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The recent murder of nine African Americans as they worshiped in a South Carolina church has renewed discussions of matters of race in America. For Jews, meanwhile, attention has been focused on the raw, vitriolic anti-Israel bias on campus, which often bleeds over to outright anti-Semitism.

Yet an old-fashioned, KKK kind of blue collar anti-Semitism has been ongoing right here in New York’s Catskills region.

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The Pine Bush board of education recently settled with Jewish plaintiffs for $4.48 million in response to several egregious anti-Semitic attacks on children, which included pennies being stuffed down a student’s throat and Nazi salutes.

In Bloomingburg, a member of the town council asked the town attorney “How do we keep the hasids [sic] out?” when townspeople realized a Jewish real-estate developer was planning to build apartments that would house Jews in their town. Jewish-owned stores have been vandalized, Jewish women have been spat on, a large cross was erected near the proposed housing site, and the town allegedly illegally conspired to keep Jews out by using phony zoning restrictions.

This was spelled out in a $25 million suit brought by the developer against the town, which was viewed by a U.S district judge to be sufficiently meritorious to proceed.

The fascinating aspect of this Jew hatred is its retro nature. Here is anti-Semitism shorn of its contemporary anti-Israel patina; this is the 1950s-style “Christ-killer” anti-Semitism we told ourselves was long dead.

Our attention has been focused on university-based hatred of Israel, which we know to be fueled by anti Semitism. But the events in Pine Bush and Bloomingburg remind us that despite what pollsters tell us, and regardless of the high intermarriage rates among the elite bicoastal classes, there remains a powerful reservoir of working class blue-collar anti-Semitism just under the surface ready to erupt at the slightest “provocation.”

What are the 70,000 local Sullivan County residents like? Fourteen percent failed to finish high school; 21 percent graduated from college. Median family income is $48,000. So this anti-Semitism is truly the classic underclass resentment of “rich” Jews.

Hence the giant cross that was erected in front of the proposed Bloomingburg housing project. To Christians, the cross is a symbol of love and faith; to many Jews, however, it conjures up memories of centuries of violent anti-Semitism and the cross burnings of the KKK (which, as it happens, was active in Sullivan County in the 1920s).

The Bloomingburg cross might as well have been a billboard proclaiming, “Here’s the old-fashioned anti-Semitism experienced by your grandfathers and fathers, on public display in New York State after a lengthy absence.”

The hateful deeds in Pine Bush and Bloomingburg were bad enough. Worse has been the response of the Catskills civic leadership, the Catskills Jewish community, and the Jewish communities of New York and other major cities.

I am part of a family that has been coming to the Catskills for six generations and I now live there part time. As such, I am afforded both the “insider” and “outsider” perspective on this sorry story of bigotry.

Running through all the responses to this anti-Semitism is a consistent, overwhelming pattern of denial as well as abandonment – coupled with a sickening blaming – of the victims.

The local Jewish community, wealthier and better educated than the general populace and fearful of making waves, studiously avoids engaging on this topic. No op-eds, no thundering pulpit denunciations, no calls for introspection have been forthcoming from local Jews.

So also with the Christian power elite, such as it is, in Sullivan County. The silence has been deafening. No one – from the County Executive to local civic clubs to the local press (with one exception) to Christian clergy to other minority interest groups such as the local NAACP – has raised a voice in support of the claimants against the bigotry they know to be rampant in their community.

And why should they? Do they need to be “more Catholic than the pope”? If the Jews themselves deny the problem, why should others take up the fight?

Transfixed by Ferguson, Charleston, Eric Garner, and other examples of African Americans allegedly killed or mistreated by police officers, American Jews are totally uninvolved with, and totally disconnected from, the acts of hate directed toward Sullivan County Jews.

Abandoned by their Jewish peers locally as well as the larger American Jewish community, and ignored by local non-Jewish leaders, the claimants, thankfully, have been provided a measure of relief by continuing judicial review of their claims.

