Local antisemitism threatens safety of Jewish Vermonters

Acknowledging Palestinian rights and suffering shouldn’t be silenced; instead, we must approach discussions with an understanding of the complexities and steer clear of extremist views

Michael Knapp is a software developer and entrepreneur who is passionate about social justice.

GUILFORD-As a Jewish Vermonter who has spent the past three decades working to improve our synagogue's safety and counter local antisemitism, I feel compelled to clarify that concerns about local antisemitism are neither unfounded nor a mere reflex. They are deeply anchored in the stark realities of our history and the present-day situation.

Recent letters to the editor, including those by Jewish authors, deny the reality and danger of local antisemitism. One by Matt Dricker and co-authors on March 25 dismissed a "reflexive, future-imagined fear of our neighbors repeating Jewish historical trauma." On Jan. 18, Dricker et al. dismissed a letter written by members of our local temple as exhibiting "saddening white fragility in our relatively safe community."

The U.S. has seen a disturbing surge in antisemitic incidents. Close to home, the attempted bombing in 2020 of a nursing home in Longmeadow, Massachusetts - targeted for its overt Jewish association - solidifies the reality that our concerns are based on tangible threats to our community's safety.

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In Brattleboro, antisemitism has manifested in various alarming incidents: a threatening letter aimed at our synagogue leadership several years ago, the discovery of neo-Nazi flyers around town, a hateful antisemitic podcast from nearby Keene, and numerous other incidents. Swastikas have defaced the walls of too many area schools.

We don't have to trivialize these events to acknowledge the horrors of war. Many aren't like the terror of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pennsylvania or the war in Gaza, but they are nonetheless significant.

Each incident, large or small, feeds into a broader pattern of antisemitism that affects communities deeply and personally. They remind us that the threat we face is not an imagined fear or a manifestation of our fragility, but is grounded in the documented history and present reality of hate and bigotry.

Statements that dismiss antisemitism as a real and growing danger empower the worst and most dangerous elements of our society.

In January, a man was arrested after allegedly making a series of threats against Jewish individuals and places of worship in Massachusetts.

The man justified his planned acts of violence by referring to the broader political discourse, and he is alleged to have made a number of disturbing statements in a voicemail to a synagogue in Attleboro, Massachusetts, one of which was, "With supporting the killing of innocent little children, that means it's OK to kill your children."

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Reviewing these statements, it is evident that his intent to commit violence was influenced by rhetoric on the latest Israel–Hamas war, as it is alarmingly similar to what is published again and again in our local newspapers.

Words meant to express solidarity can, unfortunately, serve as justification for those intent on rationalizing their hatred and violent actions.

Acknowledging Palestinian rights and suffering shouldn't be silenced; instead, we must approach discussions with an understanding of the complexities and steer clear of extremist views.

Creating spaces for dialogue is crucial for fostering understanding and solidarity among communities. Thoughtful communication and standing against bigotry - in our word choices and how we frame our discussions - can prevent well-intentioned statements from being misconstrued to justify hate.

Support from Brattleboro's wider community, including its clergy, politicians, and citizens, has deeply affected many in the Jewish community, playing a key role in making our town safer in the face of rising antisemitism. I urge that we move beyond divisive arguments and instead foster peace by reinforcing Brattleboro as a community united against discrimination.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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