I’m sad that I have to do this, but . . .

I received a letter today from the Anti-Defamation League in New York City unfairly charging me with Anti-Semitism. As an ardent supporter of our Constitution’s freedoms of religion, speech and the press, I was appalled and saddened that people would react without first thinking about my message.
I told people not to hate, so they turned me into a target. It’s happened before, and will happen again – the life of a columnist! But this one I can’t just let slide by.
So I am posting for you his words, and mine. You be the judge! And if you disagree with either of us – let us know!

Your very implication that my motives were innapropriate is evidence that you were quick to judge when reading my column – and possibly did not even read the entire thing. It was provocative, I will give you that. And it was meant to be.
I was speaking out against rude and boorish behavior and against those who would instantly abuse entire groups because of one person’s poor actions. I am disappointed that you are grouping me among those “Anti-Semites” who would abuse someone because of their Jewish faith rather than listening to my message.

“To the Editor:
It is unfortunate that Jeanne Sager’s venting frustration about the behavior of tourists and other visitors to Sullivan County played into traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes (“Tolerance: A Two-Way Street,” July 2).
While her frustrations about tourism may be legitimate, Sager’s undue focus on the Jewish attributes of some visitors – by depicting their appearance, dress, and way of talking — is disturbing. Her reference to the tipping habits of patrons to local restaurants seems to feed into the old anti-Semitic canard about “cheap” or “money-grubbing” Jews. These are the kind of stereotypes that can lead to the vilification of an entire group of people, simply because they are different from others.
Sager may not have meant to offend anyone with her words. Yet, words have consequences. We hope that she comes to better understand why her words were so offensive to some, and why it has resulted in such a strong reaction from her readers and the public.
Sincerely,
Joel J. Levy
New York Regional Director
Anti-Defamation League
605 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10158
For confirmation contact ADL Media Relations at adlmedia@adl.org or (212) 885-7747″

And, and now, my turn:
Mr. Levy
I see that I was carbon-copied on your e-mail, and so I am responding. I wonder
if you bothered to check your own tolerance levels before sending this e-mail.
I referred to examples of summer tourists in Sullivan County, two examples which could be tied to people of the Jewish faith only by examples of a woman speaking in Yiddish or a man with long curls and black hat. The other examples, including the one which you insist is an implication that I believe in “money grubbing Jews” were references to other aspects of our summer community – people from Long Island (who may or MAY NOT be Jewish) and people from New Jersey. I find it ironic that in all the letters I have received, not one person has stood up for the “poor Jersey driver.”
Instead there has been a quick assumption that I am an anti-Semite, despite my
comments within this very column to the contrary. I spoke out in my column against people who are rude. People who allow their children to slam carts into people’s ankles, who park their carts in the middle of the aisles, who cut off drivers or park in the middle of a busy street, people who tip poorly and abuse the waitstaff. I referred to the people who make a poor example of themselves when visiting another area. Ever heard the term “Angry American”? It’s no wonder other countries refer that way to us if this is how we act even in our own country.
I am not nor have I ever been an “Anti-Semite.” Personally I find that charge offensive and upsetting. Telling you I have Jewish friends who were fast to
agree with my column will likely not sway you, but I do have to point that. And
I’d like to ask again where I made reference to any Jewish person in a derogatory manner? The “money grubbing” example aside – which was not in relation to anyone Jewish to begin with – I fail to see where you can provide me an example.
Your very implication that my motives were innapropriate is evidence that you were quick to judge when reading my column – and possibly did not even read the entire thing. It was provocative, I will give you that. And it was meant to be. I was speaking out against rude and boorish behavior and against those who would instantly abuse entire groups because of one person’s poor actions. I am disappointed that you are grouping me among those “Anti-Semites” who would abuse someone because of their Jewish faith rather than listening to my message.

