'We haven't learned our lesson'

When Rabbi Colin Brodie immigrated to the United States 28 years ago, his reasons were clear.

“I felt this was one of the safest countries in the world for a Jew, and for a human being. I was very mindful of that when I left my entire family back in London,” he said. “But that feeling has gone away, and that’s devastating.”

For years, Brodie has dealt with minor harassment, a dead animal left on the front steps of the Congregation B’nai Torah, the menorah ripped off its mooring on the front of the building, and slurs yelled out windows at him as he walked along Main Street from the synagogue to his home.

“When you choose to wear a yarmulke, it happens,” he said with a shrug Tuesday.

But Saturday’s attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead and six more injured, the deadliest attack on Jews in United States history, was a chilling reminder that anti-Semitism is on the rise, with the Anti-Defamation League reporting an increase in attacks on Jews of more than 50% in the past two years.

Saturday was a confluence of three things, Brodie said. First and most important is people who hate.

“I never realized how strong that was, and how numerous they were,” he said.

Heated rhetoric in the public sector then fuels hateful acts, Brodie said.

“These people had been dormant, but now they have been given permission to act on how they feel,” he said.

And the combination of hateful people, encouraged by angry rhetoric, with access to rapid-firing guns leads directly to the mass murder of nearly a dozen Jews, Brodie said.

“So much could easily be done to prevent this,” he said. “Just the rhetoric. People listen to my speech, the speeches of elected leaders, and act on the words from the people they trust. I don’t care if we disagree politically, I disagree politically with many people. This is beyond that. Hate speech leads to hate activity and that’s unacceptable.”

The planned attack on a Jewish congregation came the same weekend as a talk by Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, the 89-year-old stepsister of diarist Anne Frank, less than six miles from B’nai Torah. Brodie called the coincidence “a sad confluence” of events.

“I always said about the Holocaust that if it can help us in any way, it’s knowing how far human beings can go,” he said. “Because it has happened, we know it can and we should be doing everything we can to prevent it, and we’re not.”

The Holocaust was allowed to happen because Jews and other minorities were effectively dehumanized, Brodie said.

“We haven’t learned our lesson well enough, and we should have because it wasn’t that long ago,” he said. “We had a survivor here attesting to the fact that it wasn’t that long ago.”

Locally, Brodie said the congregation has been reassured by the overwhelming support from the community. First Selectman Vicki Tesoro and Police Chief Michael Lombardo have personally offered their support, and police have maintained an active presence at the building.

“The community of Trumbull stands in support and solidarity with all people of goodwill in our unwavering opposition to anti-Semitism and all religious hatred,” Tesoro wrote in a letter addressed to the B’nai Torah congregation. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be swayed from our commitment to eradicate hate and replace it with tolerance, understanding, and love.”

Brodie said the congregation appreciated the support, but wished it was unnecessary.

“People are comforted by the police presence, but disconcerted that we have to have it,” he said. “That the police are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us in our house of worship is incredible, but it should be unnecessary.”