Last week I published a post titled "Bernard Madoff and the Jews of Palm Beach." I wrote about a Palm Beach devastated by the potentially 50 billion dollar scam. I described the world at the Jewish Palm Beach Country Club where Madoff was an esteemed member managing the fortunes of many members.
The piece had hardly been posted when the New York Post emailed asking to reprint it. Since then the Jewish Voice has also asked to reprint it, and I felt that I had written something worthwhile and true.
But when I posted the piece on my own blog, laurenceleamer.blogspot.com, or Leamer.com, there was an anonymous comment that startled me. "I don't know much about the author or about Palm Beach, but what struck me about the post was the title," Anonymous wrote. "It's a sophisticated author's way of expressing anti-Semitism in a way that toes the line between what will be considered acceptable to the most liberal and despicable to those who (sic) no better. ..a sick way to rub it into the face of the victims and espouse what to many will be considered an anti-Semitic title is going too far."
To me there's nothing worse than being called anti-Semitic. There were plenty of positive comments including one from someone who appeared to use his real name. "All Larry is doing is stating the facts, no bias or prejudice," Neil Rogers wrote. "Don't let your insecurities, shame, embarrassment and guilt surface by playing the anti-Semitic card. Shalom."
Even though to my mind I was simply reporting the facts in the context of Palm Beach, I still felt badly about this. My ex-wife and the mother of my daughter is Jewish, and thus by Jewish tradition my daughter and my grandchildren are Jewish. But I am not Jewish and I've come to realize that only someone born Jewish can understand at the most profound level what it means to be Jewish, and the inchoate fears that are an integral part of that heritage.
This got me to thinking about the whole issue and I talked to a friend of mine in Boston, David Goldberg. He has been following the Madoff news in among other places the Palm Beach Daily News where he said there were any number of truly anti-Semitic comments that should have been removed. I went to the website and it was ugly and vicious, worthy of Hitler.
There was one comment posted criticizing these evil rants but for days they sat there. Editor Pat Thomas says that "it became apparent that there were -- along with a number of well-reasoned and interesting comments -- a number of comments that were clearly anti-Semitic and/or obscene." Pleading that she did not have big enough a staff to cull out the obscene and foul, Thomas closed down the comments.
But a bubbling up of anti-Semitism does exist and the more I talk to people about this situation, the more I am convinced that we must deal with it not by giving into fear by shutting down the comments of everyone but by vigorously standing up against such ideas.
The fear is simply this. The Madoff story is being played rightfully and painfully as an overwhelmingly Jewish story, and it may spill onto the whole coverage of the economic debacle and that too would become seen as a Jewish story. Of course, it's ridiculous but I remember when I was doing my last book on Arnold Schwarzenegger and how on my trip to Austria several Austrians told me that the Jews controlled the media and banks of their country, though there are only a few thousand Jews left. It can happen here. As things get worse and people look for scapegoats, the Jews once again can become the targets.
I don't know how we fight the growing anger and hate in America. We fight it in part by being up front. We must stand up to those reeking of prejudice but we almost must stand up to those who find prejudice when there is only legitimate commentary and criticism. As journalists we fight it in part by trying to get the context right. And maybe we fight it a little with a sense of humor too, the true Jewish penicillin. But whatever we do we must never forget and never forgive those who seek to exploit our divisions and fears.