Connections: Red Flags

The news that anti-Semitism is rising in this country today, here as well as around the world, has to be confronted

Anyone who reads this column will have an idea of where I stand politically, but they haven’t heard much, if anything, from me about religion. My first husband and I used to say we had the same religion, by which we meant none. Our notion was that my Jewishness and his Protestantism were entirely secular. (It will remain for our children to say whether they missed a religious upbringing.)

Ev went a step farther than most. Coming home from college one day, at a time when The Star still did job printing, he found a membership booklet being prepared for the East Hampton Presbyterian Church — and physically lifted his name off the page. Those were still the days of what was called “hot type,” but even if you don’t know much about printing before computerization you can imagine how it worked. 

I grew up in a household that was one generation removed from Jewish immigration, and with the adults around me I learned about what happened to European Jews during World War II. My maternal grandfather had arrived here in about 1906 during a period of frequent pogroms in Bessarabia. I understood why he often said we could not trust anyone who wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t argue, either. 

Like my Jewish relatives today, I have always been comfortable in my ethnicity. Jews had a significant presence in the Bayonne, N.J., of my childhood. That community wasn’t free from bigotry; I sometimes heard bad comments about the black minority, although I never witnessed hatred in some physical form. Coming to East Hampton, I found that my mother-in-law, Jeannette Edwards Rattray, stood tall against prejudice. Out to dinner one night she told an East Hampton relative a thing or two when he came to our table and started denigrating Jews. I knew anti-Semitism existed here, as elsewhere, but it never seemed to warrant much attention. Haters will hate. 

But the news that anti-Semitism is rising in this country today, here as well as around the world, has to be confronted. According to data from the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged more than one-third in 2016 and jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017. The increase includes harassment, particularly since last November, and a doubling of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism in nondenominational schools serving kindergarten through 12th grade.

It may be coincidental that anti-Semitism has been more frequent since last November, when Donald J. Trump was elected, or it may be simply that his election, combined with the flourishing of social media, unleashed hate and hate groups that had heretofore kept to the shadows. President Trump’s attempts to hold back immigration, particularly of Muslims, and his callous attitude toward unaccompanied minors entering this country from across our Southern borders, not to mention the Dreamers, who were brought here as children, fit an unacceptable pattern. Who will be targeted next? 

Mr. Trump’s lukewarm response in August to the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., which resulted in a protester’s death, is a case in point. Satisfied that he is not an anti-Semite because his daughter converted to Judaism upon marrying Jared Kushner, he may not have heard the white supremists in Charlottesville who chanted “You shall not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” Or he might not have found that offensive. 

We cannot know what is in the president’s heart, but I do trust that our community’s leaders and school and religious officials understand how serious this is and are on the alert.