Jeanne Sager

Comments

  1. Dear Joel Levy and Jeanne Sager, I’ve read Jeanne’s original column, Joel’s Levy’s objections and Jeanne’s apologia (not to be confused with apology). I come down between your two poles: Joel, you seem quick to take racial offense. I do not subscribe to notion that everyone has the right not to be offended by words, or support a “thought police.” Our times seem to be characterized by an epidemic of thin-skin. You could well have shrugged off Jeanne’s column as a petulance, not drawing further attention to what you consider odious. Jeanne, your defense is, well, defensive. I doubt that you were really “appalled” by being criticized for what you wrote and how you wrote it (you term it “targeted” for “hate”), since you admit it’s happened before, and you wear it like a badge of honor (“the life of a columnist!”). “Gentle reader, your columnist is a victim” seems similarly thin-skinned, and self-centered. So, there – I think you both take yourselves too seriously as self-appointed moralists: Joel, ever-so-vigilant to root out anti-Semitism, both real and imagined; Jeanne, jealously exercising your publisher-given right to express yourself in the press, without much circumspection for how your expressions can be received. To use a newspaper column to be only a speaker is merely standing on a soapbox. To be a communicator is different thing, which requires listening with the same fervor as speaking. As for what brought this on – I find that Jeanne’s complaints can fairly be read (whether or not she intended) as aimed at really only one type of tourist, and they are not the ones from the Williamsburg in Virginia. This does not seem to be a happenstance. It is a fact that there resides in these here hills an undercurrent of resentment, and not too far beneath the surface, against the Hasidic community, typically voiced in terms of their real property going off the tax rolls, and, yes, their driving habits, clothing habits, shopping habits, eating habits and tipping habits. And, yes, they are – by their own choice, to be sure – an insular community, with different customs. If we want to be a tourist destination, then providing unrequited service from time to time goes with the territory. So, too, providing gracious hospitality to people we wouldn’t actually invite home. Tourism is a business. The merchants who are most successful in a tourist economy are those that know their products thoroughly, carry what their customers want to buy, graciously offer advice, and generally make their customer feel welcome. If they do all that, they can even overcharge a bit, since tourists expect that and are willing to pay up to have a good time. Successful restauranteurs prepare quality food to suit their patrons’ tastes, not always their own, and their waitstaff serve it with a shtick also suited to their patrons’ tastes. But if the patron feels ever-so-slightly slighted – even if (or especially when) they’re spring-loaded to feel it – the waitress will be unhappy with the tip. That’s the tourist business. It’s the life we’ve chosen. If we don’t like it, if we feel unappreciated, then we should get into some other line of work. (And it wouldn’t be casinos.) So, here, I don’t understand your concept of “our” pizzerias or “our” grocery stores which “they” are crowding into. That smacks of backwoods clannishness. The mentality of “You’re not from here until you have a road named after your grandfather.” (You do, don’t you?) Where “the locals” tolerate the “outsiders” – weekenders as well as summer tourists – only for the money they spend and the taxes they pay (unless their property went off the tax rolls). The fact that the individuals who annoyed you were actually “yammering” in Yiddish, wearing black hats and long curls is no more an answer than Imus pointing out that the basketball players actually had nappy hair. I haven’t decided if he’s actually a bigot; what he is, patently, is insensitive to his audience, and – much more important – oblivious to the duty inherent in the privilege of holding the megaphone. It is not merely politically correct to appreciate and anticipate how one’s free-press-protected words will resonate with the audience, it is the commentator’s obligation. It is also her cardinal purpose and her objective. The columnist who errs in her choice of words, or of tone, obscures her own message. Communication breaks down. She cannot persuade, her mission has failed. All this, whether or not the commentator is an intentional bigot. That you tried to be “provocative” is not a defense either. Provocative is not a substitute for persuasive, and is not to be confused with insulting. The grand masters of your craft of social commentary – the Andy Rooneys and Art Buchwalds – could be provocative, without it sounding like a supercilious rant. In the hands of those gifted with such true talent, humor and satire are the better tools for this job than self-righteousness, which in a twenty-something columnist comes off as sophomoric. (Excuse me if this is too provocative, and also that “grandfather’s road” remark). Remember that what one aims to “provoke” is thought, not resentment. Last point: I’ll come partially to the defense of the “poor New Jersey driver” who stopped to appreciate the doe and her fawn. We see them so often (so often eating the flowers), we’ve lost our sense of wonder. I’m pained, still, to see so much road kill, not all of which can be laid waste by tourists. Next time, better to watch and wonder from the shoulder, of course.That’s the last point, before I take myself too serious. You two try to lighten up, too. Ron Litchman

