DEAR ABBY: I am engaged to be married in September to the most wonderful man in the world. We are wildly in love. We’re both middle-aged with grown children from previous marriages, so we took our time and approached this relationship with caution. He is Jewish and I am gentile, but our families get along and are thrilled about our upcoming union.

My problem: With tensions over the political situation in the Middle East, anti-Semitism is on the rise where we live. Since the uncertainty of Sept. 11, my family has become concerned for my safety should I take on a Jewish- sounding name. My mother remembers the horror of World War II, so her fear is understandable. I would feel uncomfortable, however, NOT taking my husband’s name. It would appear to the world that I am ashamed of his ethnicity or not accepting of it.

How can I reassure my family that I am doing the right thing? I love them dearly and don’t want them to worry, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do this. – BRIDE- TO-BE IN FERNDALE, MICH.

Bigotry seems to be a problem that refuses to die, and almost anyone can be a target. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, if people are determined enough, they will always find something to dislike about another person or group.

Hatred against entire groups is usually caused by ignorance or a perceived economic threat. Please tell your mother that it is no more dangerous to be a Jew in this country than it is to be an African-American, a Hispanic, an Asian or an Arab. Most bigots are cowards – and don’t act out violently.

And while we’re on this subject, read on for another example:

DEAR ABBY: Yesterday, a co-worker who is Belgian (and speaks French, Flemish and English) made an important presentation to a prospective client.

Upon hearing his accent, the client said that before he would even consider the proposal, my co-worker would have to prove he was not French. This is obviously because of the French government’s policies toward the war in Iraq. What do you think of the client’s behavior? – SHOCKED IN ILLINOIS

People who indulge in that kind of thinking have a lot of growing up to do. I think such an attitude is asinine – on par with “freedom fries,” “freedom toast” and “freedom kissing.”

DEAR ABBY: I have been dating “Whitney” for more than a year and have decided to propose. My problem is I was recently laid off from my job and don’t have enough money to buy an engagement ring.

Would it be improper to ask Whitney to marry me without giving her a ring right now, or should I wait to ask her when I have the money to buy her a ring? – STONE BROKE IN LITTLE ROCK

Tell Whitney how you feel about her, and ask her if she would like to become engaged or wait until you can give her a traditional engagement ring. You might be pleased to learn that having an engagement ring is less important to her than having you as her future husband. After all, a ring is just a symbol. The real “jewel” is the person you marry.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

To receive a collection of Abby’s most memorable – and most frequently requested – poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby – Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447.

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