“So, as we bask in the warmth and glow of this day in our history, we should remember where we came from, how we were challenged but, l’dor v’dor, persisted and prospered. We did this by strength of character and by compassion and kindness to our community. Let these continue to be our watchwords.” — Clifford Dacso, November 10, 2019, installation of Rabbi Lily Solochek, Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, Rockland

As a little kid, Becca enjoyed being the uber-glamorous Vanna White in a Hebrew School play designed to tell Old Testament stories. At the oneg, she scurried around with the other kids among the chattering adults at Adas Yoshuron, laughter and voices overlapping. The only Jew in her grade, she generally kept it to herself. When the Rockport Elementary School music teacher said, “Becca [token Jew], why don’t you come up and sing the dreidl song to the class?” she was deeply uncomfortable. She was shy to begin with, but being surrounded by so many anti-Jewish “jokes” and sentiments at school, she was afraid of giving the kids yet more reasons to pick on her.

Nate grew up as a secular half-Jew in New Hampshire and doesn’t have many particularly strong memories of childhood Jewish experience apart from gefilte fish and matzoh, except for one instance when two non-Jewish acquaintances were squabbling over money and one said to the other, “Don’t be such a Jew!” That stung, and he was surprised by it.

Even writing this, saying that we have Jewish heritage, we fear that some readers will think, “A-ha, it’s more Jews controlling the media!” But precisely because we are afraid, it is that much more necessary that we talk about it, and that others join us in solidarity to address and end not only anti-Jewishness, but all oppression and bigotry.

When Becca was a kid, Adas Yoshuron, a place of community, sacredness, and acceptance and welcome for all, was defiled with spray paint — swastikas scrawled everywhere. It was deeply upsetting. Becca knew about the Holocaust by then, but she didn’t know about the rapid rise of overt bigotry in her own hometowns of Camden and Rockland in the early 20th century. In “When the Fire of the Ku Klux Klan Burned Hot in Maine,” Andy O’Brien writes, “In 1924, a wave of Klan-backed Republican candidates swept into public office, including the governor of Maine and mayor of Rockland. A 50-foot cross was burned on what is now Talbot Avenue to celebrate the election wins, followed by another cross burning on Mount Battie in Camden a year later.”

Where are we now? Trump’s harnessing of bigotry for his own political gain has led directly to an increase in hate attacks and hate groups across the country. Additionally, hate-motivated attacks are becoming much more likely to take the form of direct attacks on people, rather than property. Jews are the top target of hate crimes motivated by religion. Here in midcoast Maine, overt racism is growing: swastikas in local schools, KKK flyering, people saying more bigoted things in public.

Looking into the current climate of bigotry in Maine takes us to some terrifying places: Holocaust denial; Holocaust minimizing (which acknowledges that “something bad” happened in Europe with many groups of people killed, but erases the fact that Hitler’s central goal was the extermination of all Jews, and that the Holocaust resulted in a full 6 million murdered Jews); anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, anti-Black and anti-Muslim sentiments (Muslims are going to “take over” the United States).

Some try to frame their bigotry as “positive.” In December 2019, Maine-based white supremacist Minotaur of Rebellion wrote on bigot-media platform Gab: “Whatever your political ideology is, whatever economic model you believe is best, whatever it is, you must always put whites first.” This way of framing bigotry as if it is about caring about a certain group of people, rather than being about the absolute terrorizing of others, is nothing new. In “Maine’s Gone Mad: The Rising of the Klan,” Raney Bench writes that in Maine in the 1920s KKK leader Eugene Farnsworth stated, “Klansmen are not ‘against’ the Catholics, or ‘against’ the Jews, but are ‘for’ Protestant Christianity first, last, and all the time.”

By claiming they are motivated out of positive concern for “native-born Americans,” or white people, bigots aim to cover up the danger of their ideas. They decide who is “deserving” of basic human rights and who is not. To a certain degree, one can empathize with these people because the country is intentionally divided into extremes of haves and have-nots, with the basic needs of millions of people not being met. But to respond by hating on other oppressed people is misguided, dangerous, and leading to devastating consequences.