West Tisbury: Anti-Semitism


I was driving toward Vineyard Haven last Wednesday morning to attend Yom Kippur services at the Hebrew Center, when I heard about a shooting outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany. It had happened earlier in the morning. The synagogue was locked, so the shooter couldn’t get inside. He shot and killed two passersby on the sidewalk outside.

Rabbi Broitman would not have listened to the radio or television news, so she had no idea about this when she began the service and then her sermon, previously written, about the rise of anti-Semitism and white nationalism in America and worldwide. It was a very painful subject.

Our synagogue has been locked for awhile now. There are police cars and armed, although smiling and known, police in front of the Hebrew Center and at the door during services. Members of our congregation wear electronic buttons to open the doors to congregants they recognize. There have been threats against our synagogue and the West Tisbury Church, which also has a protective presence during church services and events. Maybe all congregations on the Island are so prepared. 

The attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 was shocking. Eleven worshipers were killed. Bari Weiss, a New York Times staff writer and Opinion page editor, had grown up attending Tree of Life Synagogue. She was worried that her father might have been attending services that Saturday morning. He wasn’t. She has written a book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” that I have just started reading.

Synagogues are not the only places of worship targeted by hate-filled individuals, although anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence and vandalism appear to be on the rise. One of the most horrific shootings was by a young white nationalist who prayed with members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, then killed eight of those parishioners and their minister. Church shootings have become as commonplace as shootings in malls, schools, concerts, wherever people gather.

It feels like every day there is something happening that I believed never could happen. Holocaust survivors comment that they could never have imagined this rise in anti-Semitism again in their lifetimes. 

What is happening in our world? Anti-Semitism, white nationalism, our country virulently divided on almost any subject, facts allowed to be “alternative,” a tolerance for the contravention of our Constitution by whichever party gains advantage by doing so, a fluid commitment to treaties and allies. It feels like everything my generation grew up believing in is fraying apart before my eyes.

Meanwhile, I awoke this morning to see the sun hitting the turned-rosy panicles and turned-yellow leaves of my PeeGee hydrangea. Golden sunlight stripes cross the lawn. It is beautiful, peaceful, a totally commonplace scene, one that I observe every morning as the autumn light moves lower in the sky. My life is made up of familiar views, familiar walks, familiar longtime friends, work I have done for years, the progression of the seasons. Writing this column every week keeps me grounded to the daily passing of time in my town and in my own life. It’s all so normal.

Flat Point Farm is getting its new barn. A group of Amish builders is in West Tisbury and in charge of construction.

The library is opening on Sunday afternoons beginning this Sunday, Oct. 20. Hours will be from 1 to 5 pm. Happiness! It will keep these winter hours till next spring.

The Farmers Market has moved indoors to the Ag Hall for the winter. The winter markets always feel special, just for us year-rounders. We recognize almost everyone we see, and vendors have a remarkable variety of produce well into the fall. We should all be thankful for our warm fall weather, one of the many benefits of living on our Island.