fight Campus Antisemitism
Watching a tide of antisemitism seep into America’s cultural spheres after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack and resulting Israel-Hamas war, Alison Hammer and Jill Santopolo, like many other Jewish authors, felt sad and worried. But they didn’t feel helpless.
“One thing about creatives, there’s never a shortage of ideas,” said Santopolo, the New York Times best-selling author of Stars in an Italian Sky and other novels. “Where there’s a problem, we’ll find a way to bring everybody together to solve it.”
Their solution is Artists Against Antisemitism (AAA), a grassroots coalition that formed on November 3 and within days had grown through social media to 31 founding members. Among them is writer and publisher Zibby Owens, the founder of Zibby Media, who has interviewed both Hammer and Santopolo for her popular podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. Other founding members include popular authors Jean Hanf Korelitz, Lisa Barr and Elyssa Friedland, all of whom have participated in Hadassah Magazine’s One Book, One Hadassah national book club program. Owens herself has been featured in a Magazine Discussion event.
By early December, Artists Against Antisemitism counted 80 Jewish and non-Jewish members on the leadership team, among them are social media influencers and actress Jenny Mollen, speaker and author Samantha Ettus and fashion designer Stacy Ingel as well as journalists, museum curators, actors and producers.
“We realized how many connections we have,” said Hammer, the Chicago-based author of You and Me and Us and the creative director at a Maryland advertising agency. While she knew Santopolo, who lives in Washington, D.C., through mutual publishing connections and on Instagram, the two bonded over concerns about antisemitism after October 7, when they found themselves together in an Instagram Jewish writer’s group that formed in the wake of the attacks.
In an era of cultural divisiveness, Artists Against Antisemitism’s founders emphasize community and solidarity. They are also pushing back against the often-ugly clashes around Israel in the arts and culture world by raising awareness of antisemitism and promoting education about Jewish history and culture. “The voices of hate have been so loud,” said Hammer.
But just as unsettling, she added, was the silence from culture-world allies intimidated by cancel culture. “People are scared to say the wrong thing,” she explained. “So part of this was giving good-hearted people a way to show their support—that they are with us, that they don’t hate Jewish people.”
The organization’s first event is a 400-item online auction, to be held on the Artists Against Antisemitism website starting December 15—the last day of Hanukkah—and running through the December 22. Up for bid are concert tickets and vacation packages alongside quirkier treats like a Zoom chat with actress Mayim Bialik, a conversation with an FBI agent—“great for a mystery writer,” offered Santopolo—and having an author name a nasty character in a book after someone the bidder dislikes. Proceeds will fund the nonprofit Project Shema’s antisemitism training for both faculty and students on college campuses, where anti-Jewish sentiments have been particularly virulent.
Owens, who has built an industry-redefining literary empire on female artistic solidarity, was among the first to join the group. Also in mid-November–around the same time that she was publicizing the debut of her first novel, Blank, about an author struggling with writer’s block–Owens withdrew Zibby Media as a sponsor of this year’s National Book Awards ceremony.
Before the event, she had learned that the nominees planned to use the award ceremony as a platform to politicize the event by including anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian rhetoric in their acceptance speeches. Concerned, Owens had asked the National Book Foundation to assure her that no hate speech or antisemitic comments would be included in the ceremony, which the foundation would not do.
“I am deeply troubled to learn that all the nominees of the National Book Awards this year have decided to collectively band together to use their speeches to promote a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli agenda,” she wrote in an email to the foundation, available on her substack. “As a sponsor, I am not comfortable bringing my authors and my team into a politically charged environment like this one, one that will make many of us feel quite uncomfortable — including myself as a Jewish woman.”
(In the end, the awardees decided to issue a joint statement during the ceremony opposing “antisemitism and anti-Palestinian sentiment and Islamophobia” and called for the stop of further bloodshed in the region.)
With Artists Against Antisemitism, Owens saw an opportunity to channel “the fear and despair” she felt as a Jew after October 7 into action. “And I thrive in start-up environments where everyone can really make a difference,” added Owens, who built the organization’s website.
The groups’ organizers plan further programming and outreach in the future. But for now, an auction for the last day of Hanukkah and the week after feels just right.
“After the auction is done, we all plan to sleep for a while,” said Hammer, with a laugh. “But then in the new year we’ll come together to figure out next steps.” She said the group has floated ideas “around using stories, words and images to help educate and combat antisemitism.”
“Our driving force is to keep that light going,” she added, “to stop hate by spreading light and love.”
Hilary Danailova writes about travel, culture, politics and lifestyle for numerous publications.