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Jan 8, 2019 12:21 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Karl Grossman Will Illuminate The Area's Jewish History In Talk At Library

Karl Grossman at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. CAILIN RILEY
Jan 8, 2019 1:38 PM

Karl Grossman’s knowledge of—and passion for—his Jewish history and ancestry is immediately apparent to anyone who knows him or speaks with him, and in many ways he has made it his life’s work.A journalist by trade, Mr. Grossman, a Noyac resident, will share that breadth of knowledge with the community on Thursday, January 10, when he presents a lecture, “Jews on Long Island’s East End,” sponsored by the Southampton History Museum at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton at 1 p.m.

On the surface, it may seem to appeal to a specific audience—but Mr. Grossman illuminates a history of generations of Jews living in the area, and their various houses of worship, that is pertinent and interesting for anyone curious about the history of the communities in which they live.

He has a wealth of knowledge to share, thanks to work throughout the years that has included being a journalism professor and writing books focused on Jewish history, as well as current events that directly impact the lives of Jews.

Mr. Grossman has written for Long Island Jewish World, and the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, among other publications, and is also a veteran columnist for The Press and other East End newspapers. He and his family are also longtime members of Temple Adas Israel in his hometown of Sag Harbor. It is the oldest synagogue on Long Island, built in 1898.

Mr. Grossman’s family has roots in Sag Harbor that date back more than a century, when his paternal grandparents arrived in the area from Hungary, and he has done extensive research on not only his own family members and their experiences living on the East End but also the experiences of Jewish families from many areas of the world who settled in the area, and how they were treated in each of the different towns.

In his lecture, Mr. Grossman will provide information about life for Jews over the last several generations in the towns of Riverhead, Southold, Westhampton Beach, Southampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton, and he will also speak about the history of the various synagogues and chabads that have sprung up in those towns over the years.

He will talk about the divides that existed between Jews who hailed from different regions of the world, speaking about the schism between Russian and Hungarian Jews that was so deep at one point that they constructed a wall in the Jewish cemetery on Route 114 in Sag Harbor—one that still exists to this day.

“I think there’s a tendency among all peoples, and it’s not a good tendency, to divide on the basis of silliness,” he said. “It’s all so ridiculous. We’re all human beings, and we should learn from each other and get along.”

As Mr. Grossman details in his lecture, that mindset seemed to be most easily adopted in Sag Harbor, where most people he spoke with—including longtime Sag Harbor resident Gertrude Katz—shared an experience of love and inclusion growing up in the town, where they were embraced and respected by fellow Jews and non-Jews alike.

That experience was in contrast to what was happening in Southampton, Westhampton Beach and East Hampton, villages that have both historical and contemporary examples of anti-Semitism, which Mr. Grossman addresses in his lecture as well.

He draws extensively on a book written by former East End resident Abe Frank, titled “Together But Apart—The Jewish Experience in the Hamptons.”

“He tells the story of being a Jewish kid in Southampton and facing discrimination,” Mr. Grossman said. “And, ironically, he spoke of going to the [Rogers Memorial] library as his refuge.”

Mr. Grossman said Sag Harbor “deserves a lot of credit” for what has been a general history of inclusiveness when it comes to embracing residents of different religions, races and ethnic backgrounds, pointing to the predominantly African-American communities of Ninevah and Azurest, which have been a haven for black families for generations.

“Sag Harbor has been, way back, a diverse community,” he said. “It’s not your stereotypical WASPy East End community.”

He details how many Jews emigrated to the area in the late 1800s, when Joseph Fahys opened his watchcase factory in Sag Harbor and recruited both Jewish and Italian engravers.

Mr. Grossman’s grandfather, Herman Grossman, arrived in the town for that exact reason in 1905. The remaining family members who did not emigrate were ultimately murdered in the Holocaust.

The knowledge that Jews have been under attack and faced discrimination for many generations—and still do today—is one of the biggest motivating factors behind his work, Mr. Grossman says.

“My whole family was wiped out in the Holocaust,” he said, referring to his extended family. “Israel represents a very important refuge when difficult times come for Jews, and that’s a constant.

“At Passover, there is a saying that translates to: ‘In every generation, they come to kill us.’ So I have a great interest in Judaism.”

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