“When Donald opened his club in Palm Beach called Mar-a-Lago, he insisted on accepting Jews and blacks even though other clubs in Palm Beach to this day discriminate against blacks and Jews,” Kessler says.
“The old guard in Palm Beach was outraged that Donald would accept blacks and Jews so that’s the real Donald Trump that I know.”
As with many things in Palm Beach, it isn’t that simple.
With black people, he may be right; I’m not sure when clubs such as the Beach, Everglades and Bath & Tennis racially integrated. The biggest hurdle is money.
But with the Jews…ah, that’s a different story. Palm Beach’s club system has been rigidly segregated between Jewish and Gentile clubs for many years, as I found out growing up:
Anyone who lived on the north end of the island had to pass the Palm Beach Country Club, with its well manicured course and pristine clubhouse, to go anywhere. As we passed this place time and time again, I (a kid of nine or ten) wondered, “Why do we pass this place up to go to another club?” I grew up in a family where it wasn’t wise to ask too many questions, but eventually I was told that it was the “Jewish Country Club,” and since we were Gentiles, we belonged elsewhere. (That “elsewhere” was the Breakers.)
This segregation was strictly enforced. There were “Jewish clubs,” there were “Gentile clubs,” and n’er the twain met. This enforcement could be brutal. In the early 1960’s a member of another of Palm Beach’s exclusive clubs (the Everglades Club) made the mistake of bringing her Jewish friend for lunch. She was asked to resign her membership.
Jews have been able to join the club in Palm Beach for many years, but their own clubs. Bernie Madoff used this to his advantage when he began his scheme to defraud both his fellow Jews and the club they belonged to.
Donald Trump’s idea at Mar-a-Lago was that Jews and Gentiles could belong to the same club, and for that idea he deservedly gets credit.