PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A rabbi who leads a Modern Orthodox synagogue said on Wednesday he and his congregants are growing accustomed to the toll of anti-Semitic taunts that have become a “not irregular feature of life” before and after the presidential election.
Rabbi Barry Dolinger said he was walking from his Pawtucket home to Providence’s Congregation Beth Sholom on Nov. 12 when a car pulled over and young men yelled, “Heil Hitler,” before speeding away.
He said it’s not uncommon for members of his 110-year-old congregation on the city’s East Side to experience such ugly jeers this year.
He said it has happened to him at least five times and to someone in his congregation at least once a month, always when they’re walking about because they don’t drive while observing the Sabbath. One time, he said, he was told he “should have been burned in the ovens.”
Dolinger wears a Jewish head covering called a kippah and walks 2 miles to the synagogue each Saturday. He said he hasn’t called police to report the harassment.
“I usually just keep walking,” he said. “I don’t think it merits a response. I keep walking and try to ignore it. Obviously it’s hard because it’s hurtful.”
Dolinger was one of several faith leaders who met with Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday to air concerns about postelection hatred. Raimondo and newly appointed state police Superintendent Ann Assumpico told the group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders the state is working to craft a response to address their concerns and keep people safe.
The rabbi said he’s hesitant to try to connect the harassment to any event, such as the successful presidential campaign of Republican Donald Trump, who was supported by the Ku Klux Klan and was criticized by rivals for his tough talk on immigration, including proposals to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, use a deportation force to remove people in the country illegally and ban Muslims from entering.
Dolinger said he is “never personally afraid that it’s anything more than hooliganism and amateur bigotry.” Those who hurl the words usually appear to be teenagers or young men, he said.
But he holds little doubt that national politics are playing a role.
“The sort of wink-wink, nod-nod to hate groups has emboldened people to feel comfortable to say things that used to not be said in polite company,” he said.
“I think that people who harbor these sorts of ideologies are feeling emboldened. I hope this can be nipped in the bud before it escalates.”
Trump said on Tuesday he disavows and condemns hate groups that celebrated his victory. During an earlier interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes, he said he was “saddened” to hear reports that some of his supporters might be harassing minorities.
Dolinger said hate against Jews is “closely tied to anti-Muslim bigotry,” and while he doesn’t want to be “overly catastrophic” he said the experiences are real for many minority groups. He said it could help for political leaders to speak out.
“I think if people can emphasize the common bonds that bind us as society, that’s probably what begins to change the tide of this trend,” Dolinger said.