In his recent book, Ally, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, himself American born and raised in New Jersey, bemoaned what he saw as the excessive American Jewish obsession with tikkun olam at the expense of Jewish-centered issues. Although he was writing about American Jewry’s growing disconnect with Israel, the mess of Catskill anti Semitism, or rather American Jews’ response to it, is part and parcel of the same phenomenon.

How sad that we are so eager to rush to the defense of others while having nothing to say or do when our own children are tormented for being Jewish. And how damning that we pretend not to notice when our own brothers and sisters are persecuted for being chassidic and wanting a piece of the American dream only to be told, “Sorry, Jews like you are not allowed here.”

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Temper your reading of this with the knowledge that it is an op ed, not an article. Most of it is the author's opinion with presentation of a couple cherry picked facts, not a one of them fully developed. Such a writing only fans the flames. It resolves nothing.

  2. The United States is a very big country. If we Jews are not acceptable to the residents of one place, we can go to another place, especially if we want to build and create a community for ourselves. Why bother to build and move to a place where we are not wanted? It seems a foolish endeavor. Pick up and move down the road; you will find either uninhabited land or a place where the residents welcome you.

  3. I am a Jew living in the area referred to here. Many of these allegations are unproven. There is also a great deal of anger towards the local Satmar community and this is easily expressed in anti-semetic terms. The issues are complex, this op-ed obfuscates the issues.

  4. Thank goodness America is a defacto Christian Country. The Christians may not be rolling out the red carpet for Jews in Sullivan County, but so what? What do you expect? I wish these complainers would try living for five minutes in an Islamic country such as Saudi Arabia. They would all be dead or bowing down to Allah. Given how good and tolerant Christianity has been to everyone in the United States; including the Jews, why would Jews be bashing Christians like this? makes no sense.

  5. Most rational and upright Jewish community leaders of Sullivan county concensus in absolute disgust with the fraud perpetuated in Bloomingburg and surrounding communities threatened by this hostile takeover. Even a local Rabbi in Bloomingburg spoke regarding the electoral fraud, that If those involved knew that they were commiting felonies they would have never gone along with this henious selfish act. A chillful wrong perpetuated against a multigenerational community that knows what it took by our ancestors and scores of veterans, many of proud Jewish ancestry dating back to the hard fought American Revolution to gain the right to vote. To try to take that from those that never forgot is very wrong and the author of this article should try a little harder to seek the truth in these matters!

  6. There have always been Jewish families of many proud generations here who defend our coexistand communities as well
    the right to vote as veterans of wars that died to defend this right and that right will not be infringed upon by corrupton by ANYONE as long as this is still America!!

  7. As a Jewish Girl raised in Sullivan County (Monticello) in the 60s and 70s, I find this opinionated opinion written with the intent to defame all of us. We were quite the integrated comunity. I grew up 'blind' to racism..Who cared what your faith or skin color? Most people I went to school with were extremely open-minded.The author obviously never attended Monti High: I would have known them. Yes, there are people who dont like people for a multitude of reasons EVERYWHERE in thie great big WORLD, but I NEVER saw or experienced RACISM in Sullivan County. Go back to Westchester to your elitist community and stay there.

  8. It's interesting how a private landowner's decision to keep his property next door to the ugly high density chestnut ridge development and put up the symbol of his religion during Christmas & kept there when the local church was in the process of being bought by the developer next door(who later changed his mind) is constantly used against ALL of the people of Bloomingburg & Mamakating. It's not like we don't know the costs to local taxpayers when high density housing for Hasidics is built. KJ's costs are equal to about 20 villages in Orange County. We are already overtaxed in the Town of Mamakating. People do not want to support people who contribute nothing, practice voter fraud regularly (at least 3 local elections), and if you complain that the people of Mamakating DO NOT WANT high density housing as already expressed prior to this development the desire to stay rural, we are sued for anti-semitism. Just because a judge said it can move forward, doesn't mean that it is the truth! I wonder how seriously they take the Torah readings of today to try to make amends to our town for their lies and deceit, and voter fraud!!!

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