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Searching for a place safe from hate

When word of the horrific massacre Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh became known, the shock of the violence seemed a stark contrast to the quiet community where it occurred.

Numerous journalists spoke of having lived in Squirrel Hill, an almost idyllic neighborhood where one never questioned it being a safe place to live.

In the wake of the tragic murder of 11 Jews at worship, the Reporter spoke with Lily Brett, an author who was profiled in the Island Bookshelf on October 25. Ms. Brett, whose parents were both survivors of Auschwitz, has written extensively on persecution of Jews and refugees, as well as several novels.

She divides her time between Shelter Island and New York City.

One could draw parallels between Squirrel Hill — it literally was Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood — and Shelter Island, which to many residents offers a safe harbor.

To Lily Brett, it seems that safe places, both here and in other countries, are diminishing as hatred is flourishing. “Hate crimes are increasing at a rate that should shock all of us,” she said. “In the United States, hate crimes against Jews increased by 57 percent in 2017.”

In Ms. Brett’s family, four uncles, three aunts, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces were murdered in the Holocaust. She was born in a refugee camp. The consequences of the hatred they endured in that time of terror continues to touch her life, she said.

“I have always believed that it’s as easy to bring out the best in people as it is to bring out the worst,” she said. “I now think I was wrong. It seems much easier to incite rage than it is to encourage empathy.”

Ms. Brett expresses in her novels, as well as her conversations, a rich sense of humor she said helps in overcoming painful times. The simple pleasures of making soup or stepping into an Island shop and seeing neighbors help buoy her spirits.

“The safest place for all of us is in the hearts of those who love you,” she said. “It’s in communities who care about each other and share a compassion for all people regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or their sexual orientation.”