  2. Ron, I think you are taking yourself way too seriously. Who made you the all heralded worldy God of reason? You obviously mistake your opinion for that of fact. The fact that you can stretch what you have to say into nearly two pages of bable says to me that you have too much time on your hands and a sense of arrogance. You seem to forget the fact that we live in an area that yes is tourist visited, HOWEVER WE LIVE HERE. These are our places of shopping, driving, living, etc. The fact that this column was attacked with such fury goes to show that people are WAY TOO SESNSATIVE. You know what? Grow up look around you and figure out whether there isn’t something else to do then keep attacking someone. So you don’t like it, cry me a river. But please cry in your own home, better yet go cry with your tourist friends.

  3. Jeanne Sager’s reflection on the change in life in Sullivan County that occurs between Memorial day and Labor day is accurate and honest. Is it intolerant to avoid East Broadway in Monticello due to traffic congestion during the summer while it is acceptable to avoid the construction area on Route 42 in the same Village and for the same reason? The arrival of our summer visitors is as noticeable as the arrival of summer after a Sullivan County winter. Ms. Sager simply held a mirror to the seasonal changes that effect our community and recorded what she saw and experienced. Her observations and reflections were no more intolerant or objectionable than one’s decision to shop on Saturday during the summer months to avoid congestion in the aisles of Wal-Mart and Shoprite. One can record the occurrence of these events, as Ms. Sager has, without any tinge of intolerance and bigotry. A bigot is defined as an intolerant person, somebody who has very strong opinions, especially on matters of politics, religion, or ethnicity, and refuses to accept different views. I do not detect any evidence of intolerance in Ms. Sager’s article. Nor do I detect any strong opinion in that article on matters of politics, religion or ethnicity or her refusal to accept different views. Since Ms. Sager, by her article, has not betrayed any evidence of bigotry, perhaps her detractors should express their differing views of our summer transformation in an effort to persuade her to accept their differing views, or perhaps they are really the bigots.Mark Lewis Schulman

  4. Jeanne Sager’s reflection on the change in life in Sullivan County that occurs between Memorial day and Labor day is accurate and honest. Is it intolerant to avoid East Broadway in Monticello due to traffic congestion during the summer while it is acceptable to avoid the construction area on Route 42 in the same Village and for the same reason? The arrival of our summer visitors is as noticeable as the arrival of summer after a Sullivan County winter. Ms. Sager simply held a mirror to the seasonal changes that effect our community and recorded what she saw and experienced. Her observations and reflections were no more intolerant or objectionable than one’s decision to shop on Saturday during the summer months to avoid congestion in the aisles of Wal-Mart and Shoprite. One can record the occurrence of these events, as Ms. Sager has, without any tinge of intolerance and bigotry. A bigot is defined as an intolerant person, somebody who has very strong opinions, especially on matters of politics, religion, or ethnicity, and refuses to accept different views. I do not detect any evidence of intolerance in Ms. Sager’s article. Nor do I detect any strong opinion in that article on matters of politics, religion or ethnicity or her refusal to accept different views. Since Ms. Sager, by her article, has not betrayed any evidence of bigotry, perhaps her detractors should express their differing views of our summer transformation in an effort to persuade her to accept their differing views, or perhaps they are really the bigots.Mark Lewis Schulman

