Liza Wiemer wasn't easily rattled. The 54-year-old Milwaukee resident was a poised driver, and she navigated the unfamiliar highways of Upstate New York with steely determination until she suddenly found herself in the eye of a violent summer storm. The windshield wipers rendered useless by the onslaught, Liza felt a slight frisson of fear as great torrents of rain blinded her vision. Hunting for the nearest exit ramp, she exhaled at the welcome sight of a brightly-lit gas station/mini-mart nearby, where she could decamp until the downpour ended, or, at the very least, diminished.

As Liza drove into the parking lot to wait out the storm, her natural state – perpetually buoyant, optimistic and positive – sagged just a little. The venue she was driving to – for more than an hour already – was nowhere near her hotel in Syracuse, as she had been promised. What am I doing here?

A year ago, in 2017, Liza – a writer and educator – had been contacted by a librarian who wished to arrange a speaking tour for her in Upstate New York. She had heard about Liza's popular workshops, where she successfully inculcated critical values and ideals into the current generation of public high school students who were sorely lacking ethical direction.

"I'll set you up at a centrally-located hotel, near all your venues, so you won't have to travel far," the librarian had pledged. But this next-to-the-last venue was well out of the range she had anticipated. As rivulets of water streamed around her, Liza couldn't help asking, "Why would the Almighty want me to be here?"

A high school teacher had given his students a reprehensible assignment: research and debate the merits of Hitler's Final Solution.

To while away the time, Liza scanned her text messages. Her aunt had just forwarded some articles about an uproar that had erupted in an upstate New York town where a high school teacher had given his students a reprehensible assignment: research and debate the merits of Hitler's Final Solution. Most of the students had been compliant, not even questioning the teacher's motives, but two teenagers – Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff (neither of whom were Jewish) – refused. They vocally opposed the project, sweeping both the school and the town into the vortex of the debate. The assignment was ultimately canceled. The students' heroism – as well as the anti-Semitic assignment that ignited it – made national news.

Liza was horrified that such an assignment could have emanated from an American school circa 2017. She knew that anti-Semitism simmered beneath a lot of surfaces, and that in recent years there had been an alarming uptick, but this act was unusually brazen – and heinous.

The news item said that the incident occurred in Oswego, New York. Liza surveyed the sign above the mini-mart's entrance and goosebumps erupted over her arms. "Oswego Mini-Mart" it proclaimed. She was in the exact place where it had happened. What were the odds?

"I trembled when I realized where I was 'randomly' parked," Liza remembers. "I don't believe in coincidences; I felt I was there for a purpose. When I got to my destination – a bookstore – I decided I'd buy two of my books and inscribe a message to these young heroes, telling them how courageous they were and how proud I am of the outcome they achieved. That's the least I can do."

Liza looked at the photographs of the two teens and shook her head in awe. They look so young, but they took on a teacher, a principal, and an entire town. Unbelievable!

When the torrential downpour let up, Liza got back on the highway, revved up with a new-found purpose and a strong sense that the out-of-the-way "gig" had not been a mistake on the part of the librarian after all.

Liza entered the bookstore and immediately saw a familiar-looking face. "It's the world-famous Jordan!" Liza shouted.

The young girl wheeled around, startled. "How do you know my name?" she asked the stranger.

"I just read about you!" Liza exclaimed, stunned by the second coincidence. "Your picture - and Archer's - accompanied the news report." Liza now understood why the librarian – one year before – had unwittingly arranged to send her so far afield. "To me, it was clearly God's plan. The coincidences were too striking for it to be anything else."

That night, she spoke with both Jordan and Archer on a conference call and determined then and there to write their story for a Jewish newspaper syndicate.

"Many papers picked up the story and the reaction was strong. One day, I was discussing the piece with a writer friend of mine, when she suddenly said: 'Why don't you turn it into a book?' And that's exactly what I did!

Education is the key to deterring anti-Semitism. This book is my own small, personal way of combatting it

"The Assignment," a YA (Young Adult) novel published a week ago by Delacorte, a major commercial trade house, is the result of the confluence of coincidences Liza experienced – a convergence she interpreted as a tap on the shoulder, a push, a shove, by God himself. "The Lubavitcher Rebbe always said that education is the absolute key to deterring anti-Semitism, nothing else, " Liza said. "'The Assignment' is my own small, personal way of combatting it."

While conducting research for the book, Liza was devastated to learn that the incident at Oswego was not a solitary case. "Numerous similar harmful assignments have, in recent years, been given across the United States. To mention just four: One was a history assignment from a California high school asking students to make a time capsule of Nazi society. This resulted in swastikas being daubed all over the school. In the second instance, a student was assigned to play Hitler at a Tennessee public school's Living History project, and to make the Sieg Heil salute. After students started making salutes all over the school, an 11-year-old girl who told her classmates to stop was sent to the principal's office to be punished.

"In a third case, a prestigious private school in Atlanta made 'Mein Kampf' required summer reading for all its students, and a fourth report revolved around an Albany public school history teacher who gave students the assignment to write an essay that proved the writer was loyal to the Nazis, and that 'Jews are evil and the source of our problems.'

"The more I read about what was happening in both public and private schools across the country, the more shell-shocked I became. Many of these assignments were ultimately squelched by the efforts of a few conscientious students or parents. Sadly, there were places where there were no protests and some of these assignments were fulfilled by unquestioning students. I decided to fictionalize Jordan and Archer's story rather than turn it into a memoir. I felt their story was one of several, representative of a new phenomenon occurring across the country."

Liza's trip to Oswego took place in 2017, a year before Pittsburgh, and two years before Poway. As a result of her research, she had already become aware that a new, virulent strain of anti-Semitism had reared its ugly head.

"I had used Twitter extensively to market my previous YA book 'Hello?' and was completely unnerved by the rabid anti-Semitism I found on social media. I was disheartened that not too many people in the Jewish community - neither ordinary people, politicians, communal leaders, not even officials from major Jewish defense organizations – were pushing back as they should have been. And the only response from non-Jews on Twitter reading these rants was utter silence. Anti-Semitism had already become so mainstream that no one was even blinking.

"I remembered Elie Wiesel's powerful statement that 'Silence helps the tormentor not the tormented' and I felt compelled to do something. I could not be quiet. I thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call for education as a tool for eradicating anti-Semitism, and since I am neither a politician nor communal leader, just an ordinary person, I did the only thing I could. We all have to try to stop it in its tracks any way we can."

Public schools are good places to start. The stances and perspectives of adolescents are far less hardened than adults, and at their age they are still open, curious, impressionable, and looking for inspiration.

I hope the book will enable young adults to confront their biases and change their perception of Jews.

"My novel gives students an opportunity to experience anti-Semitism by putting themselves in the characters' shoes and to imagine how they would feel, what they would do, and also why it's so important to speak up and not stay silent – because hateful acts lead to more hateful acts.

"I hope the book will enable young adults to confront their biases and change their perception of Jews. Based on my experience of speaking at different schools across the country, I know that many teens have never met a Jewish person before, but they embrace stereotypes. 'The Assignment' provides a clear model for teens and will hopefully empower them to think critically about anti-Semitism and recognize that they are responsible for speaking up and putting a stop to any anti-Semitism they might hear or witness."