Aaachh. My head hurts.
I just got off the phone with Joel Levy, the New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Mr. Levy was a gentleman.
He had very nice things to say, told me I had a “wonderful message” behind my column of two weeks ago referring to the blatant intolerance of visitors to our beautiful county and their intolerance of both our culture and our rights.
But he still disturbed me greatly.
Six people called him with complaints.
They, not Mr. Levy, branded me an anti-Semite.
Oh, no, no, no, no, no.
If any of these people had contacted me, I would have had the opportunity to set them straight.
Instead, I jumped immediately on my e-mail to tell Mr. Levy (a Sullivan County boy by the way!) that I take that charge very seriously.
I am a lover of people – Christian or Jew, gay or straight, white, black or purple!
As my first column noted, I thumb my nose at those who would disparage anyone because of faith, race, gender… including people who have looked down their noses at me for simply being me.
But I am not sure how to convince six people who wouldn’t talk to me that I am not anti-Semitic.
I am confused, frankly.
Frequently outspoken in this very column about the dire need to protect our First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech, the press and even religion, why did these people skip right over me to call the Anti-Defamation League?
I would argue that they failed to read my column in its entirety.
I would say they read more into it than what was written in black and white on the page.
Mr. Levy and I agreed that there is an unfortunate line dividing faiths in Sullivan County – a line that darkens in the summer when the Hasidim come to represent Judaism in the minds of county residents.
It’s a line that can only be crossed by open minds and open arms.
My column of two weeks ago referred to some people identifiable as a sector of the Jewish community. It also referred to people from Long Island and New Jersey – all of these descriptions meant to show my issue was with out-of-town visitors, rather than an attack on persons of one particular faith.
Mr. Levy said that was clear to him, but not to these six readers.
For that I am sorry.
I admit readily that my column was provocative.
It was meant to create discussion, to remind people that each of the examples listed were direct from life citations of visitors behaving badly and not an indictment of groups as a whole.
I wonder if these readers stopped to consider the real-life situations that occur in Sullivan County. Did they realize, for example, that while the visitors to certain areas are predominantly Jewish, the summer population in others is not?
My references to a Long Islander who tipped poorly was taken as a slight against Jews, Mr. Levy said, by people who told him the words “Long Island” were synonymous with “Jew.”
I confess ignorance in that matter. My editor, a Long Islander, is Catholic. One of my dearest friends at college was Hindu and lived in Islip.
I didn’t know “Long Island” meant “Jew”!
So for that, I again apologize.
I told Mr. Levy that I felt the readers who called him were calling on an army to crush an ant, that someone with strong beliefs should stand up for them . . . themselves.
I confessed I didn’t intend to write a column responding to the only letter we had received here at the paper because I didn’t want to be that Army with an entire column devoted to a subject the letter writer could only cover in a 300-word note.
Then I heard that people were afraid to speak out.
I couldn’t let that stand.
As I believe I should be allowed to write columns citing examples of boorish behavior without being branded, I believe people should stand tall and strong when fighting slights – real or imagined.
So here I am, standing tall.
Please, stand with me, there’s room at my side.
Aaachh. My head hurts.