‘Small’ instances of antisemitism are a sign of how grave the problem is
When my family built our home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island 40 years ago, we found most people in the community to be friendly and welcoming. A memory that has stuck with me through the years, however, is the question one resident, whose family had lived here for generations, asked me: “How did the Morgenthaus get a property in South County?”.
The not-so-subtle meaning beneath that seemingly innocuous question was “who sold land to those Jews?”
After seeing that the owners of a sports bar in nearby Tiverton felt comfortable using antisemitic jokes — specifically, ones that made light of the Holocaust and the death of Anne Frank — to promote their business, I was reminded of that question from years ago, and of the not-so-subtle prejudice which prompted it.
When my grandfather Henry Morgenthau Jr. served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, he fought back against antisemitism in the State Department publicly and played a key role in the United States defeating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. My mother and her family fled Austria following Kristallnacht and were among the lucky ones to have escaped with their lives.
These memories are not so distant, and if we are to move forward as a country, we must be honest about the pervasive nature of these undercurrents in our society.
Antisemitism is not a problem of the past. This is our present, and if we fail to call out and condemn remarks such as these, this will be our future. We have seen reports of openly racist, antisemitic, and violent organizations increasing their footprint in New England. Seemingly “small” acts of vitriol can fan the flames of hatred, and when left unchecked, threaten to disrupt our communities.
I know this all too well. As the first woman to run the Department of Homeland Security’s Private Sector Office under President Obama, I worked to combat domestic terrorism in our communities. From building relationships with and promoting collaboration between small businesses, law enforcement and their local communities, I have firsthand experience tackling the threat of antisemitic and racially motivated violence, both from a local and national perspective.
We can, and should, do better. Rhode Island has a vibrant Jewish community and history. After all, the Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest in the United States. We must continue to be steadfast in our determination to overcome hatred and division, and there is absolutely no place in our state or our country for “jokes” that make light of the slaughter of millions of innocent people.
I am hopeful we can, as Ocean Staters, continue to drive progress and root out hate in our communities. In a time of partisan division and extremism, I still hold steadfast in my belief that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. It was Anne Frank, who witnessed and suffered atrocities no young girl should have to, who said “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”.
In that same spirit, we must remember: Those who promulgate hate, and fear of their neighbors, are truly and severely outnumbered.
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