In the 1980s and early 1990s, I lived in Bermuda with my wife and two young sons. Being somewhat observant, we were delighted to find a tiny but vibrant Jewish community on the island. Numbering less than 100 people, they still managed to welcome the Sabbath with a festive communal dinner, and Passover and the High Holidays were celebrated with great enthusiasm at the chapel at the U.S. Naval Air base.
The Jewish community’s relationship with other residents of Bermuda was, frankly, a non-issue. Being so small in number, the Jewish presence barely registered on the locals’ radar screen. There was the occasional hiccup, such as the time I asked for permission to excuse my sons from school on the High Holidays and was answered with an emphatic "no" by their teachers, who had probably never even met a Jew (knowingly).
That decision, thankfully, was quickly reversed by the school’s principal, an ex-pat from England who undoubtedly had a bit more experience with "others" than the lifelong Bermudians whose reaction was one of benign ignorance rather than malevolence. In fact, we found Bermudians to be overwhelmingly welcoming, generous and tolerant, and our family greatly enjoyed our time there.
We try to keep in touch with what’s happening in Bermuda, primarily by reading the local newspaper (Royal Gazette) online. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading about an interfaith initiative that had local Christians and Muslims working together to foster goodwill. I posted a comment on the story, suggesting that it would have been nice had the local Jewish community been invited to participate in this worthwhile venture. The response to what I thought was a fairly innocent observation : a vile anti-Semitic screed:
"Jews Are Very Unlikeable People"
“Why don’t Jews actually act human for a change. All over the world and throughout history, the Jews have been hated and driven out of every land they occupied. Why have they been hated so much? There’s a reason they’re a bunch of greedy, money-lovers who think they’re special and value themselves over all others. It’s why the Germans turned on them. The world will turn on them again, mark my words. You can’t even say these things in most places because the Jews start hysterically screeching that it’s anti-Semitism. No, it’s just that Jews are very unlikeable people.”
I was stunned that a reputable news outlet would allow such vile, hateful comments to be printed, but I was even more appalled when the editor defended the publication of those comments by saying that the Royal Gazette did not moderate or review postings and relied on readers’ feedback to determine if comments merited deletion (they did remove the posting after they received my objection). I replied to the editor by saying that in this era of growing anti-Semitism and online anarchy, perhaps the editors’ laissez-faire attitude was no longer appropriate. I have yet to receive a response.
I don’t want to over-react to what may very well be a one-off attack by a deranged, hate-filled individual who has probably never even interacted with a Jew, but it was painful to read such hurtful comments, and I can only imagine how much anguish this has caused Bermuda’s Jewish residents. They enjoy a serene, relatively untroubled existence in Bermuda, so knowing that one of their neighbours harbors such heinous sentiments about them must be more than a bit upsetting.
They must also be aware that should they utter any public pronouncement about this letter-writer’s disgusting screed, there is a very real risk of unleashing some heretofore suppressed anti-Jewish sentiments, so it would not surprise or disappoint me if the local Jewish community chose to remain silent about this anti-Semitic diatribe.