SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- For the past ten years, you could find Rabbi Steve Finley teaching Hebrew school at his small Jewish congregation in the city of Sonoma.
But this year, the once-a-week classes are a little different.
For the first time ever, the group has opened up to non-Jewish students in a bid to help combat anti-Semitism.
"The idea was that the more kids that come study with us, learn our ways, experience our traditions and know us on a personal level," said Rabbi Steve Finley of Congregation Shir Shalom.
This year's group of kids includes 11 Jewish students and two non-Jews.
During class, they learn everything from the teachings of the Torah to ancient Jewish holidays and traditions.
The inclusion of new students has been warmly received.
"We get to learn about other cultures, and inviting kids in who aren't the same culture as us it's a new experience and it's fun," said Noa, one of the students.
Those types of feelings are exactly what Rabbi Finley wants to create.
He says while Jews have faced persecution for centuries, in recent times he's gotten more worried.
He tells ABC7 News his congregation regularly has armed security at their gatherings, just to ensure peace of mind.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents are rising rampantly not just across the US, but also right here in Northern California.
"There were 166 incidents in Northern California. That was up 137 percent year-over-year," said the ADL's Teresa Drenick.
That includes incidents as recently as one month ago in Marin County.
Despite that reality, the rabbi says the challenges also give him strength.
Strength to keep going, strength to spread love and strength to honor his ancestors.
"We're an ethnicity, we're a culture, we're a nation, we're a tribe, we're a people, we're a religion. And we're not going to drop the baton on our watch," said Rabbi Finley.
Because as far as he's concerned, the work is only just beginning.
"It's a start. With the success of these two kids, we hope to actually expand," Rabbi Finley said.
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