  5. I read Jeanne Sager’s column on a regular basis and always look forward to it. I was fortunate to make Jeanne’s acquaintence two years ago when she came to my house and wrote a story on my then, ten year old daughters horrific accident. I consider her a friend. I am not a racist nor a biggoted person in anyway. I raise my children to respect everyone regardless of race or religion. I have involved them in different race and religious cultures of friends so that they can have a broad understanding and appreciation of the world they live in. I have told them always, that they should treat everyone equally. Having said this, I have to say that I found Jeanne’s column to be accurate and honest and I don’t believe for a second that she is racist in any way.I know myself that between Memorial Day and Labor Day I choose to shop elsewhere (other than the Monticello area) as the influx of summer residents makes it very difficult to conduct business in and around Monticello.I am not suggesting that it is created by anyone group in particular. It is any and all summer residents that come to our area. The congestion of traffic is horrific and the somewhat cleanly condition of Wal-Mart is turned into the worst shopping condition possible. Nevermind the people blocking the aisles, it is impossible to push a cart down the aisle as you are driving over merchandise strewn all over the floor. I was in WalMart one summer night, around midnight(why that late, I don’t know!!) and it was busier than Christmas Eve. We stood on an endless line to check out, 45 minutes or more and tried unsuccessfully to dodge the several busloads of teenagers that were running rampant through the store. The teens are bussed to WalMart from a local seasonal residence and are left unchaperoned. Our own children are not even allowed to cruise our local malls unchaperoned on certain days of the week. It is not unfair to expect to be able to shop in a store and not have to dodge screaming teens running around or speeding carts being driven by the same teens. And in another issue I also must say that near my home, I tend to avoid a particular stretch of road after April 1st in order to avoid some of the out of town fisherman who have no respect for our road rules. Not all fisherman, just some. They cruise along at 55 and with no warning slam their brakes on or cut across the double yellow in front of you to park near all those trout screaming, “Come catch me!!” I don’t know how many near misses I have encountered with my children in the car. Just a few weeks ago, I ventured this road with my children only to come around a turn and had the need to slam my brakes on for a fisherman who had stopped dead in the lane (on a blind turn) to gaze at the river. I stopped and said to him “I have to tell you I live here and do you realize how dangerous what you just did is?” And his answer was “Yes, I do realize, I am sorry” all the while he was still gazing at the river. He made no attempts to move his vehicle. I had to drive around him, into the other lane on a blind turn and pray that there was no oncoming traffic. My message is the same as Jeanne’s. Please visit our area, the diversity is important so our children can grow up to appreciate cultural differences. Please enjoy our beautiful rivers, mountains and foliage. But please remember, this is your home for possibly two months of the year and/or a few weekends. This is our home, 12 months of the year. We do not want to be driven from our home because of a simple lack of respect. We would not visit your hometown and disrespect you. We want to live, eat and shop with you and make your acquaintence.

  6. Mary Jo,you wrote a thoughtful response without labeling any particular group. That is what Jeanne didn’t do. She wrote with no generalities. Instead she mentioned specific characteristics, labeling specific groups. Not bad mothers, not bad drivers, not out of towners. Instead, she writes of Yiddish speaking mothers and men with long curls and black hats. That leads the reader to believe she was talking about a specific group, does it not? On another note, Ron Litchman, your letter made some great, points! A bit wordy, albeit – but good! Ms. Sager has some soul searching to do.Betty

  7. IMHO Jeanne is a mediocre writer who is lucky to live in a rural area so that she can put her trash into a paper. I’m sorry, but this blog starts off with the caption “Me and the people I write about.” Um, do grammar much?No self-respecting journalist or columnist would talk about people “yammering” in Yiddish, for heaven’s sake. And good for the anti-defamation league for slapping her down.Jeanne, if you want to play ball, I’d suggest that you educate yourself a bit in the world arena about what racism means and how it’s used. And, BTW, on some grammar.Sign me “rolling my eyes and in absolutely no rush to visit Sullivan County, now that I know that a racist local columnist saw fit to tell the world how much Sullivan county people hate tourists blocking the rows in their stooopid grocery stores.”

Speak Your Mind

*